Meet Tarun Kapur, the headmaster of Parrs Wood... Ashton-on-Mersey... and Broadoak schools

Richard Garner meets the man whose first school was so successful that he now looks after three
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Tarun Kapur has the kind of problem that few head teachers face each morning. When he drives to work, he has to think which way to go. Mr Kapur is not absent-minded – it’s just that he is in charge of three schools.

“I do wake up thinking which school am I visiting this morning?” he said. “Is it right or left at the first junction?”

On most mornings nowadays, his first port of call is Parrs Wood school, a 2,000-pupil comprehensive in the Manchester suburbs. The school had hit difficult times and had been placed in “special measures” by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog: its problems were judged so severe that a detailed plan of action for improvements was drawn up. Its two head teachers were suspended.

Discipline was a problem and was the subject of one of Mr Kapur’s first actions. He insisted on the removal of all pupils’ mobile phones as long as they were on school premises, and banned the wearing of jewellery.

“I just tried to enforce some of the rules the school had that weren’t being enforced,” he said. “It might seem a simple thing, but it mattered.”

As a result of the changes introduced, the school’s exam results are heading upwards again, with 51 per cent of pupils gaining five A* to C grades at GCSE including maths and English – compared with just 43 per cent the previous year. “It’s projected this year to be above 60 per cent,” he added.

“It may be difficult, but we’re aspirational. I’m not used to the word ‘satisfactory’, although I’ve had to endure it here for a period. What we want to hear is ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.”

Mr Kapur, who is to feature in a book highlighting 10 of the country’s most successful heads, published by the National College for School Leadership on 4 March, was given a three-year contract to turn round Parrs Wood because of success with his two other schools, Ashton-on-Mersey and Broadoak in nearby Trafford, Greater Manchester. This means he has had to endure four Ofsted inspections as a head teacher during the past year (Parrs Wood had two visits as a result of failing a previous Ofsted inspection). All four inspections delivered a verdict of “outstanding” on his leadership.

Ashton-on-Mersey was his first headship. He stresses that it was already a good school when he took over in 1997. Now it is rated as “outstanding”.

The school is “entirely selective”, said Mr Kapur. “We select the bottom 65 per cent when they fail their 11-plus. The top 35 per cent go to local grammar schools.” The 1,300-pupil school is in all but name a secondary modern – yet 79 per cent of its pupils achieve five A* to C grades at GCSE, and 59 per cent still do so when maths and English are included in the tally. Both figures are well above the national average – a remarkable achievement.

Its exam success is mirrored in its popularity, with 900 parents putting it down as their first-choice school last year and scrambling for only around 200 places.

One of the keys to its success has been a major revamping of the timetable which allowed it to give more teaching time to the core subjects of English, maths and science.

Mr Kapur introduced uniforms, including a blazer for the sixth-form. The school also signed an innovative sponsorship deal with neighbouring Manchester United, as a result of which it takes in youngsters for schooling who are enrolled in the football club’s academ. Many of them are living away from home as they seek soccer fame and fortune.

“We’ve had four outstanding Ofsted reports,” he said. “The deal with Manchester United means the best are working with the best.” (He is an unashamed fan of the club.)

“We deliver for their boys. Jonny Evans [the 21-year-old defender who has become a first-team regular for the club this season] came to us and got six A*s at GCSE and four A-grades. He then went on to get three A-levels at grade A. We guaranteed his parents he’d get at least as good an education as he would have got at home.”

As a result of the success of Ashton- on-Mersey, Mr Kapur was asked to help neighbouring Broadoak school, which town-hall bosses had listed as giving “cause for concern”.

The two schools formed a “soft federation”, which meant they kept their own governing bodies but shared teaching expertise and sporting facilities. Again new uniforms were among the changes made, and Broadoak’s results improved from just 22 per cent getting five A* to C grade passes to 67 per cent last year.

Mr Kapur, who has just turned 50, rejects the notion that he is a “super-head”. He says: “I’m just a headteacher who has had a little bit of luck and a good team around me.” He goes on to stress that it is the federation from Ashton-on-Mersey and Broadoak that has been hired to help out Parrs Wood – not just him.

He believes in making his presence felt around the school. “I am outside to greet them in the morning when they arrive at Parrs Wood,” he said. “They do not know for the rest of the day that I might not be there.”

He has also introduced a novel scheme for dealing with youngsters at threat of exclusion from school at Parrs Wood.

After five days of exclusion, with homework to do at home, they are sent to another school before being allowed back to learn alongside their friends. It appears to be a sanction that works.

Mr Kapur, who was a regional winner last year of the Teaching Awards’ head teacher of the year, has said “no” to taking on another school. Being the executive head of three, it would seem, is quite enough.

Turning Heads: Reflections on Leadership is available to download free from 4 March on