The Fermain Academy in Macclesfield has been assessed recently and has achieved Centre of Excellence Status.
Context of the School
The Fermain Academy is a free school in Macclesfield, that supports schools from across Cheshire East and Cheshire West. It opened its doors to its first students in September 2015 and underwent a £1.6m building project to extend and refurbish the entire building. With facilities to cater for up to 40 students aged 13-16 at any given time, to provide education for students who have been excluded or are at risk of exclusion, and who may be experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties. Although the school continues to be oversubscribed and intends to increase its PAN to closer to 60 as they work with the LA to plan their growth. SEN students make up approximately 11% with FSM closer to 50% and attendance at the end of June 2017 at 91.3% a fantastic accolade for the Academy. The progress that students attending the Academy make from their low starting point, is fantastic often with little or no attendance; the average attendance for the cohort is around 63-64%. Every student has increased their attendance and on average students improve by 26% or more. In fact, the student who showed me around had an attendance of 45% before he came to the Academy and now is very proud of his 100% attendance record here. The Academy should be commended for their efforts and justifiably proud of what they do in this arena.
Re-Engaging Disengaged Students
The Academy is a safe place of learning for those who, for whatever reason, have become disengaged from mainstream education. Students often arrive with a range of social differences meaning they all start from a variety of developmental points that need to be addressed through the Academy’s strong emphasis on SMSC and British Values. The Academy was set up with a vision to re-engage those students who have become disconnected with not only mainstream education but with their own dreams and aspirations. The Academy’s ethos is to, ‘re-engage the disengaged by raising their aspirations, realising their potential and recognising their achievements through an individualised whole-education approach facilitated in small working groups by trusted adult role models’. Aiming to help students to recognise their achievements, and by delivering a personalised curriculum that will allow them to sit a minimum of five GCSEs or the equivalent, prepare them for a world where they can truly realise their full potential. Attainment predictions for the summer 2017 are – 100% A*- G in English and Maths, 100% predicted to get 5 or more A* – G and 100% predicted to get at least 1A* – G a great set of results if the predictions are borne out considering where the students were when they started at the Academy. The curriculum is designed to encourage all students to be respectful of opinions, and generate their own alternative viewpoints and ideas, the Academy delivers a complete academic, social and emotional learning experience by placing students in smaller working groups led by adult role models that the students trust. The safety and well-being, both emotional and physical of all students and staff is paramount, something they ensure by maintaining safe and stimulating learning environments and implementing robust systems of behaviour, as well as social and emotional support. They try to provide the best possible standards of care, support and learning for all students and staff by promoting an environment in which staff can develop and share their skills, knowledge and experience.
Supporting the Whole Student
By focusing on academic achievements through focused personal and social development programmes staff can establish the foundations on which to build trust and re-engagement in learning. The Academy supports the ‘whole student’ by concentrating on focused personal and social development programmes, which in turn helps to establish solid foundations on which to build. Provision is put in place that helps them to overcome the range of challenges they often face. All student successes are celebrated and praised in order, to raise the students’ self-confidence and self-esteem. Staff understand that by raising the self-worth of the ‘whole student’ they are much more likely to re-engage with, and establish a love of, learning, which will ultimately allow each student to meet and exceed their academic targets.
A Welcoming and Vibrant Atmosphere
Please thank the staff, students, parents and the Governors who took the time to talk to me and celebrate what you do as a community during the assessment. The Academy has an extremely welcoming and vibrant atmosphere. The building is bright, dynamic and airy providing suitable accommodation for 21st century teaching and learning and beyond with an impressive teaching environment. It is clear to see that the dedication of the staff at all levels is paying dividends here and is turning students’ lives around and ensuring their success as they move forward with their lives. This dedication is apparent in the way that the Principal and Deputy Principal have worked to build an extensive network of external partners and agencies, collaborating with them and ensuring that trust is paramount to keep the students safe and improving their well–being. The Academy is part of a quality assurance group with three other good or outstanding schools where SLT from each school moderate their judgements on teaching and learning as well as school SEFs. The Academy has rightly judged the quality of teaching and learning to be ‘Good to Outstanding and this continues to be the number one priority. This is a fact I can attest to from the teaching and lessons I observed during the assessment.
