Secret of success at John Ferneley College, Melton
John Ferneley College, in Melton, has come a long way in a short space of time. Its first cohort of GCSE students took their exams in summer 2011 following a decision to change its age range from 11 to 14 to 11 to 16. Back then, 56 per cent achieved the Government's benchmark of five or more A* to C grades, including English and maths.
This leapt to 71 per cent in 2012, making it the second-best state school in Leicestershire – not bad for a school which has only been teaching GCSEs for three years.
It's value added results, an indication of pupil progress, also put it in the top 8 per cent in the country.
Head teacher Chris Robinson – a man who is so full of energy and enthusiasm he finds it hard to sit still for anything longer than five minutes – explains John Ferneley's winning formula.
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The school has undergone a £20 million transformation in the past few years, but Mr Robinson said it is not just about the new buildings.
"It's the culture we've nurtured here," he says. "It's not about the building we have or the fact we've changed the school's age range – that would be far too simplistic. It's about having high expectations, students knowing what they need to achieve and what it will take to get there.
"It's also about staff knowing each and every pupil and what progress they are making, and finally, it's about rewarding success so that their drive to succeed continues."
Mr Robinson said teachers were passionate and determined to get the best out of all the students, "whether they're top flight or not".
"That's why our value added status means so much, because it shows that, no matter what starting point students arrive here at, we're progressing them to their highest levels," he said. "It's that persistence which is really paying off."
The school is unusual in that there are no bells to sound the beginning or end of lessons, there is no staff room as such, and one lesson can last half a day, rather than the traditional 45 minutes.
"We fundamentally trust our pupils to get to their lessons when they're supposed to and to behave," Mr Robinson said. "It's that trust which has created a culture of mutual respect.
"We want students to take ownership of themselves and that's why there are no bells.
"Teachers aren't in a staff room far from pupils when they're not in class. They can be found around the school in the library or restaurant where they're easily accessible to students. It means they're easy to find and easy to speak to if needed.
"Our school is divided into zones and each zone has its own library area, along with classrooms and toilets. Because of the way lessons are time-tabled, it means we don't have huge amounts of pupils moving around the site at the same time.
"We might be a big school, with about 1,000 pupils, but it doesn't feel like one and that's what we set out to achieve."
Vice-principal Christine Stansfield said the change of age range was working well.
"When the changes to the school's age range were first announced there were parents who weren't convinced about the idea, but now we've got such good results I'm very pleased to say that it's clearly working very well," she said. "Students are no longer having to leave us at 14 and move elsewhere, with the disruption that can cause.
"Early indications show that this year's students will either be on a par with last year's in terms of achievement or even better."