School using helicopter rides and jumping the canteen queue as ways to improve attendance and gain Ofsted 'outstanding' rating

Rewards for turning up to school is one of the tactics being used to change the grade at a secondary school in east Leeds.

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 4:45 am

It is eight weeks since The GORSE Academies Trust took over John Smeaton school from the United Learning Trust following a raft of damning reports from Ofsted which led to the school's official closure at the end of August.

As schools returned in September for the new term, it then started life as John Smeaton Academy, with current staff, and education leaders, from across the trust bringing about some rapid and revolutionary changes.

One of which is the 100 % Attendance Club, which for full attendance, offers students a range of rewards, including celebration activities, trips and pop up events throughout the year - and even queue jumping in the school canteen.

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Principal Leanne Griffiths and students take their seat in the helicopter for a ride in the skies of east Leeds.

It was implemented originally at Farnley Academy by headteacher Chris Stokes and the model has been drafted in to the trust's other schools and, now also at John Smeaton - which is technically classed now by Ofsted as a new school.

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The 'club' started in September and does take into account COVID related absences. Already some events to reward pupil engagement have taken place with a day of events last week which included a fun-fair that students had an allocated time to and even helicopter rides.

There has been some improvement in school attendance, but Ms Griffiths admitted there is still room for improvement.

Coun Ryan Stephenson, a governor at John Smeaton, ready to take off with students in the organised helicopter ride.

She said: "We have got more students that have a higher attendance. I hope and would like to see the 100% Attendance Club will significantly affect that. I recognise that until they experience it, they don't understand it, once they do, they will want to be a part of it and we will see the impact on attendance figures throughout the course of the year."

In addition to the attendance rewards, some of the other key changes that have been implemented at John Smeaton in order to transform the school cover discipline, leadership and management and changes to the curriculum.

Clear direction has been given about rewards and consequences relating to behaviour in school, which in turn has allowed teachers to focus on teaching and the quality of the curriculum rather than behaviour management, expertise has been drafted in from other GORSE schools to help with teacher training and enrichment activities from rowing to learning languages are now a permanent part of the offering at John Smeaton.

Ms Griffiths said the changes had been welcomed by the school community who for a long time have appealed for stability and development at John Smeaton.

Leanne Griffiths, head of 11 to 16 education at the GORSE Academies Trust.

She said: "The response from the community has been more than I could ever have imagined. There is passion for change, the trust and for this time to be the time. A number of leaders in the past have promised a transformation and the community has really bought into the GORSE vision. They can see what we are saying, what we are doing and developing on.

"There are some students that have taken time to adjust to the consistency approach but students are absolutely thriving as a consequence. The school feels calm, focused and there is a really lovely energy. This time we are on a journey and not a journey that is going backwards.

"The vision is to have the academy as an outstanding provider. I absolutely believe that this is possible given the amount of progress we have made in just seven weeks and the trust and faith that the community are putting in."

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The John Smeaton Academy.