Archbishop Ilsley Catholic College

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Archbishop Ilsley Catholic College's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Archbishop Ilsley Catholic College is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Headteacher Helen Burrows
Year 11 students preparing
for examinations
Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School, based in Acocks Green,
Birmingham, have undertaken a programme of change
to consolidate and improve their “good” Ofsted rating.
Having instigated a new uniform policy, they have seen a
corresponding improvement in pupil behaviour and are working
to adapt their curriculum to ensure that it is rigorous and
challenging. Helen Burrows became headteacher after working
as assistant head since 2014 and discusses how they have
instigated their programme of change and the need for the
government to support teacher retention.
In September 2018, Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School started the next phase of
our journey. Judged as “good” in our two previous Ofsted inspections, with sound
prior leadership, the school was already working on solid foundations, but if we
were to make further improvements, change needed to happen. We could not
afford to stand still for one moment.
As the incoming headteacher, I was fortunate enough to have sufficient working
knowledge of the school, having previously been assistant head at the school since
January 2014. This enabled me to start the academic year with a focused plan on
what we needed to do in both the present moment and the future. We had to hit
the ground running.
Establishing a clear vision and direction of travel was critical in helping staff and
students to understand that there was going to be change. Not change for the
sake of it but for the purpose of taking the school forward. Our vision is based
»Headteacher: Helen Burrows
»Established in 1957
»Based in Acocks Green,
»Type: Secondary school
»No. of pupils: 1,165, including
the sixth form
Archbishop Ilsley Catholic
Highlighting best practice
around both academic and character
education: we want our students to be
academically successful but also kind
and resilient citizens who can make the
world a better place. Our school ethos
is rooted in Catholic virtues, and this
vision very much reflects those virtues
of love, compassion, curiosity and
truth. In order for us to achieve our
vision, we needed to make changes
and develop some of the existing
excellent practices in our community.
Back to basics
It is my fundamental belief that if you
get the simple things right, you create
the best platform for sustainable
excellence. We started with a focus
on uniform. Through clear and regular
communication with families before
and during the summer break, we
started the term with the vast majority
of students fully compliant with our
revised policy. By the end of the
second week, we had 100 per cent
compliance, and this has remained the
case since. Consistency of expectations
is key: all staff are accountable for
basic standards in the school, and the
leadership team offer their full support
in ensuring that these standards are
met. Our approach is to “sweat the
small stuff” but with compassion and
kindness: we believe you can have high
standards without alienating students
and stakeholders.
We could not have anticipated the
positive effect on behaviour that
resulted from this focus on uniform.
Suddenly, the insistence on being
smartly presented and held to account
for their uniform allowed students to
have a greater focus on their lessons
and learning. The atmosphere in our
school has always been warm and
friendly and behaviour has always
been good, but now students, staff
and visitors regularly comment on how
calm and orderly the school is. The
introduction of micro-scripts to deal
with low-level disruption is improving
consistency of message and helping
staff to use the right tools at the
A key factor in driving improvement
is the review and development of our
curriculum. It is our intention that
the students in our school should
participate in a challenging and
rigorous curriculum that will enable
them to enjoy and thrive in their
learning, leaving with the qualifications
they need to be successful in the next
phase of their lives. In order to realise
this intention, we have adapted our
curriculum model, have reviewed how
we structure each cohort of students
and are now working closely with
middle leaders to transform radically
what is taught in the first three years.
We have had very honest conversations
about the content of our curriculum
and have not been afraid to share
with each other that some aspects
were no longer fit for purpose. Middle
leaders are visiting other schools
that have embedded a knowledge-
rich curriculum, and there is genuine
excitement about developing this in
our own setting.
We ensure our lessons
are both challenging and
We want our
students to be
successful but
also kind and
citizens who
can make the
world a better
Ground-level leadership
There is no doubt that the current
recruitment and retention rates for
secondary school teachers are a worry.
More needs to be done at government
level to ease the crisis, but there are
things we can do in school to help
staff retention.
I have never been someone who
subscribes to the idea that you have
a preferred leadership style. To
be an effective and ethical leader,
you need to be different things
at different times, but there is an
absolute insistence in my senior and
middle leadership teams that we
lead by example and from the front.
High visibility and presence around
the school contribute to the calm
and orderly atmosphere, as well
as help to support staff. We have
worked hard to reduce the amount
of bureaucracy and pressure that our
staff experience by streamlining our
calendar of school events, getting rid
of formal, lengthy lesson observations
and reviewing systems. We have no
doubt that reducing their workload,
without compromising on quality
experiences for our students, is
making a difference. This year, we
have concentrated on pedagogical
research as part of our professional
development for staff, and we are
already identifying changes to our
practice that will have a positive impact
on our students.
At the very heart of our school is
the success and happiness of our
students. Our motto is “Just and firm
of purpose”, and before we make
any important decisions in school, we
always consider whether we are living
out the school’s motto and vision. As
we move forward with changes to
the structure of the school day, the
curriculum and the quality of teaching
in the school, we are confident that
our school can only get better.
There is no
doubt that the
recruitment and
retention rates
for secondary
school teachers
are a worry.
A strong Catholic ethos
runs through our school

This article was sponsored by Archbishop Ilsley Catholic College. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss

Even by the standards of the day –this has been one of the most exciting and unpredictable years in British politics.

The leadership election we’ve just seen marks a huge moment in our country’s history. This government is taking a decisive new direction, embracing the opportunities of Brexit and preparing our country to flourish outside the EU.

As international trade secretary, I’ll be driving forward work on the free trade agreements that are going to be a priority for the government. Free trade isn’t just an abstract concept bandied around by technocrats. It is crucial for a strong economy and for the ability of families to make ends meet. Free trade benefits people in every part of our country, as British firms export to new markets and people doing the weekly shop have access to a wider choice of goods at lower prices.

The essence of free trade is in the title: freedom. It’s about giving people the power to exchange their goods without heavy government taxation or interference. Commerce and free exchange are the engine room of prosperity and social mobility. I’m determined to tackle the forces who want to hold that back.

One of my priorities is agreeing an exciting new free trade deal with the US, building on the great relationship between our two countries and the Prime Minister and US President. But I’ll also be talking to other partners including New Zealand, Australia and fast-growing Asian markets.

And with the EU too, we want a friendly and constructive relationship, as constitutional equals, and as friends and partners in facing the challenges that lie ahead – a relationship based on a deep free trade agreement. Our country produces some of the world’s most successful exports, and the opportunity to bring these to the rest of the world should make us all excited about the future. It is this excitement, optimism and ambition which I believe will come to define this government.

For too long now, we have been told Britain isn’t big or important enough to survive outside the EU – that we have to accept a deal that reflects our reduced circumstances. I say that’s rubbish. With the right policies in place, we can be the most competitive, free-thinking, prosperous nation on Earth exporting to the world and leading in new developments like AI. To do that, we’ll give the brilliant next generation of entrepreneurs the tools they need to succeed. Since 2015, there has been a staggering 85 per cent rise in the number of businesses set up by 18 to 24 year olds – twice the level set up by the same age group in France and Germany. We’ll help them flourish by championing enterprise, cutting taxes and making regulation flexible and responsive to their needs.

As we do that, we’ll level up and unite all parts of the UK with great transport links, fibre broadband in every home and proper school funding, so everyone shares in our country’s success.

2019 has been the year of brewing economic and political revolution. 2020 will be the year when a revitalised Conservative government turbo charges the economy, boosts prospects for people across the country, and catapults Britain back to the forefront of the world stage.

Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss
Secretary of State for International Development