How To Grow A School – MEA Central
Once again, this year I had the “pleasure” of attending both the Labour & Conservative party conferences. If you’ve never been to these, think… ResearchED but with really expensive tickets, lots of lobbyists, more booze, and less atmosphere.
Actually, I’m being unfair.
They are, for better or worse, an integral part of the political calendar, and events where lots of people from all over the country can get together to share ideas, learn from one another, and have fun along the way. They are quite intense though, and whilst most political activists and interest groups are lovely, I’ve learned the hard way that 3 or 4 days on the trot is hard going.
So this year during Conservative Party Conference I took myself off to one of my very favourite schools for a morning – MEA Central, in Levenshulme, Manchester. And it was really worthwhile – not just in terms of being rejuvenated by enthusiastic teachers and pupils, but because it was a wonderful way to be reminded of why we are all in education.
The school is in its third year of operation, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit it every year so far. There is something quite special about seeing a school go from a single year group – with *that* feel that all new schools have – to one with over 600 pupils and 60 staff. Once empty corridors are now burgeoning departments; transitions and breaktimes see the site become a hub-bub of (calm, orderly) activity.
A major challenge in any growing school is maintaining the culture with so many new people joining at once. Having been through this at Bedford Free School, I know how hard it is – and I remember well discussing the issue with Emily Reynard, the Principal, the first time I visited.
I am genuinely impressed with the way that she has designed, implemented, and then embedded values and routines with her team and students body. I’ve been pondering the key reasons why she’s pulled it off, and I think it comes down to a few things:
- clarity of vision and values – so no one can be mistaken as to what the school, and therefore their role, is about;
- a fabulous core group of staff that she’s had since year one – which she’s kept hold of by looking after well and investing in;
- careful recruitment of new staff – to ensure alignment with the vision & values; and
- lashings and lashings of induction and other training when people arrive (including pupils.)
This is no mean feat!
I was lucky enough to have some in-depth conversations with subject leaders, and was really taken by the thought and integrity with which they had constructed their respective curriculums. To see that beautiful combination of subject passion, knowledge and pedagogical expertise in so many people is really quite something. I was even left with the feeling that perhaps Geography might be a proper subject after all! (I jest.)
Like all new schools at the same stage, MEA Central is looking forward to a visit from You-Know-Who at some point this year. With exactly zero external assessment data to go on, and an enlightened internal tracking system that Ofsted won’t even look at, the new framework should be perfect for a school at this stage of development, and which has put the curriculum at the heart of everything they do. I look forward to seeing how an inspection team go about their job – it will be a real test of their ability to judge quality in such a short time with zero data to go on.
What next for the school? They’re approaching the business end of things – with GCSE courses kicking in next year (whilst simultaneously having another 210 pupils and 20 staff to induct and support.) The tight-knit SLT and strong middle leaders mean they’re in a good position to handle all of this. They’ll be adding another Vice Principal to the mix too – a vital role that will complete the line-up & set them up to finish growing in style. (If you’re an experienced AP or VP considering your next move, they’re definitely worth checking out.)
In summary then, if you want to see a great example of a warm-strict, knowledge-rich school that’s still growing, visit MEA Central. It’s 9 minutes on the train from Manchester Piccadilly, and miles ahead in terms of its culture and curriculum. I love it!