A major building project is set to help transform one of Doncaster’s biggest schools – just over a year after it was slated by Ofsted.
The plans for a multimillion refurbishment and building scheme have been revealed by leaders at the new Astrea Academy Woodfield – just months after the trust took over what was until this summer known as Balby Carr School.
Balby Carr was effectively closed and re-opened over the summer with its new name and a clean slate from Ofsted.
The building work is one of the high profile elements of major changes being brought through by the new headteacher Jo Cater since she was appointed earlier this year – and pupils say they are already noticing a difference.
The school has re-opened in September under new management, with the Astrea Academies Trust taking over a school which was previously run by the Wakefield City Academies Trust, before WCAT withdrew from all its schools in Doncaster.
In April 2017, when Ofsted last carried out a complete inspection, it was rated inadequate in all categories other than its sixth form, which still ‘required improvement’.
That was the context in which Astrea was brought in to take over.
They moved to appoint Mrs Cater in time for the start of the new school year.
She had previously worked as the executive head of Abbey Special School in Rotherham, and has experience working at schools which have turned around from inadequate to good, including Winterhill School, also Rotherham. She is a specialist leader in education.
She took over at Balby Carr in June.
She said: “My first impression when I walked round the school was that I wanted to work here. The children had been so disadvantaged here for so long.
“There was no enthusiasm for teaching, and the buildings were shocking – there was a lack of investment. I felt sorry for the staff – some of them have been here for a long time.
“But they are resilient and have said Astrea coming in was a breath of fresh air. Some people have had more training in the last month than they had received in the previous four or five years.
“There is a plethora of things that have not been done right in the past. We need to unpick those things and create a solid foundation going forward.
“Things are already starting to change. When everything comes together we will take off and fly.”
In the past, children came in through a service door at the back of the school. Now they use a main entrance.
All children must have full uniform. Now, if they arrive missing an element, like a tie, they are sent to a store room to be loaned the item, but not sent home.
Drop in days have been introduced when parents can come into the school for a chat.
Mobile phones have been banned. They are taken away if a member of staff sees one.
The school is also setting up a system of prefects, a head boy and a head girl, and a school council, to give youngsters a say in how the school is run.
Pupils have seen changes already.
Hayley Banks, aged 13, said: “They are defintily trying to change the system. You can see there is more time with pupils by the teachers. The school has been different since we came back in September.
Tommy Baxendale, aged 12, added: “We have seen changes. It’s been more fun to learn.
“In languages, they have made it so we do games. We do the learning, and then play the games to use what we’ve learned in a fun way.”
One the the biggest changes that will be seen in the coming years is the redevelopment of the school buildings.
It is not expected to be a complete rebuild of the site, but it is likely to be a major refurbishment and some new build elements.
Astrea chief executive Libby Nicholas, a trained teacher herself who keeps in touch with schools by coming in to teach lessons, said: “The Department for Education have confirmed that there will be a multimillion pound significant refurbishment.
“We have started the project work.
“Consultation has started with Jo. We want to make sure we are creating a school for the next 25 years, as we are expecting a surge of places, because there is a lot of housebuilding going on in this part of Doncaster.
“We are expecting the actual school building work to be in spring, 2019, with completion in 2020.
“Issues with the building will be put right, and it will look and feel significantly different. Some of the blocks will be refurbished, and we think there will be some new building.
“The monitoring board at Ofsted has recognised improvements and now says the school is taking effective action.”
She said the trust aimed to support the school by taking control of issues such as administrative matters, so the headteacher and teachers could concentrate on educating the pupils.
They have their own bank of supply teachers, to save money paid out to agencies when they need teachers to come in to cover for absent staff.
The school is also home to a sports college, which will be retained. But the plan is to expand the current sixth form arrangements, to allow for more A-levels to be taught, and to allow pupils to stay at the school, on Weston Road, Balby rather than travelling out of the area after they reach 16.
Mrs Cater plans to ask the year 11 pupils what they would like to see brought in as A-level courses.
Astrea is also looking to bring in teacher secondments between Woodfield and some if its feeder schools, which it also runs, to help see what they can do support each other.
Mrs Cater said: “Our job is to serve the pupils and their parents, and it is the greatest privilege.
“I think this is going to be the most rapid school improvement story, if you think about the previous situation, and WCAT, which was a high profile failure of the system.
“The successful things that Astrea wants to do should make sure the community is served as it should be.
“This will be the most improved school in the area. Every single day counts for these children.”
Who are Astrea?
The Astrea Academies Trust runs five schools in Doncaster, and 25 nationally.
The organisation was set up in 2016, after the Government had looked to increase the capacity of the education system, originally under the name Reach4, after what was originally its parent trust, Reach 2, being awarded Government ‘northern hub’ funding to boost standards in ‘challenging and disadvantaged areas’.
It is now independent and no longer supported by Reach 2.
It was renamed as Astrea last year after the Greek goddess of justice.
Ms Nicholas said last year Astrea did not subscribe to the ‘schooling’ stance of a results-driven philosophy but rather state emphatically that education is about much more than just attainment.”