Stephen Greenhalgh is Chairman of Governors at the Hurlingham Academy and a former Hammersmith & Fulham council leader.
London is an engine of opportunity but there has been a disturbing decline in social mobility in recent years. Someone born into the poorest quarter of society 50 years ago had a greater chance of working their way up to a higher economic group than a young person today. The people at the bottom of our society are being left further and further behind.
It is London ‘s schools that drive social mobility in the capital and provide the key to tackling a poverty of aspiration.
Last week two students had particular cause for celebration given that they had only been in this country for less than a year:
Sunday Eguaroje achieved a grade 9 in maths and eight As. Sunday started at the Hurlingham Academy in October 2016 after arriving from Nigeria.
Maria Pahat achieved a grade 9 in english literature five A*and one A and 2 sevens. Maria started at the school in September 2016 after arriving from Romania.
This year 72% of the Hurlingham students achieved five or more 4-9 GCSE grades including english and maths – up from 63% in 2016. This is well above the national average and is the second year of record GCSE results at the school.
This school has had a turbulent history. It was described as a “failing school” in the pilot Ofsted inspections in 1994, which prompted discussions of closure. Provision was then judged ‘good’ by Ofsted in 1997 and the school was highlighted for its improvement in HMCI’s 1999 Annual Report.
However, the school was designated as a “school facing challenging circumstances” in 2003 because results were consistently below the government floor targets. In March 2004 the school was placed under special measures. In November 2005 the school emerged from special measures.
Back in 2006 when we formed the first majority Conservative administration on Hammersmith & Fulham Council since 1968, we were eager to make an immediate impact. We tried to close the school in the teeth of opposition from all our community schools. This was a mistake and we stopped the closure process. In January 2008, the school was highlighted as the most improved school in London (for the proportion of students achieving at least 5 A*-C grades at GCSE) and in July 2011 was judged to be ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.
I joined the governing body in June 2012 thinking that I was joining a school that had been finally “turned around”.
It was yet another false dawn. That year the school’s GCSE results nosedived. In October 2013, the school was once again inspected by Ofsted receiving an overall “inadequate” rating and I became Chair of the Interim Executive Board when the governing body was disbanded. On 1 January 2015 the school changed from a council-run school to an Academy as part of United Learning and I have continued as chair of the local governing body.
My long involvement with the school both as council leader and as chairman of governors has given me a certain perspective. I am convinced that this turnaround is finally for real – and that the single biggest factor has been the leadership.
Schools like the Hurlingham Academy need great heads. I pay tribute to the inspiring leadership of our head, Leon Wilson. Leon has thrived with the support of his former boss, Dame Sally Coates, now a director at United Learning. It was Dame Sally who famously turned around Burlington Danes Academy in White City.
My message is simple: We need great leaders in these tough state schools and they need to be supported by professionals who know what they are talking about from their own experience.