Education secretary impressed with town schools
Monday, 24th October 2011.
The achievements of Haverhill's two senior schools were celebrated on Friday morning in a visit by the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove.
Mr Gove toured Samuel Ward and unveiled a plaque commemorating its launch as an academy, and then went on to Castle Manor where he was driven round to see the various schools in the partnership and saw some classes in action.
He visited at the invitation of Haverhill's MP Matthew Hancock, who accompanied him on his tours.
At the end of his visit Mr Gove paid tribute to the two heads of the schools, Howard Lay at Samuel Ward and Madeleine Vigar at Castle Manor, as examples of outstanding leadership.
It was that quality which set the schools apart and which had encouraged Mr Hancock to persuade him to make the visit, which was first planned in July but had had to be put off several times due to other calls on his time
Mr Gove said he had agreed to make the visit because he was a friend of Mr Hancock, but after talking to the headteachers he had realised just how significant the schools were.
"Both took over at a time when the potential of their schools was not fully realised," he said, "and they had a clear vision of how to improve."
That leadership, Mr Gove said, was the single element which he identified as having made the schools so remarkable.
"Haverhill is a town on the up, where a lot is changing for the better and much of that is being driven by what happens in the schools," he said.
The all-through schooling model being followed by the two schools was leading to more integrated education. "It is a model of communicatioon that really works in these schools," he said.
He accepted that finances were tight in schools at present, despite the Government ring-fencing education spending, and said he would always want more, as would teachers.
"But waht is striking here," he said, "is the capacity to utilise redundant buildings, and to do so in a matter of weeks, which shows with the right sort of l;eadership you can make existing resources go further."
He had seen new buildings at Samuel Ward, and also the former Parkway Middle School which is now integrated into Castle Manor as its communications unit.
While he was there he saw a photography course in action and was interviewed by Jack Vernon, of year 11, who he described as 'an up-and-coming Jeremy Paxman'.
Ms Vigar had taken the opportunity to impress on Mr Gove the importance of the vocational elements of education provided at the schools, which they did not want to see dongraded when the English Baccalaureate is implemented, focusing on core academic subjects.
"A significant number of students are motivated by doing vocational work in areas they are passionate about," he said. He saw that as a motivator for them to work harder in core areas to broaden their range of choices.
During a question and answer session with students at Samuel Ward, Mr Gove advised them not to close off their options when selecting subjects.
"Statistics show that A level maths and sciences are the best routes into any job if you want to make money and if you want to work abroad," he said.
He was asked if A levels were getting easier and slightly skirted round a direct answer by saying: "Undeniably, young people work harder than ever before and teachers are working harder than ever before to get students to that level.
"But we have to bear in mind how we compare with other countries. In spme subjects they may be easier and in some tougher than they were, but the question is not 'are they as tough as they used to be' but 'are the questions as tough as they are in Singapore, Hong Kong or elesewhere."
He said visiting schools was his favourite part of his job.
"Here in Haverhill you have schools that are doing better than most in Suffolk," he said.
"Now I have spoken to your head teacher I can understand why Matthew wanted me to come and visit. When I get back to London I shall be asking why we can't do in other places some of the things you are doing here.
"I can understand why Matthew is so proud to represent this part of the world."
At Castle Manor, Ms Vigar drove Mr Gove around so he could see Place Farm, Clements and Burton End primaries anf then back via the former Parkway school and into Castle manor main site along the drive which now connects the buildings.
He met head girland head boy Lauren Arkesdon and Josh Franks, and sixth former Maria Ferrier handed him a letter about why she loved her school so much.
Mr Gove was questioned about the new free school in Clare, but he did not think it would cause any detriment to Haverhill's schools because it was offering something different and creating 'space in the system'.
Mr Hancock said Mr Gove's vist showed his commitment to understand what was going on in Haverhill.
"Throughout the day he has been asking 'how have you achieved what you have done?' because these heads have taken two schools which were not doing as well as they could and torned them around," he said.
"The all-through schooling system developed here is a new development which he has been learning about."
But he said Mr Gove had also seen other wider effects in that the schools' successes had had a direct impact on children's behaviour in the centre of town.
"The whole town feels aspirations from the achievement of the children," he said. "And we have better behaved kids."
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