TES Schools Awards 2015 – profile of Burnt Mill Academy Trust

Published: Friday 12 Jun 2015

Paul Williams is Assistant Head Teacher at Burnt Mill Academy in Essex – one of eight schools shortlisted for the Secondary School of the Year category that we're supporting at this year's TES Awards. In the eighth and final in our series of stories profiling the nominees, Paul tells us how the Point Score of students joining the school is lower than the Essex and national average, but despite this they attain well above national averages in GCSE results…

Burnt Mill is a co-educational 11-16 Academy located in the Essex town of Harlow, with 1163 students on roll. We have an 'outstanding' rating by Ofsted, who described us as: 'An outstanding academy that is high achieving and provides a first rate environment for learning. At Burnt Mill, students' achievement is outstanding and students attain well above national averages in GCSE results.'

To put this success into context, average point score on entry is lower than the Essex and national average and the percentage of students with a statement of educational needs (2.3%) is higher than the national average. The percentage of students with a first language which is not English has increased in the last three years to 11%, and one third of our current cohort are identified as Pupil Premium students.

The most important issue for us, as for many schools across the country, is to further improve opportunities for our most disadvantaged young people. We have achieved a great deal already for such students, but we recognise that we should never become complacent about this issue, especially when our town continues to have areas of serious social deprivation.

Furthermore, we want our most able, regardless of their background, to achieve even more of the highest grades (A* and A) in particular in English and Mathematics so our most talented young people can compete successfully at the highest level.

I think the thing I am most proud of has to be the high expectations of themselves that we have now fostered in the young people of our school. When our current Head teacher Helena Mills arrived in 2010 she spoke of a vision where former Burnt Millers would routinely be offered places at, and would attend, the very top universities.

This aspirational ethos is now embedded across the school and our young people know that they, as shining examples from a comprehensive school background, can challenge students from privately educated backgrounds for places in higher education and in high flying careers.

We feel excited and honoured about being on the shortlist for Secondary School of the Year. It is a testament to the hard work put in by all members of our school community – students, parents and staff – that we have been recognised in this way.

Why do we deserve to win? Because it would be recognition for the incredible journey the school has been on over the past five years: from being rated as 'satisfactory' (now called 'requires improvement') under the old Ofsted framework in summer 2010, through our highly successful re-inspection in 2012, to the point we are at now. Just last year 86% of our students received 5 or more A* - C grades including English and Maths.

This means we have secured vital qualifications for our young people, which we know will transform their lives. Without achieving this for our students, however caring and warm an environment a school provides (and we certainly believe Burnt Mill does!) the outlook for students leaving us at 16 would not be good and we would be doing them a disservice.

If we win, we'll continue to invest in those things that make the difference to young people in our school. The ability to read confidently, for example, is pivotal in opening up opportunities in later life and this has been a top priority ever since our first reading recovering scheme began, supported by the EEF, a few years ago. We will continue to develop and refine this, as without this skill significant numbers of our young people will be unable to grow into successful adults.

We will continue to target resources to those students who without them will fall behind their more affluent peers. Crucial to this, for example, has been creating more time for study at school, which now opens for lessons into the late afternoon, on Saturdays and each holiday. Students who struggle to find places to learn successfully at home and outside school can be taught by Burnt Mill staff to boost their preparation for exams.

It is only the superb commitment of our staff, students and the support of parents that has made this strategy so successful.

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