The Whitehaven Academy’s new headteacher has outlined his vision and the immediate changes already made to improve learning at the school.
Nigel Youngman took over the 540-student academy at the start of the new school year and has worked with Cumbria Education Trust to identify priorities for action.
Mr Youngman, an experienced headteacher, has been delighted by the way both staff and students have embraced changes and believes the academy is on an upward curve.
He said: “What struck me the moment I met the students was their warmth and positivity. There is a passionate desire among the young people for this to be a successful school.
“When I was being interviewed for the role, I had the chance to ask the student council about what made them most proud. They said, ‘the staff’. In 20 years of teaching it’s the first time I’ve heard that answer.”
The trust has invested in an expanded leadership team, with three new appointments alongside the headteacher, and five more subject leaders to drive up the quality of the curriculum.
Mr Youngman said: “There has been a very careful analysis of what’s needed to help this learning community. There’s been significant development in staffing and the acknowledgement that a school can only be as good as the quality of its teaching and learning.
“There’s a powerful blend of deeply loyal staff who are utterly committed to the success of the school and highly-enthusiastic new staff who have made a conscious decision that they want to be part of our academy moving forward. They are part of a trust that believes in them and there is a sense of cohesion and support.
“It means the young people are getting a better learning experience.”
CET took responsibility for the academy in December and carried out immediate improvements to the fabric of the building. In March, the Department for Education confirmed a new build for the academy, set to open in 2021.
Parents were given a taste of early proposals for the new build at a recent open evening for the 2020 school year, which also gave the new headteacher further cause for optimism.
He said: “It is really exciting this town can have a non-denominational state school giving them what they deserve. Within the broader community there have been people working tirelessly to ensure that the young people can get the very best. It’s heartening to see what they’ve strived for is going to happen.
“What’s equally evident is the sense of pride here. We had 111 students helping at a packed open evening. That’s 111 students who wanted to share their pride in their school.
“And it was gratifying to hear, among many positive comments, one parent said the staff could not have made the Year Six children feel any more welcome. Numerous visitors commented positively on the interactions between staff and students.”
And Mr Youngman stressed that consistently improving the learning environment did not have to wait for the new build.
He said: “The focus on raising standards for students is relentless. GCSE results count for the future of the young people and it is vitally important that we give them the very best chance to be successful.
“I want this to be a school of choice in the area, delivering a high-quality learning experience where students are kind and successful.”
Mr Youngman was previously head of school at Ark Helenswood School in Sussex and before that headteacher at Beccles Free School in Suffolk. He was selected by CET after a rigorous recruitment process.
CET’s chief executive Lorrayne Hughes said: “This was a very important appointment for the academy and the community and in Nigel we have a very committed and passionate headteacher who is focussed on improving outcomes for all our students.
“We have further strengthened the leadership team and our investment in subject specialists underlines our commitment to doing right by all our students and delivering on our commitment that we want them to be the best they can be.”