Ely College principal says energy, optimism and ambition transformed 'broken' school

Just four years ago it was a broken school – but now Ely College is on course to becoming a “centre of excellence”, principal Richard Spencer says. Picture: CLARE BUTLER

Just four years ago it was a broken school - but now Ely College is on course to becoming a "centre of excellence", principal Richard Spencer says. Picture: CLARE BUTLER

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Just four years ago it was a broken school - but now Ely College is on course to becoming a "centre of excellence".

Just four years ago it was a broken school – but now Ely College is on course to becoming a “centre of excellence”, principal Richard Spencer says. Picture: CMATJust four years ago it was a broken school – but now Ely College is on course to becoming a “centre of excellence”, principal Richard Spencer says. Picture: CMAT

The school in Downham Road is a stark contrast to the struggling one that was slammed by Ofsted when it was placed in special measures in 2016.

Inspectors now rank the secondary academy and its sixth form - Bishop Laney - as good with outstanding leadership.

But this success story didn't happen overnight - the Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust (CMAT) and new principal Richard Spencer were at the helm of its transformation.

Speaking to the Ely Standard, the former Ofsted inspector explained how in his first role as headteacher he was determined to turn things around.

"In 2015 it was about as broken as a school could get," he said.

"There was a lot of negativity and it was a difficult situation to inherit.

"But what was really obvious from the start was there were a huge amount of things that were brilliant, with extremely committed staff and children.

"There was a lot of help and support where needed and a good local understanding where we could see the potential."

Injecting optimism and listening to pupils were the first changes to be put in place.

House systems with colour-coordinated uniforms, a "Pledges" framework with life skills that don't just focus on exams and a list of what is expected in the classroom were part of its winning formula.

Mr Spencer, who has worked in education in the Herefordshire and Cambridgeshire area for the past 17 years, said: "The children felt that they did not go to a good school and it took time to turn that around.

"Firstly we wanted to change the mood and inject optimism.

"We needed to listen to them have their say, listen to their views on what they want to eat, what they wanted to their uniform to look like and now we find they are a lot happier.

"We put good systems in place and consistency.

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"It makes children know they are cared for and valued."

By creating this new identity, students were given a "positive message around standards", Mr Spencer explained.

But changing public perception was a challenge - especially when national media coverage had dubbed it as 'Britain's strictest school' in 2011.

"Raising expectations was the most difficult thing when faced with budget cuts," Mr Spencer continued.

"It has been a journey with real highs and difficult moments.

"But we want to continue that energy and ambition and become a centre of excellence - an exceptional college nationally."

In an Ofsted survey, one parent commented "Ely College has changed hugely in the past three years, all for the better".

Governors were also said to have a "comprehensive knowledge" and teaching, personal development and behaviour had all improved.

And not only is the future looking bright for the school but Bishop Laney Sixth Form is also set to undergo changes over the next few years.

"The sixth form provision was dying, so we re-launched it, which was a huge move for us," Mr Spencer said.

"We want to make sure we have high standards as it is vital to keep it on top form.

"We will not leave anyone behind and ultimately we want to fill the gap between more advantaged students and those who aren't.

"This September we will have 245 Year 7s starting - which will be a record for us and by 2020 we aim to be full."

He added: "I have had a lot of support from the trust and a great leadership team around me.

"Everyone has worked really hard and I am proud of the work that has gone into the past few years from students, staff and Cambridgeshire County Council."

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