Doncaster could need to bring in superschools for four to 18 year olds

Helen Redford-Hernandez
Helen Redford-Hernandez

Doncaster could need a major re-organisation to create superschools taking pupils right through from aged four to 18, believes a top headteacher.

Helen Redford-Hernandez has been appointed by the Government as a National Leader in Education as given a top role in running the Partners in Learning Primary Teaching School Alliance, which has been set up to improve teaching in the borough.

Her day job is headteacher of Hungerhill School, which is classed as outstanding by Ofsted. Now she has take a major role in turning round education across the borough, and to work to bring better qualified and educated youngsters through schools across the borough.

She is concerned about cuts to education and job losses among teachers as headteachers struggle to balance the books.

And one of the ways forward she believes will be necessary for Doncaster is the changes to the schools structures for smaller secondary schools in the borough.

She believes the reason some of the borough's schools, such as Balby Carr and Mexborugh, are currently in special measures is because of pressures of funding.

"I think you need at least 1,000 pupils in a secondary school," she said. "People have a simplistic view of school improvement, but I think there needs to be a structural change in Doncaster as well as investment in teachers, and learning and leadership to improve student outcomes.

"We could re-organise schools by having primaries with secondaries, giving shared costs and potentially shared teachers. We are going to have to look at schools to try and solve the issues.

"It is not about poor teachers or poor leaders - it is about structure and organisation."

The call for a change comes at a time when schools are concerned over job losses among teachers and Mrs Helen Redford-Hernandez said schools were trying to make improvements while having to cut jobs.

She said: "It's never been so challenging and it has never been so difficult to recruit in core subjects, because we don't have a trendy town centre at the moment. The business community and the council are dong a lot to improve that, but in the meantime there's a time lag. Recruiting and retaining the best is a problem."

Partners in Learning in Doncaster is one of eleven schools/teaching school alliances nationally to have won funding to boost the quality of teaching through better use of research.

It has been have designated as a Research School and will have the chance to work with the Education Endowment Foundation, Institute for Effective Education and Research Schools Network. They idea is it will help teachers to teacher better and ultimately improve outcomes for children and young people in Doncaster.

Helen Bellinger, Director of Strategic Development and School Improvement for Partners in Learning Primary Teaching School Alliance and Helen Redford-Hernandez, Headteacher of Hungerhill School, have the central roles in the scheme.

Another teacher, Lucie Pond, is the director of teaching. A launch event is expected in September.

Partners in Learning will receive £200,000 over three years to become the focal point of evidence-based practice in Doncaster and build networks between large numbers of schools. They’ll develop a programme of support and events to get more teachers using research evidence in ways that make a difference in the classroom.

Under the plans, schools will join forces to share jobs and help each other out.

Staff from schools who are members of the Partners in Learning scheme will visit each others premises and observe each others' lessons. They will then sit down together and talk about what went well, what could be improved, and how it could be improved.

But the scheme is also intended to take some of the pressure off teachers in terms of workloads.

At present, there are teachers at each school drawing up documents called schemes of learning, and teaching resources.

The plan is that this will be shared across schools. If there are 10 that need doing, one teacher from each school would draw one up, and share it with the others.

Mrs Redford-Hernandez said: "That is the vision that we have set up. It has taken time to build up relationships. It is about networks and collaboration. We are trying to build capacity and share knowledge and good practice."

Doncaster is currently bidding to set up a University Technical College to teacher teenagers practical and business related skills - and Mrs Redford-Hernandez has contributed the to application through Hungerhill School.

She believes the proposed new college is vital to the borough, partially because of changes which have been made to the schools curriculum.

The Government introduced a new system for GCSE courses called Progress Eight - a reference to eight classes of subjects which are counted in league tables. It has not included a number of subjects in the arts and does not include technology GCSEs.

Progress 8 measures a student's progress between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 across eight key subjects.

It shows whether students have performed to expectation, based on a value-added measure using Key Stage 2 English and Maths as a baseline. It's checked by getting a sample of Year 11 students to sit English and Maths reference tests in March before their June GCSEs.

Progress 8 only compares schools with similar intakes.

This new measure is designed to encourage schools to offer a broad, well-balanced curriculum and will be used towards determining the 'floor standard' for schools.

But Mrs Redford-Hernandez says this is meaning fewer pupils doing sujects such as music and textiles.

She said: "There is concern about a narrowing of the curriculum, but we think a University Technology College would help deal with that issue."

Pupils in Doncaster could soon be learning Chinese style.

The Doncaster Partners in Learning scheme's heard of research and development in maths has been working with experts from Shanghai to look how they teach the subject.

Mrs Redford-Hernandez-Redford said: "It is a model for teaching maths that involves explanation, reasoning, and metacognition - that's thinking about thinking. Partners in Learning have been to China to look at it, and are looking at how we can implement it."