Dartmouth Academy School Report - August 2012
Dartmouth Academy Principal Nick Hindmarsh smiles as I sit down. It’s the end of term, a time when teachers and students alike everywhere are eyeing the summer and counting the minutes until the holiday begins.
However, it seems Nick is not in that vein of mind – he’s got some serious work to do. He’s preparing for the beginning of the £8.5million rebuild of the school and looking at how the curriculum at the all-through academy can be further improved.
Nick took up his post at the Academy 18months ago and a great deal has changed at the Academy – results are improving, a third of the staff has changed, the number of students is up and there is a positive atmosphere to the Milton Lane site. What are his feelings?
“On reflection the most significant period for us was May 2011, when we appointed significant numbers of new staff,” he said. “We brought in six newly-qualified teachers and former Advanced Skills Teachers in Science and Maths. This mix of young enthusiasm and experienced dynamic leadership fitted perfectly into the team we had built during our first three terms – it represented the point at which we started to see a shift in culture. We now had a complete team of teachers and staff who felt they had a moral imperative to provide Dartmouth and its surrounding villages with the high quality school it deserved.
“We now had a great team geared towards helping children to learn and learn HOW to learn. At that moment I realised just how exciting it is to be involved in this project to turn around a small school and create a unique and high-performing education hub.”
Nick likens the work that has gone into changing Dartmouth into a modern, “all through” academy – which educates children from the age of 3-18 – to turning around a large oil tanker.
“When you turn round a tanker it takes a long time to slow it down and get it turned but once you are heading in the right direction you can accelerate – that is what has happened. Progress seemed slow when we first started putting in the changes that we needed but now you can see the changes taking affect and the mood of the whole school is changing.”
A recent report from top Ofsted inspectors agrees with Nick’s assessment of the Academy - saying that the school’s improvement was on course and that its rate of improvement was ‘accelerating’.
“The Ofsted inspectors spoke to a wide section of our students and found they were pleased that lessons have become more fun, more challenging and inspiring than they were just one year ago – that was very pleasing to hear.”
Mr Hindmarsh said he was pleased to see how much his staff team has ‘stepped up’ to help the Academy improve.
“All of our staff have worked incredibly hard this year – everyone here now shares the vision I have: to create a unique all through school which is outstanding in every way – from our Ofsted inspections, to our facilities, to our children’s confidence and the way we work with the community. We need to be the wonderful school Dartmouth and its area deserve. We are on track to achieve that.”
Part of this vision of transformation is the new ‘Stages’. They are ‘Springboard’ (from nursery to Year 4), ‘Gateway’ (Years 5 -8 ) and ‘Pathways’ (Year 9 - Post 16).
The stages reflect the very latest in educational planning and aim to aid learning through supporting children’s development throughout their school careers.
Perhaps the most recognised benefit of the stages system is how ‘Gateway’ will incorporate strategies to avoid the ‘Year Seven Dip’ that affects all of secondary education.
“Children struggle when they go up to secondary school and we think we can help ease the transition through our Gateway Stage,” said Nick. “This works for both students who have been at the Academy since the nursery and those who are coming from our feeder primaries. The children will have fewer teachers than they would normally have had – so rather than going from one or two teachers to 15 they will go up to seven or eight. We will concentrate on giving them a smooth transition from primary to secondary education, including a programme called ‘Building Learning Power’. This will give them the skills and learning tools to cope better with the secondary environment and make them happier, more confident young people.”
So what of the future? What can people expect to see at the Academy over the coming years?
“The rebuild is obviously something which will make a big impression on people visiting us – we are currently expecting the proper build to begin in October because of a few delays in the planning permission process. This gives us an advantage as we can plan better for the changes and get our learners ready for it at the beginning of term – our first consideration is their welfare.
“We cannot, and will not, get this rebuild wrong. This school will be a major public building for the next 30 years. We are working to make sure we create a set of facilities that helps learning and is an attractive environment for all our learners and staff. A good building can aid good learning and we are working to provide that.
“We have set ourselves an aim to bring our results up and to achieve an ‘outstanding’ mark from Ofsted by 2016 – these are targets we are well on course to achieving thanks to the hard work of our learners and staff.
“We are picking up momentum and I have no doubt that we will achieve these goals. It’s only a question of when. We are also looking at an increase in student numbers, from 508 where we are today to around 700 by 2020. We also have an aim to work more with the Dartmouth community and have students who are engaged, confident, considerate and have greater aspirations for themselves and their community.”
The school also aims to have less environmental impact – there are plans to install systems for renewable energy so that the Academy will not have any energy costs – using wind turbines, a ground source heat pump and solar panels.
“This feels like the natural way to build a public building: so that it uses as few resources as possible and could even prove an income generator to support our educational work,” said Nick.
How does he feel after 18 months in the job?
“Privileged to have the best job in Dartmouth,” he said. “It’s a huge challenge that is wonderfully exciting and very satisfying.”
First Published August 2012 By The Dart