Stevenage head leaves ‘challenging’ school calling for closer collaboration

A headteacher leaving his post after eight years has spoken about the need for greater collaboration between schools, problem literacy levels and pressure on teachers to fill growing gaps in social services.

Jonathan Block, who is leaving The Thomas Alleyne School in Stevenage at the end of March, has helped raise the standard of the school from one described by Ofsted as having serious weaknesses to a satisfactory grade.

With children “literally jumping out of the windows” when he joined, he put in place a strict system of discipline which saw the school top the county’s expulsion list and its grades begin to climb.

“This place has always been a challenge. When I arrived here I couldn’t believe the state of this school. We had to instil a system of discipline,” Mr Block said. “If a child broke the rules they were out, and that was it.”

“Once we had a much better system in place grades improved year on year,” he added, with this summer’s results expected to be its “best ever”.

With experience of running a school undergoing a rebuild, Mr Block was well placed to oversee a planned move to new premises in Great Ashby as part of Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme. But this was first delayed by the last government and then scrapped by the current one.

“We were thrown to the back of the queue, and when the new government came in we were cut off. All the parents thought we were closing and numbers of pupils declined,” Mr Block said.

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He added that other government cutbacks are putting pressure on schools which are left to take up those children falling through the gaps.

“We are a basic school, but we are getting more and more extreme behaviours. The other services aren’t there to deal with them. We shouldn’t be looking after them, but we are successful at it.

“We do a great deal of work for difficult children here. From the early days of ‘if in doubt chuck them out’ we do a huge amount of work.

He added that fundamental issues like poor literacy and lack of aspirations are holding back children in the town.

“Our kids have not as much money as those with middle class parents, but have just as much talent.

“But the kids here just don’t have aspirations.”

He said greater cohesion between schools was key to improving education with initiatives like the Stevenage Educational Trust – a secondary school partnership - the way forward.

He said more work must also be done with junior and infant schools to create a more coherent educational system, and proposed a policy of classes based on ability rather than age.

“We are getting children here who are not ready for secondary education,” he said.

Overall he said the school was in a “great position to springboard forward” and was positive about handing over to Mark Lewis, currently deputy headmaster at Marshlands High School in Wisbech.

Mr Block leaves to study for a PhD on the link between the pressure of headships and mental health issues, to lecture and to undertake Ofsted inspections.