Press release

Academy goes from failing to outstanding in just 2 years

How Outwood Academy Portland has taken advantage of academy freedoms and used extra-curricular activities to improve pupils' attainment.

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A school ranked among the worst in the country just over 2 years ago is now rated outstanding by Ofsted - one of the quickest turnarounds ever achieved.

Outwood Academy Portland’s principal, Dr Phillip Smith, says that while a renewed focus on attainment in core subjects since the school became an academy has been crucial, the school’s success was only possible thanks to the numerous extra-curricular activities now provided because they turned the school into a place where children wanted to be.

Dr Smith added that high-quality extra-curricular activities are a feature of all academies in the Outwood family of schools.

When the school, in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, was council run, only a handful of activities were available. But now the school uses its academy freedoms to offer pupils more than 100 after-school classes - with everything from extra English and maths classes, to an orchestra, a choir, a debating club, Minecraft club and circus skills on offer.

The school has seen sharp improvements in results and behaviour since they first started working with Outwood Academies Trust in May 2011, a year after being placed in special measures:

  • in 2011, while a council-run school, the proportion of pupils achieving five GCSEs at A* to C including English and maths was just 41%
  • in 2013, that figure had jumped to 75% of pupils
  • in the ‘value added’ league tables - which measure pupils’ progress from the start of secondary school to their GCSE results - the school is ranked 39th out of all secondary schools across England

The school officially became an academy in June 2012, having been classed as ‘requires improvement’, and the change culminated in their outstanding rating from Ofsted this month.

Since becoming an academy, the school has taken advantage of being able to change the length of its school day - starting lessons earlier than normal at 8.25am and finishing formal schooling at 2.30pm.

That means pupils have extra time to take part in ‘enrichment’ - an extra hour after school which includes traditional catch-up classes in maths and English alongside more unusual activities such as rock music club and table-top fantasy game Warhammer, with the majority of pupils staying on to take part.

Examples of enrichment classes offered by Portland include:

  • building an electric car
  • philosophy and ethics debating society
  • astronomy
  • film club
  • cooking

Dr Smith praised the work of teachers and pupils for turning around the school so quickly.

He added that the enrichment classes were a crucial part of their success. Dr Smith said:

Extra-curricular classes are a key part of life at our school and they would not be possible if we weren’t an academy and had to follow a set school day.

The classes give pupils the chance to learn a wide range of life skills and helps build the confidence they need to face challenges with enthusiasm.

They have helped change the ethos at Outwood Academy Portland - pupils see the school as somewhere they want to be not somewhere they can’t wait to leave.

Dr Smith says starting the school day earlier has helped improve pupils’ concentration and means they are more willing to get involved in activities once classes have ended.

He said:

Research shows that children study better in the morning. That is why we only have 1 lesson after the lunch break.

The earlier start also means pupils and their parents are happy to stay in school to pick up extra skills or catch up on subjects they are struggling with.

Earlier this year, Education Secretary Michael Gove said he wanted state schools to rival the best independents by offering a wide range of extra-curricular activities as standard.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said in his speech:

I have never visited a school that excelled academically, which didn’t also excel in extra-curricular activities.

As top heads and teachers already know, sports clubs, orchestras and choirs, school plays, cadets, debating competitions, all help to build character and instil grit, to give children’s talents an opportunity to grow and to allow them to discover new talents they never knew they had.

Notes to editors

  1. Portland School was found to be in special measures in March 2010 and came out of special measures (graded 3) on 8 March 2012. Ofsted’s latest inspection was published on 3 April 2014.

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Published 11 April 2014