A school transformed by outstanding leadership
Kathleen Hinton is headteacher of St Joseph’s Catholic Primary in Darlaston, Walsall. In 2019, her school received an Ofsted outcome of Requires Improvement.
I joined St Joseph's in September 2018 on secondment from another Catholic school in Walsall where I served as deputy head. I was the fifth headteacher in two years.
It was a school no one wanted to lead because of the challenges it presented. You could see that the children didn't want to put in the effort because the teaching was poor.
Expectations were low, and the staff didn't have any sense of purpose.
Getting stuck in
I'm from Birmingham and, growing up, I would’ve been a pupil premium child (had it existed then). Because of this, I like to work in schools in challenging areas, and to get stuck in.
I was given the opportunity to become acting head at St Joseph’s, having previously worked in a school that had been in special measures.
St Joseph's is in an area with high levels of deprivation. 40% of our pupils are eligible for pupil premium, 24% receive SEN support and 18% learn English as an additional language. We're a diverse community.
When I joined the school, attendance was poor, and the curriculum wasn't interesting. There was no motivation for pupils to come to school.
It was a culture of taking a week off for a mild illness or a child being away from school if their family went on holiday, and that was accepted.
Ruby in the dust
We had a high turnover of staff, chaotic leadership and a lack of direction and purpose. I remember seeing a letter about the Leading Together programme from Teach First on my desk one day, and thinking, “This sounds interesting.”
It was free leadership training, and it was ticking all the boxes. The chair of governors thought it was fabulous, and from my point of view, it was a ruby in the dust.
Leading Together took us out of our comfort zone. It set expectations for what good leadership meant and what type of leadership we needed at that time.
I now have a greater understanding of how to develop and nurture people, rather than being a micromanager, because you can't run a school like that.
A huge impact
Morgan, my Leading Together Achievement Partner, was a sounding board for my ideas, but he would also challenge them.
Being an experienced headteacher, he talked me through different scenarios and shared what had worked for him. It was all confidential, so I knew it wasn't being fed back anywhere.
The Science of Learning module was especially useful, and the retrieval practice had the biggest impact on our children's attainment. We had two pupils with autism who, when we introduced a different way of teaching, thought: “Actually, I can do this.”
The retrieval practice and the quizzes we learned on Leading Together had a huge impact on them, and you can now see their enthusiasm for learning.
Proud and emotional
It felt fantastic when we received our Ofsted result – to find out we were Outstanding in all areas. My colleague and I looked at each other and said, “Wow. This has all been worth it.”
It's never been about running on a treadmill and then dropping off after Ofsted had visited. These were our normal practices.
We have high expectations, but we are making sure we have a good work-life balance for staff. Obviously, we couldn't share the outcome straightaway, but we did buy pizza for everyone the next day.
The reaction from our local community has been huge. We've had loads of comments on social media from the wider community, many of whom I don't know. Neighbours I've never spoken to before have said, “Well done!”
There is a hair salon down the road, and a teaching assistant went there and overheard the hairdresser say, “Ooh, it's fantastic that we've got an Outstanding school in this area. Isn't it great for the kids?” It's lovely to hear.
If I hadn't joined Leading Together, I'd have been on my own
I may have sought out paid training, but we don't have the financial means. There was a tipping point at the school when we had the knowledge and the right staff at the right time, so everything came together for our school's improvement.
It's a marathon, not a sprint. If I hadn't joined Leading Together, it would've taken me longer to gain that insight and development in leadership.
It was helpful to have someone from the outside challenging our leaders, rather than just me on my own.
About Leading Together
Leading Together is a free, two-year programme to support school leaders like Kathleen to transform their leadership teams.
With dedicated support from an experienced former school leader and evidence-based best practice, the bespoke training helps schools identify issues, come up with solutions and create lasting change for pupils – especially those who need the greatest support to succeed.