An outstanding education in Islington

Emma Kay's picture
Our school, Highbury Grove, is in one of the four most deprived boroughs in London, in terms of education and family income levels, with 44% child poverty (in London only Tower Hamlets has a higher percentage, figures from HMRC 2009). Islington has been known in recent decades for its poorly performing secondaries, which are traditionally shunned by its most affluent residents - politicians and professionals - in favour of selective state and independent schools. So not much challenged this status quo – until now. We are a group of parents who bucked the local trend and chose not to apply to out of borough selective entry schools, choosing our community school because we wanted an excellent, local, co-ed comprehensive state education for our children. We also believed in this OFSTED outstanding rated school because it had decided to offer educational excellence without becoming an academy.

Highbury Grove has a model staff team, who, under the inspirational leadership of head teacher Truda White, have consistently enriched the lives of their students, of whom 50% are currently claim Free School Meals (71% in the last five years) - an indication of the need there is within our community for a school that can offer a top class education to all students. Highbury Grove occupies a new building, one of the last Building Schools for the Future projects in Islington, architecture that inspires learning, fit for purpose, with a running track and a swimming pool, which is made full use of after school hours by the local community.

Our year seven children are the schools’ first substantial intake who have attained level 5 in SATS, and first intake which is fully co-ed (the school was a boys school which had been converting to co-ed but as unpopular as it already was with local parents of boys, was still more unpopular with parents of girls). This intake represents a choice, made in a few cases by those who could afford independent schools for their children but have begun to think differently about education.

Truda White, the retiring head teacher who is credited with turning this school around, is an extraordinary leader whose vision was for the successful fully comprehensive local community school which she believes every child has a right to attend. She has achieved this by creating a curriculum that allows staff to flourish as well as students - which has ensured staff loyalty - and by simply sticking to her vision throughout this government and the last’s increasing demands on school leadership teams to implement an ever-narrowing curriculum and produce ever more measurable outcomes.

One of Truda White’s innovations and a factor in the school’s success is that Highbury Grove offers its year 7 students an unusual curriculum choice – when they arrive at the school they opt for a Friday specialist school, in which they participate in years 7, 8 and 9, which gives them the opportunity for in depth study at a high level in a subject that especially interests them. This promotes a high level of engagement. Students can choose from science and engineering, catering, music, sport, drama, art, and business. My child is in the music specialist school, (so I can ony talk about music with authority) - this means spending 4 hours every Friday playing in the orchestra, singing in the choir, using the practice rooms, having free orchestral instrument, singing and music theory lessons (with a free instrument thrown in). Its the best day of the week.

But any child, regardless of their specialist school choice, can play in several music ensembles in addition to the school orchestra, and all pupils learn a musical instrument whatever specialist school they opt for.

Secondary transfer students take their CAT tests in year 6, ensuring that they are in the appropriate band when they arrive at the school. Attainment levels are raised whatever they are on intake. See the end of this post for what students have achieved. Students enjoy a broad and challenging curriculum, including studying French in year 7 and two languages from year 8 - French and Spanish or Latin. As part of the enrichment (after school) programme, students can attend among many other choices, attend philosophy classes, use the school gym and learn sailing on a local reservoir.

HG nurtures its feeder primary schools and has developed partnerships with them, already providing specialist music teachers for these schools. Primary school pupils attend Music First sessions at HG and maths sessions for those in need of extension work. Similar partnerships for language teaching and sports in feeder primary schools are planned.

The school is in its second year of running the Highbury Grove Cricket Academy which aims to make HG the top state school cricket team in London. This year the team did exceptionally well.

HG is rightly proud of its students success in gaining university places. A teacher at HG started The Access Project, which is now a charity which helps motivated students from disadvantaged backgrounds win places at top universities. This is achieved through specialist one-to-one mentoring and coaching to help young people prepare for university interviews - a key support because a child on FSM is 22 times less likely than a privately educated pupil to enter a highly selective university. Highbury Grove is one the schools working to change this statistic.

There is so much on offer at Highbury Grove – this is what persuaded so many local parents to make the school their first choice. We believe that Highbury Grove will continue to provide experiences for inner city young people which ensure they don’t just take their place in our global society but they become active contributors who will make the world a better place for all.

If you want to find out more about Highbury Grove, read on:

Here are some facts about our school:

• 1150 young people speak more than 50 languages
• Over 50% are currently claiming free school meals, but in the last 5 years 71% of those currently on roll have claimed this benefit
• Students make exceptional progress with the school in the top 7% nationally
• HGs Ofsted grading was outstanding in May 2010 with the Science department similarly outstanding in all areas in September 2011
• Leading Edge Partnership – HG was invited to join this small group of high performing, outstanding schools
• Artsmark Gold – 3 times
• HG is an Outward Bound Centre and from 2012 HG will be a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme centre
• For 2012, 39% of the Upper Sixth have an offer from a highly selective university, including Oxford and Imperial

Our Students

Case Study 1
Jesse – went to Oxford University to read Chemistry, 2011.
Jesse, who lives with his mum on Essex Road, Islington, earned the right to study chemistry at the oldest university in the world with an exceptional set of A level results; A*s in maths, biology and economics, and an A in chemistry.
He said: “I feel proud, really good about myself, although it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I phoned my mum to tell her and she was just shouting down the phone at me saying congratulations.”
Jesse, enjoys chemistry and wants to study for a PhD in the future. Jesse was a member of the Access Project at HG.

