How a Yorkshire school in special measures three years ago has become the most improved school in the North

A secondary school in West Yorkshire has turned itself around to become the most improved school in the North, according to a new report.

Carleton High School in Pontefract was rated inadequate by Ofstead in 2017, and placed in special measures, based on pupil achievement, quality of teaching, pupil behaviour and safety, and leadership and management.

Prior to that, the previous two Ofsted inspections resulted in “requires improvement” judgements.

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Special report - Widening education gap
Pictured, Jo Cross the Headteacher of Carleton High School, Pontefract, pictured with Head Boy Henry Groves and Head Girl Amelia Hardman. Photo credit: Simon Hulme/JPIMediaResell

But now the secondary school, part of Pontefract Academies Trust, has been named the most improved school in the North of England, according to the Fairer Secondary Schools Index, published by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership today.

Headteacher Jo Cross, who only took the leadership role over in the Summer of 2018, in her first year in a position of headship, and led the school to also achieving its highest rating for ten years, after being rated ‘Good’ in September last year, told The Yorkshire Post: "I was determined to make a difference - that is why I took on the role.

"When I stepped in as headteacher the school was in special measures and there was certainly a lot to do.”

"There is no quick fix to transforming a school...It’s a real testament to the hard work of our incredible team here at Carleton High School."

Carleton High School headteacher Jo Cross, who only took the leadership role over in the Summer of 2018, in her first year in a position of headship, and has led the school to also achieving its highest rating for ten years, after being rated ‘Good’ in September last year. Photo credit: Simon Hulme/ JPIMediaResell

The new index ranks schools based on an adjusted progress score – which measures factors such the proportion of disadvantaged pupils and those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Using this adjusted measure, the Pontefract school saw their national league table position rise by 515 places using the adjusted Progress 8 measure.

Carleton High School has been identified by previous research as being in the group of schools with the highest proportion of long-term disadvantaged children, with 30 per cent receiving pupil premium - two per cent above the national average, which on average perform worse by the Education Data Lab.

Mrs Cross, from a “working-class background,” who grew up in Knottingley, was the first from her family to go to university and has a neuroscience degree from the University of Sheffield.

Carleton High School, Pontefract, pictured with Head Boy Henry Groves and Head Girl Amelia Hardman..Photo credit: Simon Hulme/JPIMediaResell

She said: “I come from a family where no-one passed many GCSEs let alone went onto university - so I appreciate in terms of students how powerful a great education can be.

“At Carleton High School we’ve all worked very hard and our can-do attitude and achievement focused culture is what has brought us to where we are today.

“Our vision is to deliver first-class education to all children – regardless of their background.

“We’ve had to work round the clock to get that right, adopting a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to ensuring no pupil gets left behind.

“While we have a number of disadvantaged pupils here, by making sure we get the basics right and expecting high standards of everyone, we’ve managed to deliver great results in a short space of time.”

Chief Executive Officer of Pontefract Academies Trust, Julian Appleyard OBE added: “This is incredibly pleasing and is exactly what we set out to achieve. Carleton High School is going

from strength to strength and is one of the most improved schools in the country for Progress 8.

“To achieve the most improved school in the North of England is just the icing on the cake and is testament to the hard work, dedication and persistence of our students, parents and staff.”

Mrs Cross, who has more than 15 years experience in the education system, said the transformation and success of Carleton High - a school which is striving to be rated ‘Excellent’ by Ofstead when they have their next inspection in three years time, was in large part to their ‘achievements without excuses approach to education.

There are high expectations for pupils and staff alike and teachers expect pupils to follow rules to the letter, with strict enforcement. This includes all year 11s attending a one hour ‘achieve’ session in Maths or English every day after school.

Teachers also ran a series of 14 specialist workshops over half-term for GCSE students, in order to help them catch up with ‘lost learning’ from school closures during the year.

Given the rising number of Covid cases in schools, in particular in the North, the school has also worked to ensure all children would have access to a laptop and dongle at home, should they be forced to close.

The school has also invested in high-quality cameras for classrooms so teachers can deliver hybrid lessons, meaning children that are self-isolating at home are still able to attend.

Usually during the Easter revision period, disadvantaged pupils and those in need of special help are able to attend a programme called "Maths Hotel", where they spend a week at a hotel with a spa and swimming pool, doing eight hours of maths work a day.

Mrs Cross said: “There isn’t a ceiling as to what our young people can achieve and we’ll continue with our unwavering focus to bring all our students the first class education that they deserve.”

Pontefract MP Yvette Cooper said the current national league tables are “failing” many schools in Yorkshire - like Carleton High School, and others across the North for punishing schools for teaching pupils from the most disadvantaged groups.

She said: “It’s time we had proper government support for education in Yorkshire and proper recognition of the great work many of our Yorkshire schools are doing.

"The Northern Powerhouse Partnership’s Fairer Schools Index shows the brilliant work that’s been done by Carleton High School teachers and pupils - but the Government’s system just doesn’t recognise that."

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