Castle Hill High School

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Castle Hill High 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 Castle Hill High 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

Sixth-form students
Independent study
promotes resilience
Castle Hill High School is a special school catering for
students aged 11 to 18 with a range of special and complex
educational needs. It has been judged “outstanding” in
its last two Ofsted inspections and has undergone significant
expansion over the past six years. Headteacher John Law adopts
a straightforward approach to education with a simple ethos,
summed up in the two words that are prominently displayed above
the school’s entrance: “Respect” and “Achieve”. He believes that if
we begin by teaching and modelling respect, everything else soon
falls into place. John elaborates further, telling
The Parliamentary
how and why this concept drives everything at Castle Hill.
A respect and values driven school with high aspirations
Our student profile is complex and diverse; all our students have learning
difficulties, over 40 per cent are on the autistic spectrum, many have
communication difficulties and a significant number have social, emotional and
mental health issues. We don’t dwell on these or use them as an excuse – instead
we focus on each student’s strengths and promote a “can-do” culture.
The way we talk to our students is important. We don’t ask students to “do your
best”, as we believe students often underestimate their own ability. It’s important
that verbal feedback is specific and focuses on next steps. This challenges students,
but only by developing their resilience can we expect them to fully engage in their
learning. The key is positive language and modelling behaviour – accentuating the
positives and downplaying the negatives.
»Headteacher: John Law
»Founded in 1988
»Based in Stockport, Greater
»Type of school: Community
special secondary school
»No. of students: 260
Castle Hill
High School
Highlighting best practice
Working towards
Literacy is a great example of where
a progress-focused mindset has had
a massive impact. Success in reading
is a big milestone for us. On joining
us, some students still don’t recognise
letter formation, but all leave us able to
read fluently and with comprehension.
Our daily reading session for all
students plays a big part in this – some
of our older students act as mentors.
In Keys Stages 4 and 5 all our courses
lead to formal qualifications, including
GCSEs, BTECs, ELCs and The Duke of
Edinburgh’s Award; our students leave
us with an average of 11 qualifications.
While we’re proud of this, we’re not
led by performance tables or rankings
– only by what we know will be
essential life skills for our youngsters.
There is no tick-box mentality at
One of the most important goals for all
students at Castle Hill is independence,
and we work hard to prepare our
students for the real world. We begin
developing their awareness and
maturity from year 7 with programmes
such as independent travel training.
Something as simple as this opens up
so many doors for our youngsters in
later life, and by year 11, most are able
to use public transport confidently.
Our extensive vocational curriculum
and work experience programme
also help to prepare students for
life beyond Castle Hill. Weekly work
placements are a unique feature of
our sixth form, which makes use of a
progressive, personalised curriculum
to offer the right pathway for each
student. The uniqueness of what we
offer has been recognised by the local
authority, and we are expanding our
sixth form over the coming years.
It’s crucial that parents are on board
with our ethos and feel that we are
working with them to get the best for
their children. A programme of review
meetings, open mornings and parents
evenings alongside more informal
day-to-day communication helps us
maintain excellent home–school links.
Our staff are key to everything
we do
Organic growth, as the school has
expanded over the past five years,
means that I now have a team of
over 80 staff, all of whom are fully
committed role models. It’s vital
that they recognise their obligation
as educators to get the absolute
maximum in terms of achievement and
progress from our students.
Identifying potential and growing
our own teaching staff has also
Students recognise that
reading is key
The key is
language and
behaviour –
the positives
the negatives
proven to be very rewarding; four
of our teachers, including one of my
assistant heads, began with us as
teaching assistants. Additionally, five
teachers initially trained with us when
beginning their career and have since
never left.
We seem to be bucking the national
trend in terms of staff retention; in
my ten years at Castle Hill, only one
teacher has left us to teach elsewhere.
The advent of a new Ofsted
A positive Ofsted report has a massive
impact for everyone. When inspectors
leave, I speak to our students about
how impressed our visitors have been
with them, and they take real pride in
that fact.
Personally, I’m delighted with the
proposed changes to the Ofsted
framework. Our curriculum has always
been driven by the needs of our
students, and we’ve never allowed
data and performance tables to dictate
what we teach.
It’s refreshing to see policymakers
moving in this same direction. Students
in mainstream schools should get a
better deal; the old framework almost
seemed to drive schools to shape their
curriculum around how it would play in
the league tables. I see these proposed
changes encouraging schools to focus
on what actually makes a difference
in terms of student experiences
It also looks like there’ll be increased
emphasis on the transfer of
knowledge across the curriculum,
which is a real indicator of successful
learning. A joined-up, coherent
approach means that when students
learn in one subject, its impact is
felt across the entire curriculum.
Continuity is evidence of real progress
Change is never a frustration
It’s difficult to predict what will happen
over the coming years. When things
change at government level – a new
education secretary, for example –
new initiatives soon follow. While we,
as educators, may not always agree,
I believe change should always be
welcomed. After careful consideration
of new legislation, it’s usually possible
to take a common-sense approach to
implementation that puts the needs of
students first.
I sincerely hope that there will be a
shift away from the “holy grail” of
degree education. It’s essential that as
a nation we recognise the importance
of vocational education, and I do see
things moving in that direction.
The final unknown is one that’s ever
changing – technology. I find it exciting
and frightening in equal measure; our
model as a school is built around face-
to-face interaction, and I can never see
that being automated or replaced.
No matter what happens in the future,
however, my fundamental belief
remains the same: a school should
never change for the sake of changing,
but should similarly never be afraid
There is no
mentality at
Castle Hill
At Castle Hill, we have
an extensive vocational

This article was sponsored by Castle Hill High 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