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New headteacher at William Ellis insists he will bring stability to the struggling school

PUBLISHED: 17:07 06 October 2011

Sam White new Head Teacher of William Ellis School

Sam White new Head Teacher of William Ellis School

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

It is a bright sunny inset day and there is not a pupil to be seen, but William Ellis remains the centre of a flurry of activity.

It is a bright sunny inset day and there is not a pupil to be seen, but William Ellis remains the centre of a flurry of activity.

Electricians are finishing the re-wiring, the final touches of paint are being added to the skirting boards, and new headteacher, Sam White, is instigating a new plan of action for the Highgate Road secondary boys’ school.

William Ellis has a distinguished history, founded in 1862 by a public spirited businessman of the same name, famous “Elissians” have included author Toby Young and actor Andrew Sachs.

It has, however, suffered from a crippling bout of instability recently. It fell into financial crisis in 2007 with reports claiming the school was plunged £500,000 into the red after a blunder over paying for boiler repairs.

The turbulent period that followed saw three headteachers lead the school in as many years.

Sitting in his office amid statistical wall charts which map every pupil’s progress, Mr White is confident the school has now put those troubled days behind it.

“I am here for the long haul. This is my first headship and it is very important this is a success, both personally and for the school,” he said.

In 2010 Ofsted rated the school as satisfactory, a mark many teachers and parents were disappointed with.

“There are excellent teachers, but it wasn’t consistent”, explains Mr White.

“We have established quite a clear vision of what we want the school to be.

“That is boys achieving what they should be and beyond, having respect for each other and being able to make a positive contribution to society.”

This will mean tangible changes for pupils.

A new house system will be introduced to inject a healthy dose of cooperation and competition, while the Duke of Edinburgh award is also being offered for the first time.

And the “Ellis ethos” will be more clearly formulated and instilled.

In its simplest terms, however, Mr White is eager to set about improving the academic reputation of the school.

“Schools may have become too fixed on base line targets – the minimum all students must meet,” he explains.

“My main priority is quality teaching. There has been quality teaching going on at William Ellis but we need to have a more systematic approach to things.”

The former chemistry teacher is well placed to steer this more academic course.

He was deputy headteacher at the London Oratory, one of the most respected academic comprehensives in London, before he joined William Ellis.

But leading this change will be tough.

Girls outstrip boys academically in secondary education, and the recent riots have raised serious questions about the sheer depth of disenfranchisement some teenagers feel.

“I think there is a concern that a large number of young people perhaps don’t take personal responsibility for their lives,” said the former chemistry teacher.

“They are very uncertain about their future. As a 16 year-old at the moment, unless you have got good qualifications or come from a certain type of background, you would feel rather unsure about what the future holds.

“Some of them will feel rather let down.”

While this feeling is not exclusive to boys, it does highlight some of the challenges of running an all male school; shrinking opportunities in the world of work and few positive male role models to help instil a broader perspective.

Mr White is, however, an optimist about the school’s future. He points to a slimmed down more focused leadership team and steadily improving grades as indicators that despite the recent problems, William Ellis has a bright future.

The task now is for the results to match these aspirations.

“I want it to be an outstanding school, not just in the Ofsted sense, but that we know what we are offering is fantastic for the students that come here,” said Mr White.

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