School exam league tables: High-flying headteacher who turned around a school's fortunes in just two years

Case Study

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The Independent Online

A high-flying headteacher has achieved a remarkable turn-around in his school’s fortunes since he took over two years ago.

Former senior British Airways executive Matt Butler has seen the percentage of pupils getting five A* to C grades at GCSE including maths and English more than double from 30 per cent to 62 per cent in the past year.

The dramatic improvement has led to the Oasis Academy Brightstowe in Bristol becoming one of the most improved schools in the country.

The 500-pupil school, which took over from a former failing comprehensive four years ago, serves a predominantly white working class neighbourhood in the city. Now it has been rated as “good with outstanding features” by education standards watchdog Ofsted.

Mr Butler, aged 43, who turned to teaching after working as British Airway’s area manager for the Far East in Australia, reckons the leadership skills he developed in his earlier life have stood him in good stead as a headteacher.

He added:  “The great thing has been to get the students to believe in themselves - that they can achieve.

“They come to us believing that the deck of cards is stacked against them - but we talk to them about or belief in them and our belief they can achieve.

“It’s not easy - the community sometimes struggles with that.”

He added:  “I worked in central London before coming here and the majority of the students came with higher aspirations than here.  There was a feeling that dreams can come true in London.

“Gradually, though. they’ve started bragging about how ell they’ve been doing.  We’ve got them saying ‘I want to become a doctor’, ‘I want to become a surgeon ‘ or ‘I want to become a barrister’.”

The school has drafted in a range of outside speakers to encourage students to fulfil their ambitions.  It has also tried to develop leadership skills amongst the pupils by getting them to act as “heroes” - or “ambassadors” to primary school children to encourage them to learn.

Mr Butler, who qualified as a teacher seven years ago, said:  “The honest answer as to why I left my job is that I wasn’t fulfilled in what I was doing.  I lost the passion for what I was doing.

“It took me a long while to work out what I should do - whether that should be teaching.  I cam to the conclusion that working in challenging schools.  My first boss said to me: ‘You love your job, don’t you?’ and I said:  ‘Yes, more than anything I have done’.”