Wanstead High School is celebrating being rated â€œgood” in all categories by Ofsted – a sign of progress since its 2013 rating which said it required improvement. The new headteacher, Bob Hamlyn, who joined the school this year, here makes his debut on Wansteadium – answering questions which were put to him by parents of prospective pupils which were collated by Wansteadium reader David Hartt.
Q. I loved the school when I visited during an open evening a few weeks ago. [However I did have a fear that] my daughter wonâ€™t achieve her full potential there, as other schools Iâ€™ve visited appear to promise nurturing to full potential. What is the central feature that you believe enables children to thrive and reach their full potential?
A. We have developed the notion of â€œeducation with characterâ€ here at Wanstead High School: making sure that the curriculum we offer, and the way we deliver it, best matches the needs of our learners. The best way to help young people thrive and to meet their full potential is to make sure we know them well â€“ to have robust tracking of progress coupled with strong teacher / pupil relationships. I was pleased to note in the recent OFSTED report that these things are in place.
Q. What changes are you planning to improve the school?
A. Weâ€™ve got a comprehensive and detailed Improvement Plan which covers all aspects of school life, from improved exam outcomes through to developing student voice in the school. However, if Iâ€™m pushed as to the single most important thing, it has to be to continue to develop teaching and learning so that there is even more outstanding practice across the school.
Q. From what I understand, children are placed into a mixed ability form group and they then stay with that form group for most subjects throughout their schooling. Therefore what opportunities are there to form other friendships/learn with different children from other form groups? What if a child is unhappy in their given group?
A. There are plenty of opportunities to form other friendships. In Key Stage 3 (up to Year 9) children will be taught in form groups for most subjects, and in some different class groupings (maths and PE for example), as well as all the extra-curricular opportunities we offer such as the Drama productions etc… At Key Stage 4 (Yr 10 and 11) they will be in different classes for nearly all of their subjects. If a child is unhappy in their given form class weâ€™ll try to resolve the issues at first â€“ we have excellent Heads of Year who work closely with parents.
Q. What can you tell me about behaviour and anti bullying policies at the school and what are your plans to manage both outside of the school? In addition what are you doing to combat the negative behaviour after school hours while children are still in uniform and therefore representing the school.
A. Weâ€™ve got really robust behaviour and anti-bullying policies and procedures here. We donâ€™t just deal with incidents in the classroom or the playground. For example we take cyber-bullying very seriously and we will investigate and deal with incidents that may have occurred over the internet at weekends, but that still involve our students. Our new behaviour system gives parents instant and regular feedback â€“ including praise.
We do impress upon our students that their behaviour in the community is important. Thatâ€™s one reason why we insist upon our students wearing their uniform outside of school as they travel home. We do try to patrol the Green and other areas, and try to keep a presence visible after school.
Q: In 2013, Ofsted highlighted the fact that academically bright children, who achieved a level 5 SATS at age 11, are less likely to achieve an A grade at GCSE if they attend a comprehensive school compared with if they attend a selective school. What are your thoughts on that and what does WHS do to stretch its most able pupils to ensure they reach their maximum potential?
A: Iâ€™ve just been looking at the data for progress: our most able students do still make better than expected progress â€“ and many go onto successful A level courses and then to Russell Group universities. Thereâ€™s no reason why a student in a comprehensive school cannot achieve the same as someone in a selective school, other than the expectations of the school itself. We have worked hard recently to raise expectations of all of our students, not just the most able. I expect our school to be competing with the best in Redbridge.
Q: More and more schools seems to be moving away from mixed ability teaching because there is convincing evidence that it is holding back high achieving pupils. Will WHS move towards more setting across the board too?
A: I think itâ€™s more complex than that. Setting by ability does happen here in some subjects (Science in Key Stage 4, and Maths all the way from Year 7). However we need to be forensic in our analysis before we assume that setting is the panacea. Our best performing subject at GCSE level is English â€“ they teach mixed ability from year 7 through to Year 11. Many very high performing schools also have a mixed economy of setting / mixed ability. The key is not necessarily the setting arrangements, but the quality of teaching and the expectations we have of each students.
Q: I feel that many parents (including ourselves) would love to send their children to WHS if only the curriculum would reflect a more academic approach and they felt confident that their child would be stretched to reach their potential. Is there any chance that there will be curriculum changes in the near future? In addition I would like to know if there will be a broader choice of foreign languages, including German, either initially or as a second foreign language?
A: I think we do have an academic curriculum. We offer what are known as the EBACC subjects from Year 7, and these are taken up in higher than average numbers at Key Stage 4. The very large majority of students will study for 10 GCSEs, and a large number will take Triple Science (separate GCSEs in Biology, Chemistry and Physics). We offer 2 languages â€“ Spanish and French, and those with the aptitude for languages will be able to study these both at GCSE level. Our curriculum then feeds into a very broad and balanced Sixth Form offer, which in turn gives students the opportunity to apply for the very best universities. Our curriculum is constantly under review, but the underlying principle will always be to provide breadth and depth.
Q: What is your view on the constant testing in schools? Research demonstrates that children learn through experiential and differentiated learning. Does constant testing serve only to guide the teacher while potentially impeding the development and confidence of the young person?
A: Thereâ€™s a difference between constant testing, and on-going assessment. Of course we do have regular exam points in our calendar â€“ the Yr 11 Mock exams for example are a vital indicator for us so that we know who is performing well and who needs further intervention. We also regularly capture data from teachers so that we can keep parents informed of their childâ€™s progress, as well as catching any underperformance as early as possible. I donâ€™t think you can separate teaching from assessment: a good teacher will be doing both at the same time, without negatively impacting on the young personâ€™s development.
Q: What is your vision for Wanstead High School, what areas do you see as priority in the short term and in the long term?
A: Iâ€™ve attached our vision, which includes our objectives for the next 2 years. These clearly set out our priorities.
Q: WHS has facilities that would be the envy of most state and some private schools e.g, science block, sports facilities (including a large field) and drama/dance studios. What plans do you have to maximise the potential from these facilities for students at WHS, both during and outside of the school day.
A: Yes, we do have some great facilities. At the weekends we have lettings which use many of the spaces, but during the school day they are well â€“ used. This includes lunchtime and after- school when we have a lot of sports, Drama, Dance and Music going on for our students.
Q: The fabric of the school is quite dilapidated in places. Is this something you are looking to address, and do you think the local authority would be supportive of that?
A: Iâ€™ve already had several meetings with key council officers from Redbridge. The site does boast some great facilities, but there is also a need for some investment so that the building reflect our own high aspirations and the value we put on education. In the current financial climate we do need to be aware that capital investment in schools has been reduced. However, we will continue to press for further funding, both from the local authority and from central government.
Q: What do you think is the primary issue preventing WHS from performing academically in the same way as the highest achievers in Redbridge and what are you doing to address that?
A: I donâ€™t think there is anything we cannot overcome that should prevent Wanstead High School from being the best performing school in Redbridge. We have already made recent, rapid improvements, and we now need to keep the momentum going until we achieve Outstanding and beyond. There will always be challenges, but with the support of the local community, and the continued commitment of our staff, this school can go on to further success, both academically as well as in the broadest sense.