The Mirfield Free Grammar School in West Yorkshire is a large co-educational, comprehensive school for students aged between 11 and 18. In 2008, following their inspection, the national regulator, OFSTED, found the school to be outstanding, the highest grade possible according to their evaluative ranking scale. In 2011, an interim assessment was carried out to determine whether the school needed to be inspected again. This was based on such factors as academic performance, student attendance, any inspection visits since the last routine and any significant concerns brought to OFSTED’s attention.
“Investment in Excellence® is about hearts and minds and it has given our staff the skills to build high self-esteem in order to cope with change, to set high expectations, to develop tenacity and resilience, to inspire students and to eradicate negative self-talk. We have a very positive morale and play as a team to achieve outstanding success.”
Lorraine Barker, Principal, The Mirfield Free Grammar and Sixth Form
In 1997, as part of a local authority initiative in West Yorkshire, the Head of Education for The Pacific Institute®, Neil Straker, had taken a group of headteachers through the Investment in Excellence® program. The result of this was that a number of schools in the area decided to implement the TPI® curriculum and an initial facilitator training session was run that summer. One of the head teachers on that program was Lorraine Barker.
Having recently been appointed Headteacher of a school that was, by all accounts, barely satisfactory by OFSTED standards, Lorraine understood the need to take drastic action. Her decision at the time was to take the entire staff contingent of the school through Investment in Excellence®. Both teaching and non-teaching members came together to experience the program, and this set in motion a practice that has been maintained for more than a decade. To this day, all staff at the now newly appointed outstanding academy have experienced Investment in Excellence®, and this represents a serious commitment.
New staff members joining the Academy now experience Investment in Excellence® with Senior Team leader and Professional Mentor, Gill Armstrong-Smith. They quickly come to understand the mindset that exists at the school: one of “can do” and with people who are accountable and willing to take risks in the pursuit of excellence. Gill is passionate about the program and relates how the school has changed since the approach was integrated. Having been with The MFG for nearly 20 years, she would certainly know. In her opinion, one of the biggest changes is that there are no longer “pockets of negativity” and the environment is one where staff feel consulted and supported but are also held accountable. Staff retention is very high and, typically, people only move on when promotion opportunities arise elsewhere. Lorraine and her team often try to accommodate these opportunities within the school itself, but this is not always possible because the retention rate is so high. As part of the continuous improvement process that the school implements, Lorraine periodically conducts a Stop/Start/Continue review with staff to examine the top 10 actions in each of these categories. Investment in Excellence® is one point that crops up highly within the actions to continue and the point has been noted elsewhere too.
The interim assessment in 2011 concluded that the school had sustained the outstanding level and thus no further inspection was necessary. This in itself may not seem extraordinary, but when looking back at the school’s history, the achievement is put into context. A comparison of the GCSE results in 1998 and 2009 showed a movement from 34% 5A* - C to an incredible 81%. The results for 5A* - C (including Maths and English) rose from 29% to 57%. In 2010 these figures had risen once again to 87% and 62% respectively. Clearly a remarkable change had transpired during the intervening years, and most of this can be attributed directly to a highly skilled and effective school leadership team.
The Principal, Lorraine Barker, has been described as “a leader with a mission” and a “dynamo”, and this is quite clear to see in the way things have improved during her auspices. Part of this is down to adopting proper and robust systems and making sure that all the various functions perform and interact the way they are supposed to. Perhaps more importantly, though, Lorraine and her team have instituted a real focus on the teaching and support staff. It is in this context that The Pacific Institute® has played a role in the success story that is The Mirfield Free Grammar.
A recent review of the school’s Investors in People status, where they achieved the highly acclaimed and rather exclusive Gold Standard, had the reviewer wondering how the school had won over so many staff, as so many mentioned the Investment in Excellence® program and the investment this represented in them.
The Mirfield Free Grammar School is successful for a number of reasons. It benefits from inspired leadership, from implemented systems that function as they should and from investment in people who know they are valued and who have high self-esteem. This results in a staff who work tirelessly to make the school what it is - outstanding in every way. The Pacific Institute® is privileged to be a small part of this success and looks forward to continuing its relationship with The MFG over many years to come.