A Highly Positive Manner
Everybody I met over the one day assessment was very helpful and spoke in a highly positive manner about the Academy, their involvement and their experience of the Academy often at great length, not only students and staff but also the parents and governors I spoke to. The students I spoke to were very mature, polite and courteous and spoke about their time at the Academy and offered their honest opinions on a range of topics concerning their education. In fact, the behaviour of the students and ex-students I spoke to on the day was exemplary.
Responsibility for their Own Behaviour
Students have clearly bought into the culture of the school and take responsibility for their behaviour. Students spoken to were quite open in telling their stories and how the Academy had transformed their lives. Prior to attending the Academy many of them were non-attenders at risk of permanent exclusion and disengaged from their education. At the Academy, they show excellent attitudes to learning and clearly thrive in a totally inclusive culture where there are the highest expectations coupled with exceptional nurture and care.
Superb Inclusive Culture
The Academy’s superb inclusive culture as the principal states is, ‘driven by a strong set of values which focus on securing the best possible educational and social outcomes for young people who need to be re-engaged with learning’, and in his welcome on their excellent easily navigable website, ‘Fermain Academy supports individuals that struggle with conventional education and we work hard to support, engage and raise the aspirations of every student.’. Statements that I agree with and I can attest to from discussions, conversations and observation during the rigorous and comprehensive assessment process. A truly inclusive approach based on the vision and belief that this is an exciting learning community where all students make progress irrespective of their starting points. Learning is challenging, engaging, purposeful and innovative allowing for creativity, a sense of fulfilment and a desire to succeed. There is an open and honest culture where celebration of achievement is the norm and accountability is clear. Students and staff are given opportunities to discover and develop skills and talents. It was obvious during the assessment that students felt that the teachers and staff know them very well fostering excellent positive relationships and an environment in which as individuals they can flourish and grow.
Culture and Ethos of Inclusion
During the IQM assessment I saw the Academy at work and experienced the unique culture and ethos of inclusion that is clearly visible in every area of the school. Inclusion is at the heart of everything it does, permeating every nook and cranny and is ingrained in the structure at all levels. It is apparent from the moment you enter reception where I was warmly greeted by, the receptionist who is an apprentice who has worked at the Academy since December 2016 and who is completing a Business Administration course at Level 2 and during a conversation she explained that she loves working in the school, and has an excellent rapport with students and staff alike and feels part of the school community. A great accolade from a new member of staff. Everyone I met in meetings, in classes and during social times was keen to share their Academy and celebrate their vision for inclusion and success. Every student is valued for who they are and staff often go the extra mile as a matter of course to ensure that students’ needs are met and exceeded, as I was told on numerous occasions by students I met and talked with. The hard working, dedicated and thoroughly professional staff employed by the school are proud of their students and of the work that they do to promote successful outcomes from low starting points and of the outstanding level of care that they provide for all students! There is an outstanding sense of care and nurture within the Academy ensuring that students are given the best opportunities to succeed from the time they arrive. It was a pleasure to meet such enthusiastic, professional members of staff and to see the pride they felt when telling me about their roles and what they do daily, supporting each other, their students and as often the case their families as well, often without realising how much they do to ensure their students are successfully supported. Everyone I met was proud of their Academy and the outstanding efforts that are made to ensure everyone is cared for and achieves success. They should be exceptionally proud of their achievements in such a short time, having only being open for two years, such is the success of the Academy.
Students Know They Matter
The Fermain Academy makes every effort to ensure that all students succeed, knowing and feeling that they matter. They provide the excellent care, guidance and support where the ethos of providing an environment supportive of all associated with it is intangible and infectious. Their commitment is reflected in high quality planning with owned and outcomes-led actions. There is a culture of widespread reflection and review focussed on sustaining continuous improvement cycles. The importance of treating everyone associated with the school as an individual is deeply held and based on mutual respect, care and trust. The right for all to make progress is inherent and expected.
