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Thursday, 20 June 2013

'How I turned around a failing school.' Interview with outstanding head, Carol Knutsford.

Carol Knutsford became Britain’s most successful head teacher when she took over the failing Cheddar Brook School (now the JD Wetherspoon Academy) last year, taking it to Outstanding in just two terms. She tells us how she did it.

ONSTED: Cheddar Brook was a shithole until you got there. What was the first thing you tackled when you arrived at the school?

Carol: Student behaviour was appalling, so the first thing I did was sack some teachers. For example, the week before I started at the school a 56-year-old female teacher had been the victim of a pistol-whipping by a year 8. Her low expectations and failure to recognise that student’s low boredom threshold meant that she simply had to go.

ONSTED: Was it difficult sacking teachers?

Carol: (laughs) Oh God, no! Fortunately I hate teachers. I really despise them. Teachers come and go. None of them are as important as my bullshit initiatives.

ONSTED: Can you give us an example of one of your most exciting bullshit initiatives?

Carol: Wow. There are so many to choose from. I recently set up an emotional literacy programme for obese girls from conflict zones. That was pretty exciting.

ONSTED: What did it achieve?

Carol: Absolutely nothing. How could it? It doesn’t matter though, because that’s not the point of these initiatives. The point is that they sound brave and innovative and grab attention.  

ONSTED: How did you prepare and motivate staff before the all-important visit from ONSTED?

Carol:  What I like to do is adopt a veneer of supportiveness while making it very clear that I expect no member of staff to eat, sleep or piss from the moment we get the call from ONSTED until the inspection is over and the Outstanding is in the bag. For example, I send all-staff emails saying things like ‘I know some of you are feeling a bit stressed, so we’ll be keeping school open late tonight. Pizza will be served in the library at 3.15am.’ By the time they are observed, teachers will stink and be unable to focus their eyes, but at least they’ll have outstanding lessons ready, chock-a-block with pointless and chaotic activities.

ONSTED: And how about during the inspection itself? What are your tips?

Carol: Weed out some middle class kids and get them to show the inspectors to a 22-year-old teacher’s lesson where students are learning about Shakespeare’s sonnets by playing a game of Twister.

ONSTED: And finally, your proudest moment?

Carol: That would have to be at the end of my first term when a year 7 boy thanked me for getting rid of teachers that had been pissing him off. I looked at him for a long time and then, with tears in my eyes, said 'no, thank you for insisting that we be better. You deserve to never be pissed off.'

Students at the JD Wetherspoon Academy take part in an outstanding lesson about the essential tenets of neoconservatism.

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