This week, Paul spoke to the headteacher of the school which is at the centre of the Channel 4 series, Educating Greater Manchester, Drew Povey. His school is Harrop Fold in Salford and he became head there at the age of 32.
Harrop Fold was infamous for being ‘the worst school in the country’ when Drew took it over but it is no longer in Special Measures and despite a huge deficit (the largest of any school in the UK) is now thriving. Drew says that the only way through that kind of situation is to focus on the values of the school.
“The culture always comes first before any strategy is put in place.”
How did you start to get the parents onboard?
Many of the current parents were at the school themselves and some didn’t have a very positive experience as students themselves. Drew says he learned quickly that he had to go out into the community – he couldn’t expect the people who lived close to the school to understand what was going on there ‘by osmosis’. So he attended lots of community meetings where he expected to receive negativity at first but over time was able to spread good news about the school. He also instituted open days and gradually managed to create a positive vibe around what the school was doing which encouraged parents to trust them and get involved.
Was it a tough decision to let cameras into the school?
Drew made sure it was everyone’s decision – staff, students and parents. Staff from previous series came into the school and everyone was consulted. This led to a vote and 90% of the school community voted to allow the cameras in.
In fact, a year 9 girl said to Drew that there were always businesses coming in to school to look at leadership and other topics and now they had the opportunity to do this on a national scale – so why not?
One of the biggest talking points of the programme has been the boy who wears make-up in school – why not make him conform?
Drew says that the guidelines are there for children but that we risk not encouraging young people to be individuals, to value and celebrate diversity if the rules are too restrictive.
“[Education] is all about preparing young people for life.”
What are the critical elements of managing behaviour in your school and what’s the impact of social media?
Despite what might appear like ‘soft edges’ on the TV programme, Drew is clear that the boundaries are very clear in reality at his school.
“What we expect of kids is probably what we’re going to get from them.”
Drew talks about a combination of barriers, chances and the belief you set for the students.
Mobile phones are part of school life at Harrop Fold. Drew points out that mobile phones are crucial to how he operates as an adult and he sees it as his responsibility to prepare students for adult life. He is aware of he risks but he believes it is essential to get young pe3ople to use mobile phones responsibly. The children use their phones as learning resources, including social media applications. Drew is aware of he difficulties of always being accessible on social media but he and his staff are proactive in teaching children about social media, how to keep themselves safe and how to get the best out of it.
What’s holding Drew at Harrop Fold after 13 years?
Drew talks about the ‘Salford Spirit’ and says it’s a brilliant place to work. The people there are straight-talking but also the most supportive people he has met.
How does a school get saddled with £3Million of debt?
In 2004-6 the school was spending money to get out of Special Measures. The debt was never meant to be managed by the school itself but a series of circumstances including the global financial crisis meant that it ended up having to pay the whole sum back. There was also an overspend situation and a falling school roll on top of he original debt. Everyone said it couldn’t be paid off. However, the staff came up with brilliant ideas and they started to make huge savings, despite not making redundancies. The school has paid a lot of money back now but it’s not in a sustainable position yet. It’s even impossible for the Harrop Fold to convert to an academy because of its financial position.
Drew has just launched a Just Giving page but is keen to point out that this isn’t connected with the TV programme – they did that because they are proud of their students and their school. However, he is hopeful that businesses who have contacted him as well as other organisations and sources of income may all come together to enable them to finally pay off the debt.
Drew is also about to publish a book and is developing leadership advice for companies which will help the funding effort.
DrewPovey.com (consultancy site)