A head teacher parachuted in to rescue a failing Birmingham school has vowed to turn it around by the end of the year.
Michelle Hooper has already combated soaring pupil absence rates by dishing out more than £1,000 in fines to parents.
Mrs Hooper was drafted in to help change the fortunes of West Heath Primary School in April 2013 and was so appalled by conditions that she quit her role as head of Bells Farm Primary in Druids Heath – which she had turned from ‘requiring improvement’ to ‘outstanding’ – and soon took control of the school.
She then invited watchdog Ofsted to carry out an inspection in November. The school, on Rednal Road, was then branded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, which placed it in special measures.
The damning report found standards well below the national average – with pupils struggling to make progress in reading, writing and maths.
Teaching, leadership and governance were all heavily criticised, and the report revealed a breakdown in the relationship between staff and parents.
And Mrs Hooper was so appalled by what she found that she quit her role as head of Bells Farm Primary in Druids Heath – which she had turned from ‘requiring improvement’ to ‘outstanding’ – and took control of the school.
“What I found was worse than I had anticipated,” she said. “I thought no child should ever be educated at a school like this.
“I thought I was coming in to raise standards, but there were layers and layers of issues that we uncovered at every turn.”
And she was quick to make radical changes – condemning parts of the asbestos-riddled building and its “woefully inadequate” kitchen, which was shut down.
Meals were drafted in from nearby schools while a new state-of-the-art £82,000 ‘pod’ kitchen was literally craned onto site.
The entire leadership team and governing body were replaced, while seven new teachers were brought in.
Business manager Kerry Barker, who was also brought in from Bells Farm, secured grants and budget savings of £250,000 to extensively refurbish the building – which is beyond recognition.
There is now a new dining room, forest school, art room and science labs, while a qualified chef serves up freshly prepared food and even provides cooking demonstrations to pupils and parents alike. And, issuing parents with more than £1,250 of fines for unauthorised absences has sent out a clear message, with attendance rates increasing from 91 per cent to almost 97 per cent.
Pupils achieving good standards in phonics have soared from 42 per cent to 72 per cent and a family support worker has been brought in to improve school relationships with parents – even helping some with housing and benefits problems.
Ofsted inspectors have since twice returned to the school, and in their latest visit last month, they found a vast improvement.
The report said: “The school has undergone considerable change. This has been well-managed by the head teacher and other members of the leadership group.
“The buildings and facilities have been greatly enhanced and promote a calm and purposeful learning environment.
“Pupils’ behaviour and attendance have improved and pupils consistently demonstrate positive attitudes to learning.”
While Mrs Hooper accepts that there is “still a long way to go”, she is confident the school is on the road to success.
“It is my intention to bring the school out of special measures by the end of 2014, and it is possible,” she said.
“Our expectations are really high, the reason for that is the children of Birmingham deserve a really good education, and we as leaders need to ensure that we deliver that.”