Celebrations are a Regular Feature
Leadership within the school and governance are rigorously focussed on ensuring the quality of the learning experience continues to produce improving and excellent results for all students. There is an equivalent emphasis on the provision of a broad array of enrichment opportunities to support individual’s personal growth. Celebrations are a positive and regular feature of life at the school. A broad and innovative array of approaches to recognising and celebrating achievement, in its widest form, are evident. The inclusive ethos is reflected through the operational systems and practice that the staff employ to deliver the clearly articulated vision. Data capture, tracking, monitoring and analyses are of a very high standard. It is very clear that relationships count, inclusion at the school is not about paperwork as such but about the everyday practice and this was very clearly demonstrated and seen by myself on numerous occasions during the IQM assessment.
A Relentless Focus on Driving Improvement
The Academy has a relentless focus on driving improvement forward and on objectively evaluating their work on inclusion. Inclusion underpins their philosophy and approach, and is shared effectively through whole school meetings, briefings, Academy improvement and development planning, learning walks, through communication with parents, carers and students and in discussion with the governing body. It is committed to meeting the needs, ambitions and aspirations of ALL students, staff and other members of the learning community and by investing in specialist staffing to fully facilitate access to the curriculum for all and to work with staff to ensure that they have the knowledge, skills, ability and capacity to support the inclusion agenda.
Parents Feel Valued
The parents I met with and talked to spoke candidly about their experiences of the Academy. The parents I spoke to during the assessment were positive about the school and that it is an open and honest place, where they feel comfortable, listened to and valued and where not only will their children be supported but they know they will be supported as a family. Parents said that they always felt welcomed and that staff willingly discuss any issues and support their children. School communication with them is very good and the school is proactive in letting them know how well their child is doing, through the effective use of Class Dojo, a classroom tool that helps teachers save time, boost classroom engagement, and improve student behaviour quickly and easily, with no painful data entry. It also supports quick and effective communication of student progress with parents and students, breaking down barriers to learning. a tool that parents felt was excellent in allowing them to see how their child was performing while still at school. Overall, they spoke highly of the school and felt that they went above and beyond what was normally expected of school staff and particularly wanted to point out, that the school recognises each student as an individual and puts in place appropriate support where needed and that they are given many opportunities to succeed and be the best that they can be. They were keen to say that they felt that this was a true ‘community school’ and that where issues occurred they were dealt with swiftly and successfully. They were also keen to continue to forge even closer links with the school and explore further opportunities to be involved both as individuals and as a group.
A Clear Vision Going Forward
The school is very well led by the Principal and the Senior Leadership team who are committed to securing the best not only for their students, but for all staff who work in the Academy. They have a clear vision of what they want to achieve and what they want for the school going forward that is fully supported by all staff, the students, the parents and the governors. Morale is extremely high for both staff and students, with staff clearly committed to ensure every possible success for the students entrusted to their care, academically, emotionally and socially.
An Exciting, Stimulating and Challenging Learning Environment
The vision for the school is supported by the Leadership team in the way they manage, lead from the front, establish the vision by implementing school policy and innovation and ensure excellence in inclusion is secured across the board for students, staff and families. There are clear leadership roles identified and everyone works hard to provide a learning environment that excites, stimulates and challenges students within a secure and caring community. A team approach pervades the whole school, where SEN support, pastoral care, student intervention together with excellent guidance and true inclusive practice combine to great effect. Having spent time in The Fermain Academy during the assessment discussing and having varied and interesting conversations about inclusion with numerous stakeholders, the ‘team’ are, and should be, rightfully proud of their hard-won achievements so far, but are committed and have the vision to continue to ensure outstanding outcomes for all who attend or work here. It has been a real privilege to spend time in such a fantastic inclusive school environment. They consistently go above and beyond what is expected in every area of school life. Such expertise may well lead to other opportunities for the Academy to roll out their highly successful model to other areas at KS3 and 4 as well as Key Stage 2 and develop models of short term intervention. It will be interesting to see if this has developed any further at the next assessment or review point.
Find out more about the IQM Inclusive School Award
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