A mother who lives near Alnwick, Northumberland, told me this heartening story about her local comprehensive:
I attended the Duchess Community High School
in the late 1980s, and I didn’t do very well there. My attendance was poor, I frequently skived off and no teacher seemed to notice. I managed to scrape five GCSEs at the end of my time there. I didn’t go on to do A Levels and worked in a bar instead.
Now my daughter, aged 15, is there and I have noticed that the school has improved a great deal. Firstly, the expectations the teachers have of pupils is much higher. The communication with parents is a great deal better. I meet my daughter’s form teacher two or three times a year, and every half-term I get assessment sheets which show how well she is doing in her subjects, and how much effort she is putting in. Secondly, they keep a much closer on eye on attendance so if my daughter did skive off like I did, I’d know about it very quickly because they would phone home.
The school provides a lot of support for parents. For example, last week we had the Options Evening for parents where we learnt about all the A Level options. I never considered doing A Level but I definitely want my daughter to go into the Sixth Form. I personally think that the school is raising aspirations in the whole community. My daughter loves school and does all her homework.
Overall, the school has improved a great deal. I am concerned still though that the buildings are in need of repair. The school does take children from quite deprived backgrounds, but it hasn’t had the kind of funding that other schools in Northumberland have had. For example, schools nearer Newcastle have received a big sums of money for rebuilding. The Duchess still has mobile classrooms and needs money to be re-furbished. But we mustn’t forget that the teaching is very good.
The most recent Ofsted report says: "The Duchess’s High School and specialist college is a good and improving school with outstanding features. Students make good progress in their studies, and the care, guidance and support they receive is excellent. The school knows its strengths and weaknesses very well and is working effectively to make further improvements. For example, English is not doing as well as mathematics and science, particularly at Key Stage 3, and the school has made this a high priority. Students thoroughly enjoy learning, feel safe, and behave well. Results have improved and are above average. The number of students gaining higher GCSE grades has increased since the last report."