Case Study 2
Brook Tewelde, Year 13, (FSM)
Brook attended Highbury Quadrant Primary School Islington. His ability on entry was well below average and his behaviour in Year 9 was so poor he was at the point of permanent exclusion. Brook attended Saturday School at HG every week and his GCSE results were significantly above average. Brook was a member of the Access Project and is aiming to study medicine or physics.

Case Study 3
Sheldon Merritt, Year 12
Sheldon joined HG in Year 7 after being asked to leave a well known Hackney Academy and was subsequently excluded from HG for 5 days for aggressive behaviour.He is one of an extremely challenging group of young people. Sheldon is very involved
in sport – football, athletics, basketball and fitness and is now coaching these. He is the fastest boy in the school.
Sheldon was predicted to attain Ds and Es, but achieved 3 Cs and 2 Ds at GCSEs. As a sixth former he is employed as a lunchtime supervisor and he accompanied Year 9 on Outward Bound as a leader. Sheldon is currently at West Ham Academy but his aspiration after school is to become a PE teacher, not a footballer/

Cyan Koay Year 13
Cyan has an offer to read Music at Oxford 2012. Cyan had never picked up a musical instrument before joining Highbury Grove but she achieved Grade 8 with Distinction on flute after only 3 years of playing.
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Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 15:25

This is a great tribute to your school and to Truda White, who I have met on several occasions and been deeply impressed by. I last visited the school when it was struggling in an outdated building and had empty places. Truda's determination to turn it round shone through what were very adverse circumstances. It is fantastic to hear that she has been successful and also to hear about parents who recognise that excellence can be delivered in a local community comprehensive school. As we have always pointed out, schools don't need to become academies to either improve or give local families what they want and deserve. An inspiration to us all and I look forward to visiting again, and seeing the new buildings which the last Labour government rightly felt should be the right of every secondary school child.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 16:19

This is an inspirational story and shows what can be done with commitment, drive and support.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 16:44

Presumably we will shortly hear of visit from Michael Gove or David Cameron playing tribute to an excellent school?

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 14/07/2012 - 08:17

If it's not an academy and if it's not run by one of Gove's favourite heads, then I fear there's little chance of the school's achievements being made public let alone praised.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 15/07/2012 - 21:52

Thanks for posting Emma.

At one school I taught at in the 1970s and 80s every boy was forced to join the school brass band and was not allowed to leave unless they had a regular place in a sports team.

The concerts were pack outs night after night. They had music festivals with other local schools which were custom written and involved well over 1000 students.

In the days when kids respected adults we often seem to forget how that was actually achieved. First they must learn to respect themselves.

Steve Arnold's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 09:18

Thanks for posting Emma.

It has been my privilege to have been a governor at Highbury Grove for 14 years and Chair for the last 6 years.

Truda leaves the school in a very different place than she found it and has led us through what has been the most significant transformation in the school’s life. She is the first to acknowledge that it has been a team effort; but it is Truda who has made the difference. Everyone can now be proud to be associated with Highbury Grove – an outstanding school, with first-rate facilities, a strong senior team and a skilled and dedicated group of teachers. Significantly, whilst the adults around them have ambition, it is a place now where the students themselves want to achieve.

We all – students, parents, staff, governors and the wider community – owe Truda a huge debt of gratitude. We will miss her and wish her the very best for the future.

Melissa Benn's picture
Sat, 01/09/2012 - 08:34

Emma - Your post is incredibly inspiring. The breadth of activities and learning offered by the school, its refusal to expect anything but the best from its inner city intake and the individual stories that you give are all testament to what a well funded, motivated school, working in and for its community can achieve. But I also think schools like HG provide a model of schools for the future. As the Coalition's increasingly flaky plans for education begin to founder in chaos, schools like HG - which offer a broad and balanced education to all children, yet with incredible subject/skills choice within it, to both our most disadvantaged children and their better off peers - provide a template of the system we might one day achieve in all parts of the country; one in which every neighbourhood school is well led, inspiring and offers a genuinely rich education, and in which innovation flourishes within a genuinely fair framework. Please keep LSN readers updated about HG's achievements and challenges, and thank you.

Clare Craig's picture
Fri, 10/10/2014 - 22:48

That is an inspiring set of anecdotes. There's a lot about this school that looks really good. So much so that it made me look up the school.

Can you explain why only 31% of the children who make it to the end of KS4 go on to make it to the end of KS5? Are they being kicked out after AS levels?
Why are only 30% of the children girls? What can be done to change that?

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 11/10/2014 - 07:13

Highbury Grove is part of Islington Sixth Form Consortium which comprises four schools.

Ofsted (2010) for Highbury Grove said the Sixth Form pass rates and retention rates (via the Consortium) were in line with national averages.

Ofsted inspection of science provision at Highbury Grove (2011) said science teaching in the sixth form was outstanding and 16 pupils had gained places at Russell Group unis to study science-related subjects.

Those figures are, of course, out-of-date. But in 2013, the number of sixth-form pupils reaching the end of KS5 at Highbury Grove seems no worse (and in some cases better) than other Islington 16-19 provision. For example, at City of London Academy there were 92 pupils aged 16-18 on roll - 29 were recorded at the end of KS5. At City and Islington College, there were 4048 pupils aged 16-18 on roll - 1400 were present at the end of KS5.

Ofsted (2010) noted there were 'substantially more boys than girls' at the school but offered no explanation.

Ofsted reports can be downloaded here.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 11/10/2014 - 07:48

Clare - the large proportion of boys at Highbury Grove could be explained by the fact that nearby Highbury Fields is an all girls' school. Highbury Grove was originally an all boys' school but went co-ed in the late 1990s.

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