Highlighting best practice
Matthew Bowler, CEO
Students reading in the library
at Rayner Stephens
Matthew Bowler completed his GCSEs at Longdendale
High School in June 1988, after five years as a pupil at the
school. In September 2010, Matthew returned as head
teacher, committed to making a difference to the community in
which he was raised. The context of the school at this time was
extremely challenging: pupil outcomes were desperately low, rolls
were falling and the school had ceased to be outward looking. In
consequence, Longdendale was considerably off the pace at a time
of significant change in education. Two “requires improvement”
judgements from Ofsted in the first three years of his headship
confirmed the extent of the challenges they faced. In spite
of this, Matthew was determined that changing the cultural
foundation of Longdendale High School was going to be the key
to any future success. What followed transformed Longdendale
and positive repercussions were felt outside of the school gates.
Dynamic improvement
The first layer of our improvement strategy had focused on the essential changes
required to address the most fundamental weaknesses facing the school. We
established a new leadership team to drive quality improvement. Each leader was
given a precise focus, and robust approaches to quality assurance were established to
drive the impact our actions were having. A new curriculum model was implemented,
which represented a hugely improved offer for students. Higher expectations of
student performance were defined by the development of an ambitious target-setting
»CEO: Matthew Bowler
»Head teachers: Andrea Jones
(Longdendale High School)
FayBeach (Rayner Stephens
High School)
»Founded in 2017
»Based in Tameside, Greater
»No. of students: 1,459
»No. of staff: 187
»An educational trust: Two
11-16 academies comprising
a converter academy and a
sponsored academy
»Recent awards: Inclusion
Quality Mark, National Centre of
Excellence for Inclusion, National
Governor Mark, International
School Award, Inspiring IAG
Gold Award, MEN Support
Teacher of the Year
AspirePlus Educational
became the
beating heart
and soul of
our school
process and systematic approaches
to tracking student progress. We
embraced the demise of national
curriculum levels and developed new
pedagogy and assessment approaches
to ensure we were on the front foot
with the new GCSE specifications.
Through highly effective appraisal
and some staff turnover, leaders and
teachers were increasingly committed to
the mission of improving opportunities
for our school community.
The core values of
At the same time as these changes
were being introduced and managed,
an even more significant shift was
taking place. As leaders, we had
begun discussing how to develop in
our students those fabled notions
of character, grit and resilience.
Weknew that we had not yet won
over our community to our vision. It
felt like school was something that
was done to the students, yet we were
desperate to create a vibrant inclusive
environment where all students would
be able to flourish and develop their
potential. Over a period of six months
and in collaboration with colleagues,
students and the community, we
developed our
core values.
Our new mission statement of “we
endeavour to achieve and aspire to
be successful” was supported by our
identified values of achievement,
success, professionalism, integrity,
respect and endeavour:
. We
were aware that many schools had
adopted such acronyms in representing
their school identity. We were
determined, however, that they would
not simply be key words for a school
motto; we wanted them to form the
bedrock of our school culture.
The central driver to the development
of the
values was our inclusive
ethos. We worked relentlessly to
embed these values throughout our
school community. We prioritised our
younger year groups and the new
year 7 intake, recognising that these
students would be the key to the
long-term success of the approach.
Some ofthe key actions we took
in launchingthe values with our
community were asfollows:
»Communication: core values were
referenced in every communication
with students, staff and the wider
»Transition: three-day induction with
year 6 students overtly taught the
expectations of what each core value
means and what is expected of them
as students
Hair-raising science at
Students enjoying school
Highlighting best practice
Centre: inclusion and pastoral
support team was put in place to
support the academic and emotional
well-being of students working with
individuals, groups and families to
remove any barriers to access or
»Rewards: a new system of rewards
based on the core values was
developed to encourage and
motivate students
»Student leadership: student leaders
in all year groups were empowered
to help develop and improve their
school and were integral to the
promotion of the school’s corevalues
Each of these aspects was important
in successfully launching the new
approach, but the most important
element was the day-to-day focus
that staff placed on
in their
classrooms and in the corridors.
Inclusion support became the
beating heart and soul of our school
community and the core values came
to be fully integrated into all strands
of school life. Although it took time,
it did work. Eighteen months after
launching the values, we had a
visit from the education director of
the local authority and he jokingly
declared that
at Longdendale
was like a secular religion such was
the commitment demonstrated to the
values by students and staff alike.
Endeavour brings success
In consequence of the changes made
at Longdendale the school is proud to
be celebrating a very successful period.
Strong levels of achievement, high
standards of teaching and excellence
in inclusion have all contributed to the
school’s growing reputation. As a result,
Longdendale High School was graded as
“good” and leadership as “outstanding”
in its most recentinspection.
In January 2016 I was invited to
take on an executive head teacher
role at Astley Sports College, a
local school which was significantly
underperforming. I approached the
challenge at Astley in the same way
as I had the issues that I had faced
at Longdendale, only this time much
more quickly. Interestingly it was the
existing school leaders at Astley who
requested we also adopt the cultural
framework of the
core values.
By September of 2016 all of Astley’s
school systems and approaches
matched those at Longdendale and the
process of change was well underway.
As a result of the dynamic impact of
our improvement model, we were
successful in applying to establish a
multi-academy trust with Longdendale
converting as sponsor and Astley
converting as a sponsored academy.
When the question of what to call the
trust arose, the answer was simple. The
AspirePlus Educational Trust was born.
Astley was officially closed in August
2017 and our new academy, Rayner
Stephens High School, was opened
in September 2017. Our Trust is fully
committed to our local community
and has been established to prioritise
sustained educational improvement
in this borough and beyond. Initially,
this will be for the benefit of our two
founder schools; in the future, we will
seek to offer supportive solutions for
other schools who may wish to join.
But only if they share our values.
Official launch of the
Trust, September 2017
We were
desperate to
create a
where all
would be able
to flourish and
develop their