Whitefield’s headteacher: School’s culture needed changing

Whitefield’s headteacher is frank in his assessment of the school; things needed to change and they have.

In 2008 the Barnet secondary school was in danger of closing after it failed to meet the government’s floor target of 30 per cent of pupils achieving five A* to C GCSEs including maths and English.

This came as a major blow to the school, particularly as just four months earlier Ofsted had given it a largely glowing report which singled out the school’s pastoral care for praise.

Yet in 2010, little more than two years after being named a National Challenge School, Whitefield’s maths grades jumped to 62 per cent, while 50 percent of pupils got the ‘gold standard’ five A* to C GCSE grades including maths and English.

This turnaround placed Whitefield School, in Claremont Road, Cricklewood, in the top one per cent most improved schools in the country, turning it into an overnight success story.

Martin Lavelle, who was appointed headteacher in 2008, is surprisingly frank in his assessment of the school’s previous failings. “I don’t want to belittle the work of my predecessor, but over a number of years people viewed it as a failing school,” said the former history teacher.

“I changed the culture of the school because I felt the nurturing of students went too far.

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“There were people here who really cared about children, but perhaps the school had lost sight of the fact that at the end of the day students are going to need a bit of paper showing their qualifications. I felt that was lacking.”

But, like a band struggling to make the all important second album, the trick is sustaining this improvement.

This explains why Mr Lavelle feels this year’s results, which equalled last year’s, are the true indicator of the school’s success.

He puts these improved grades down to smaller class sizes, more one to one tuition, and tighter results tracking.

But these changes came at a price. Around 50 staff members have been replaced since 2008.

Mr Lavelle insists this turnover happens when a school is going through a transition period and is all part of building up the school’s reputation and drawing in pupils from East Finchley and Golders Green – not Whitefield’s traditional catchment area.

One thing is certain; the school has set its sights high.

“If we had a cohort which would include some students from a more stable background, the school would have a different dynamic,” said Mr Lavelle.

“I want to see a school that is full, students going to Oxbridge, and strong teachers who aren’t afraid to take risks in the classroom.”