Birchensale Middle School

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Birchensale Middle School'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 Birchensale Middle School 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 Tim Jones
Learning Mentor Sarah
Pugh and pupils
Birchensale Middle School has been on a journey from
an under-subscribed, low-performing school with high
mobility rates to become a highly sought-after school, with
an enrolment waiting list from all parts of the town. Meanwhile,
educational outcomes, sporting success and stakeholder
satisfaction have never been higher. Headteacher Tim Jones tells
The Parliamentary Review
about the school’s progress and how
he and his team have brought it about.
Our recent Ofsted report states: “The clear strength of your school is the pastoral
care you provide for your pupils. You and your dedicated staff have created a truly
inclusive school in which every pupil is valued and cared for.”
When I became headteacher in 2014, I wanted the school to become the focal point
of the community, enabling all pupils to fulfil their potential in a friendly, supportive
environment. I wanted to remove barriers to learning so pupils could thrive in a
school that celebrates achievement rather than highlights failure.
With the support of the governors, one of my first actions was to convert the old
caretaker’s bungalow into a new learning mentor suite. The concept of the learning
mentor is still a relatively new one, and while Ofsted recognises the beneficial effects
mentors offer in terms of a significant impact on the attendance, behaviour, self-esteem
and progress of the pupils they support, they are still not a universal feature of school life.
Introducing the learning mentor
At Birchensale, the learning mentor is a cornerstone of the school’s pastoral support
programme. Our decision to free up our teachers to teach, and let our learning
»Headteacher: Tim Jones
»Founded in 1972
»Based in Redditch,
»Type of school: Middle, with
pupils aged 9-13
»No. of pupils on roll: 555
»No. of teachers: 30
»No. of support staff: 24
»SEND: 27 per cent
»EAL: 28 per cent
»Disadvantaged pupils: 38 per
»We will become a member of
the Bordesley Multi-Academy
Trust in 2019
Birchensale Middle
Highlighting best practice
mentor manage the issues preventing
some of our pupils from accessing
the learning opportunities available in
school, has been repaid many times
over. Not only can we demonstrate
increased attendance and a dramatic
fall in exclusions, but we have also
experienced an overall improvement
in behaviour and academic outcomes
throughout theschool.
The learning mentor is a professional
friend and a guide, there to listen
actively to the children’s problems,
challenge the negative assumptions
they may have about themselves and
others, and encourage behavioural
change. She is qualitatively different
from other members of the teaching
staff. She is not disciplined by the usual
structures of the bell or term dates
and is therefore much more accessible,
available and flexible for pupils
Her aims, in conjunction with the
inclusion team, are unambiguous
– to raise levels of attainment and
attendance, to reduce exclusions,
remove barriers to learning and
promote social inclusion.
She meets pupils in the context
of small withdrawal groups and
individually during break times, lunch
times and class time. The dedicated
groups are themed around issues
such as self-esteem, organisational
skills, anger management, social skills,
attendance and transition. Other
areas covered include bereavement
counselling, self-harm, divorce,
smoking, friendship issues and
attitudes towards school itself. Parent
workshops cover issues such as
parenting, anxieties, autism, transition
and teenage changes.
The priority status that the school
ascribes to the mentor’s work
is reflected in the quality of the
space she has at her disposal – a
converted bungalow with a suite of
three meeting rooms equipped with
beanbags, desks and computers,
a fully functioning kitchen and her
user-friendly office with a well-used
Another important appointment
was that of a full-time EAL lead, as
the school cohort has changed with
an influx of pupils from around the
world. Currently, there are 149 pupils
who speak 25 different languages. A
dedicated classroom was set up and
pupils now have daily Rosetta Stone
language sessions as well as dedicated
English lessons, to supplement lessons
with their peers. The progress of
these pupils has been amazing in
preparing them for life at high school
The introduction of Dotty, the school
“Pets as Therapy” dog, has also
been an inspirational appointment.
Reluctant readers now look forward
to their reading sessions, where Dotty
listens attentively, while waiting for a
treat. Reading ability has improved, as
has self-confidence.
Dotty the PAT dog
I wanted to
barriers to
learning so
pupils could
thrive in a
school that
rather than
Impact of our changes
The results speak for themselves, over
the last five years:
»The number on roll has increased by
145 pupils (36 per cent)
»Full school detentions have fallen by
62 per cent
»Fixed term exclusions have fallen by
69 per cent
»Attendance is consistently above 95
per cent
»Key Stage 2 SATS scores have
increased year on year, and in 2018,
71 per cent of pupils were working
at expected levels in reading, writing
and maths, compared to 64 per cent
»Sports teams were successful with 28
trophies won in the past year alone,
producing 129 District, 56 County
and seven Midlands Champions in a
number of sports
»In 2018, Ofsted graded the school
“good” in all areas.
Funding our projects
The funding of these additional
initiatives at Birchensale is latterly the
subject of judicious juggling of school
finances; we are, however, absolutely
convinced of their vital significance to
the present and future welfare of our
students. I believe our work in school
reduces the pressures on a range
of other beleaguered educational
professionals and institutions including
the Educational Psychology Service and
the pupil referral units, as we achieve
so much in-house.
Moreover, who can say what the social
cost would be later on of our non-
involvement? This is a critical time in
the development of these children –
physically, intellectually, emotionally
and socially. We can and are making a
critical and life-changing difference to
their prospects.
We do not believe in lip service
and playing at it; we have made a
commitment to our children and we
believe that it is essential to know every
child. There is no quick fix, substitute
or prescription for the truly child-
centred approach, which our fabulous
staff help to deliver. Our successes are
the result of time, effort, money and
management, as well as willingness
and commitment. Many schools lose
the true meaning of “Every Child
Matters” in rhetoric and dogma – at
Birchensale we live it everyday.
Many schools
lose the true
meaning of
“Every Child
Matters” in
rhetoric and
dogma – at
we live it every
EAL lead Katie Okonska
with students

This article was sponsored by Birchensale Middle School. 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 The Rt Hon Professor The Lord Blunkett.

The Rt Hon Professor The Lord Blunkett's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Professor The Lord Blunkett

A new Prime Minister, a new Education Secretary and, as we're all painfully aware, a deeply uncertain future. It is in this context that the education service continues to deliver for individuals, communities and of course for our nation. 
There is no doubt whatsoever that the education service as a whole, schools, post 16/Further Education, and yes, lifelong learning, needs the most enormous injection of cash. Independent analysis shows that there has been at least an 8% average reduction in the amount of spend per pupil in our schools. Those damaged most by this have been pupils with special educational needs, whose voices are sadly rarely heard. The necessity of urgent action was underlined in July by the report of the all-party House of Commons Select Committee on Education. They could not have been clearer about the need for substantial funding and a long-term 10-year commitment. 
At the same time, there are a number of reviews taking place. One of them, in relation to post-16 qualifications, is in danger of a classic mistake by politicians and officials who have little or no understanding of the complex territory they're dealing with. Namely, the ridiculous proposition that BTEC National Diplomas might be set aside because 'T Levels are the gold standard'! 
I'm in favour of T Levels, but in the right context and for the right outcome. They are intended to be extremely focused specialist qualifications in defined areas of employment. When and if they eventually take off – there is predicted to be just a thousand students in 2021-22 taking up the qualification – they will not replace the BTEC, which has been the workhorse providing a general and high-quality education for decades. The BTEC has equipped young people for a variety of opportunities in a very changing employment market where the development of artificial intelligence, robotics, and changed working practices makes confining the choice of vocational pathways to one narrow focus, frankly ridiculous. 
Meanwhile, her Majesty's Opposition continue to throw out titbits which do not give, as yet, a very clear idea of what, if elected, Labour would do in office. What is needed is positive proposals. Abolishing this, that or the other – assessments/tests for those leaving primary school, for instance – is not the same thing as a very forward-looking agenda for radical improvement in standards and equity between those who can and cannot afford additional help for their children.  
There are a handful of Labour Party members, supported by some people who ought to know better, who have decided that a full-frontal assault on private education would be a good idea. For those worried about this, stop worrying. A party that put this in its manifesto wouldn't get elected, and if by some fluke it did, it would be challenged in the courts to the point where all the contradictions would be exposed for everyone to see. 
Just contemplate one simple fact. 20% of secondary schoolchildren in the borough of Hackney attend private schools! Yes, Hackney. This is because a large number of parents, some of whom scrape the money together, are sending their children to private education in London which happens to be the area of England with the best academic outcomes from state education. What's more, very large numbers (again, particularly in London) pay for private tutors. At the last estimate 40% of parents in London had at some point over the last year paid for a tutor for their child!  
Perhaps therefore an opposition party, hoping to provide unity rather than division, opportunity for all rather than a futile class battle against educational privilege, would seek ways of ensuring that those who can't afford tutors have the kind of support outside school that would put them on equal terms. 
One thing is very certain, no government would be able to stop parents buying additional tutoring for their children.
So, a practical agenda for equalising opportunity, for investing where it's needed most, for transforming the pipeline from school through college, apprenticeships, or university, is a goal worth fighting for. A positive way of linking business and education through political decision-making, with the delivery by excellent professionals in the education service, to the children of today and the economy of tomorrow. Surely that is a much more progressive and less negative way forward for both government and opposition. 
The Rt Hon Professor The Lord Blunkett