How did Park View go from bottom of the league tables to an Ofsted 'outstanding' rating?


The warning signs could not have been clearer when Lindsey Clark decided to apply for the headship she has now had for just over a decade. As she flipped through the magazine of ASCL (the Association of School and College Leaders), it said bluntly: "If you are going to apply for a job at Park View, ring us." The school, in a deprived inner-city area of Birmingham, was bottom of the performance league tables. Only 4 per cent of pupils were obtaining five top A* to C grade passes at GCSE.

She duly rang her union and was told: "Don't apply because they're looking for a male Muslim head."

Clark was the acting head of an all-girls' school in a wealthier suburb of Birmingham, but she decided she would give it a go.

The rest, as they say, is history. The school was the first in the country to be rated "outstanding" under the new tougher inspection regime introduced by education-standards watchdog Ofsted last year and now has 76 per cent of its pupils gaining five A* to C grades, including maths and English – the tougher yardstick by which schools are now measured.

It is turning applicants away – only one in five are successful and the school is so flooded with applicants that its catchment area ends just 400 yards from the school. As a result of its improvement, it has put in an application to run a new free school in the neighbourhood – Alum Rock – based on the principles that have turned Park View, now an academy, around. It was one of the success stories when the Department for Education published this year's secondary-school performance tables last Thursday.

Clark is anxious to further improve the school's performance and – to that end – has turned the school into an academy and formed a partnership with the feeder primary school, Nansen, just across the road. She is now the executive head of both of them.

"Our intake is still below the expected level for its age (Park View takes pupils from four or five nearby primary schools) and that is something that could be improved if we are going to improve," she says.

It is quite a miracle, she reflects, that Park View survived in its original format. Other schools in a similar position were going through a variety of initiatives to improve – which included closure, merger with another school or indeed being subsumed by another school.

"There were all sorts of ideas," she says. "The school was becoming an all-girls school – and closed or was becoming part of another school – but we managed to sustain."

The school, which has 690 pupils, has just three from a non-Muslim background. One of its strengths is the partnership between Clark and her chairman of governors, Tahir Alam.

"Tahir is Muslim and I've worked very closely with him through all these years," Clark says.

"He has been a critical friend when necessary and – over the years – he has trained as a teacher and become an Ofsted inspector to broaden his experience. He's an ex-pupil of Park View."

At first there were tensions between the large majority of pupils who came from a Pakistani background and those of a Somali origin.

The school took as its philosophy: We will do whatever it takes to get the levels of achievement up. A new motto of "respect, opportunities and achievement" emerged. "It was respect in terms of behaviour from the pupils but also the teacher respecting the individual as a human being," Clark says.

"It was also a question of respecting the parents in terms of their view about where they were coming from. On achievement, we set up Sunday classes, holiday classes, out-of-school classes – six or seven years ago or maybe even longer we decided we would do whatever it took to get the achievement levels up. That has never let up.

"Also, children here would never even have taken a bus into the city centre [Alum Rock is about two miles at most from Birmingham's city centre]. So we arranged things for them – taking them to the theatre and things like that. It was broadening their horizons and building their confidence."

The school also became a specialist business and enterprise, which led to pupils setting up their own businesses (it had a Dragon's Den approach to approving new businesses by getting students to pitch what they wanted to do for approval). They would then sell their wares during break times and lunchtimes, with any resulting profit going to charities. "It helped them become both leaders and team players," Clark says. "We created a sort of enterprise village." Since she has become executive head, the school has appointed a new principal for Park View – Hardeep Saini, formerly a maths teacher, who has been on the staff since 1988.

One of the interesting points to emerge from Park View's journey is that its success was achieved with largely the same staff – there were no wholesale sackings or teachers being encouraged to leave, as has happened in the case of many of the schools that have undergone a more violent transition, such as through Labour's "fresh start" programme, where schools were closed, given a new name and reopened with an entirely new staff.

Saini recalls the school's earlier times. "I was still learning the trade when I came here," he says. "It was a lovely calm atmosphere but academically it just wasn't there. People had come mainly from north Pakistan and they thought this was the best education system in the world – therefore you couldn't blame the system for what happened. The kids were lovely, the parents were lovely – but 99.9 per cent of them were uneducated themselves."

The eye-opener came with the publication of exam league tables in the early 1990s – which laid it bare for all to see: Park View was bottom of the local league table. In addition, 71 per cent of pupils were leaving with no maths qualifications at all.

"That was a pivotal moment," Saini says. "For three years running we were at the bottom of the league table for Birmingham and people started saying, 'this is not good enough'."

It helps now that today's intake are the third generation of their families to live in the UK – and their parents speak English at home.

The school failed its first Ofsted inspection in the 1990s as a result of which it was placed in "special measures" before Clark arrived. "It was the best thing that had happened to the school," Saini says. "It woke everybody up."

At first the improvements were modest. "We went from 7 per cent to 9 or 10 per cent five A* to C's at GCSE," Saini says. Then, with Clark's arrival, the results began to soar.

One of the unexpected side effects of its poor performance was that it qualified for an £5.5m facelift under Labour's Building Schools for the Future. It just squeezed through before Coalition Education Secretary Michael Gove brought the shutters down on the programme.

The architects Haworth Tompkins completed the programme for the start of the current school year. It has given the school a large quad area where pupils can – among other things – congregate for prayers on a Friday. As a result, the corridors also are much lighter and less cramped – as a result of which a group of girls last year who wanted to take an extra GCSE largely taught themselves philosophy in that area. All gained A* grades.

"The pupils have respect for the school," Clark says. The buildings are certainly notable for an absence of graffiti and could be seen as putting the finishing touches on the school's journey from failing to success and outstanding status – except, of course, Clark and her team are still hungry for further improvements.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

DT Teacher, Full time supply role, Maidstone school

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We urgently require an experienc...

Primary supply teachers required in Stowmarket

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...

Geography Teacher, Immediate start, Dover School

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is urgently s...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam