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Trojan Horse school looking to new future

New head of Golden Hillock in Sparkhill says a new dawn is emerging at school which was at the centre of Trojan Horse scandal

New future for Ark Boulton Academy in Sparkhill

Longer school days and small class sizes have been introduced by a failing Birmingham school at the heart of the Trojan Horse scandal in a bid to turn it around.

Golden Hillock was one of five Birmingham schools plunged into special measures after snap inspections by Ofsted - sparked by the emergence of the so-called Operation Trojan Horse plot.

A leaked letter, supposedly penned by one conspirator to another, detailed an alleged plot by hard-line Muslims to oust teachers, take over governing bodies and Islamise non-faith schools across the city.

In April 2014, Ofsted inspectors descended on Golden Hillock School, in Sparkhill, and branded it "inadequate" - criticising it for doing "too little to keep students safe from the risks associated with extremist views".

Hardeep Saini, principal at the time of the inspection, is one of 13 teachers from across five Trojan Horse-linked schools currently facing disciplinary hearings and possible life-time bans from the classroom.

Almost two years on from Ofsted's snap inspection, Golden Hillock is beyond recognition - with almost all trace of its past and links to Trojan Horse literally painted away.

Outside stands a new sign, proudly announcing it as the newly named Ark Boulton Academy after it was taken over by the respected Ark academy chain in September.

Pupils stride quietly, yet purposefully, around the school corridors in their crisp new uniforms - including blazers they hand-picked themselves.

The uniform, says new headteacher Herminder Channa, is a powerful symbol of pupils' pride - a virtue children have struggled to show since their school was flung into the glare of the media spotlight after Trojan Horse emerged.

Mrs Channa said the scandal has had a huge impact on the school, with standards slipping since it broke nearly two years ago.

Ark Boulton Academy principal Herminder Channa
Ark Boulton Academy principal Herminder Channa

In 2013, the summer before Trojan Horse emerged, 52 per cent of the school's pupils clinched the benchmark government standard of five GCSEs or more grades A* to C including English and maths. However, the figure dropped to 43 per cent in 2014 and fell further to 41 per cent last summer.

Now, the school is strongly focussed on changing its academic fortunes, breaking the mould by introducing some radical new initiatives - including small class sizes made up by as few as 16 pupils.

It also has longer days, with school starting at 8.20am and finishing at 3.35pm - with popular optional after school clubs running until 5pm.

"We have ten form classes to each year group and each child will keep the same form tutor throughout their whole time at the school," said Mrs Channa.

"It's not just about academic achievement, it means form tutors can develop strong relationships with pupils and will be able to spot if there are any issues."

And the school has gone to great lengths to secure a full compliment of talented staff, recruiting top teachers from as far away as Australia.

Mrs Channa said the school was already a "million miles away" from the place she walked into when she first clinched the job.

"When I first came, what I saw was children that were academically let down," she added.

"These were bright children that wanted to learn. This is what it's about - they have a right to the best education we can provide for them. That's what I am going to give them."

Old Golden Hillock School sign
Old Golden Hillock School sign

She admitted that she had a long way to go, with the school still in special measures and deemed 'inadequate' when it last underwent a monitoring inspection by Ofsted last June.

"I want to engage with the whole community, obviously they have been through a very unstable time," she added.

"It's about building trust. It's not something we can expect straight away but we are already seeing a lot of positivity from parents and pupils."

Mrs Channa believes she is well placed to pull Ark Boulton out of special measures with a track record of success under her belt.

She helped set up Nishkam High, a free school in Birmingham which opened in September 2012 and was rated 'outstanding' in 2014.

"Trojan Horse is something that is in the past, it is an event that happened," she added.

"People can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's about looking to the future."



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