Now, Naveed Idrees has been named as the country’s leading headteacher thanks to his innovative introduction of a curriculum with a heavy focus on music and drama.
Mr Idrees has been named as the Times Educational Supplement (TES) Headteacher of the Year 2019 for his inspirational work at Feversham Primary Academy.
The school is in one of the most deprived areas in the country, with high levels of unemployment and crime, and low levels of literacy.
When Mr Idrees started his role in September 2013, he asked staff a simple question: “What do the pupils need?”
He soon realised that formal learning was not the answer, which was when he decided to buck the trend and move away from the more traditional “dry” curriculum.
Music and drama
He said: “When I started here, the kids and teachers were miserable. I thought ‘we could do more of the same, but there has to be a better way’.
“Music and drama can help with phonics, behaviour and allow them to focus and learn for longer stretches of time and much faster.
“We looked at the curriculum in a different way and regarded music and drama as core subjects, rather than additional subjects.”
This approach has led to other schools across the globe visiting Feversham and turning to the school for advice on moving towards a more arts-based curriculum. Mr Idrees is also part of an independent panel of experts helping to develop the Department for Education’s new “model” music curriculum, which is set to be published this summer.
He said: “This is something I’m really passionate about – that children should get an arts-based curriculum. The national curriculum gives schools flexibility to design their own curriculum but very few choose to take that opportunity. We have shown we can design a curriculum around Arts subjects and still achieve great results. We are hoping more and more schools will take this lead.
“I firmly believe children should be ready for life and they can’t be if we are treating them like robots, where all they are doing is exams and we are just filling their minds with information.”
Mr Idrees explained that for 25 years, Feversham was almost written off as it languished at the bottom of the league tables and remained in Ofsted’s ‘Special Measures’ category.
He said: “It’s the same children, same teachers and same community and because of the arts-based curriculum, it’s now in the top two per cent of the country.
“It has brought pride back into the community and children enjoy their learning. Attendance is really high and that shows the kids love coming to school – because the curriculum is fun.”
What did the judges say?
The judges from the Times Educational Supplement have praised Mr Idrees’ life-changing work at Feversham Primary.
They said: “This is a headteacher who is making a huge difference to the life chances of young people.”
Mr Idrees said that by bucking the trend and turning towards the arts, the school was able to turn its fortunes around.
He said: “The arts are the bedrock of academic success.
“Great results are a by-product of a rich curriculum and this is what children deserve. It requires a shift in mindset and that will lead to results.”
His success comes after Feversham was awarded an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted rating in all areas after previously being judged as ‘good’.
He said: “It is a moment of immense joy, pride and humility.
“Primary education should be the most joyful, memorable and transforming period of any child’s life.”