New head of school slammed by Ofsted reveals plan to bring pride back

New Acland Burghley headteacher Nicholas John

New Acland Burghley headteacher Nicholas John - Credit: Nigel Sutton

A headteacher brought in to rescue a school still recovering from a damning Ofsted report has said he is committed to implementing “high professional standards” – including making sure all staff now abide by its dress code.

Nicholas John, 40, was announced the new head of Acland Burghley School earlier this year after 18 months of being run on an interim basis by Parliament Hill School headteacher, Sue Higgins.

Ms Higgins was parachuted in following a disastrous Ofsted report in 2013 that saw the secondary state school in Tufnell Park downgraded from “good” to “requires improvement”, one above the lowest rating. Inspectors criticised the school’s poor student behaviour and poor exam results, and called on “scruffy” teachers to have more pride in their “personal presentation”. It prompted the resignation of then headteacher, Jo Armitage.

Mr John, an English specialist who studied classics at Oxford University, said he was now looking to “reinvent” the school, and suggested it had failed to properly adapt to changes brought by Michael Gove while education secretary.

In his first interview since getting the job, he said: “My top priority is raising academic standards.

“Absolutely crucial is the quality of written work. You still need to hold a pen and you still need to write clearly and plan effectively under timed conditions. For all the way that the world is changing technologically, that’s the way we still currently assess children. Focusing on maths, English and sciences is also essential.

“But that’s not all that we bring.

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“The school has a wonderful tradition of art and creativity that is valued by the community.”

Mr John arrives from his previous post as deputy head of St Paul’s Way Trust School in Tower Hamlets, where he helped the school rise the Ofsted ranks from “inadequate” to “outstanding” in less than four years. GCSE results also improved significantly.

Acland Burghley featured low down in last week’s GCSE results table, but under Ms Higgins’ stewardship Ofsted inspectors said the behaviour of students had “transformed” since the 2013 report.

Mr John, a Norwich City fan who was educated at Ampleforth College, a private boarding school run by Benedictine monks and famed for its strictness, said: “Children’s behaviour is essential to them achieving their potential.

“Ms Higgins improved the ethos of the school and there are now fewer incidents of unruly behaviour. We have very clear expectations for students and staff. And the pride in the school is rising.”

Asked about the “scruffy” teachers referred to by Ofsted in 2013, and which made national news, he said simply: “We have a dress code and I expect people to follow it.”

He added: “I’m very excited about the enormous potential here. Camden has so many outstanding primary schools that can feed into Acland Burghley. I’ve never taught in an area like it.”