Highlighting best practice
Barrie O’Shea, head teacher
All the school dresses up and performs
for the international evening banquet
When Barrie O’Shea arrived at Duncombe Primary,
the majority of teaching staff were in the process
of handing in their resignations, which pre-empted
the school’s proposed enforced closure. The school, situated in
Hornsey, one of the most deprived areas in the UK, had been
designated a “troubled school” by the LEA and its pupils had
been banned from local libraries, borough swimming pools and
the local sports association. Upon being petitioned by parents
to remain as headmaster, Barrie took over headship in 1989,
becoming the first local-council appointed headteacher within
the London borough of Islington. Twenty-nine years later, Barrie
is still present at the school, a testament to his involvement with
the local community and dedication to teaching. Herein, Barrie
discusses his provision of care: engaging with students and
parents in order to effect wider positive outcomes for the pupils
and the community at large.
Upon my headship, I accessed extra help where needed for families and for my
own staff. Moreover, we regularly survey our parents and children so as to make
well-informed improvements. As of late, recent staff appraisal targets were focused
on improving parental engagement: I am comfortable and have the relevant
pastoral experience to support families and those who work for me. Duncombe’s
emphasis is on lifelong
celebration and support. This rationale is the reason for
»Head teacher: Barrie O’Shea
»Founded in 1850
»Based in Islington
»Type of school: Mixed primary
»No. of pupils: 465
»Duncombe has been among
the schools with the highest
percentage of free school
meals in the country
»Lifelong support and
celebration has people coming
back 20 years later
Duncombe Primary
Key moments of success on the
road to improvement included the
return of supply staff, who previously
felt unsafe coming to Duncombe.
Following my personal guarantee
to respond quickly to any concerns,
we re-established visiting times
with local libraries, swimming pools
and local sports associations. It was
an arduous process, but gradual
progression resulted in a maintained
rise in standards across the board.
Many families, often new arrivals to
the UK, joined us with worrying issues
and concerns. As we began to meet
their needs, they would bring other
families to us, often travelling daily
from distant parts of London. We
found ourselves identified as a place of
safety, where we could work towards
positive outcomes collectively.
Myself and other colleagues greet
parents in the playground as they drop
off and collect their children. Many
regard us as mediators for a wide
variety of issues, and feel comfortable
expressing issues that they may have
told us in confidence. These can
range from adult education to health,
challenges at home, crime, housing,
immigration, the police, difficulties
on our local estates, mental health,
domestic violence, bereavement
and finding employment. We may
accompany our parents and children
through support interventions,
which can last beyond the time that
a child is active at Duncombe. We
supplement our school experience
through strong working relationships
with municipal authorities, such as
local councillors, council managers
and our local constituency MP Jeremy
Corbyn. Furthermore, we work
in cooperation with the excellent
Islington Safeguarding Children’s
Board to promote our awareness and
understanding of child protection.
Our work with secondary schools
includes our continued interest in
our leavers with particular needs.
Thesemay be involved in our regular
support programmes or just monitored
over time by regular visits. This has
been our way of working for several
years, responding to the growing
need to provide ongoing, relaxed
contact with our older past pupils and
secondary children – many previous
pupils of Duncombe Primary. This eases
the burden on their current schools,
while providing a practical solution to
ongoing issues. Our programmes can
involve eight or nine young people
meeting weekly for six weeks’ worth
of activities, such as horse riding
Our parental support team includes
Renaisi community engagement
advisers, home-school support staff,
CAMHS, S&L practitioners, the senior
leadership team, teaching staff and
the administration team. We never
turn people away and are proactive,
welcoming and encouraging to all
that seek help through our school.
Our governors both promote and
actively propagate our community-
Parents having fun, with
our artist in residence, at
a ceramics and textiles
The emphasis
at Duncombe
is on lifelong
and support
Highlighting best practice
Our diverse community of parents are
involved in the everyday maintenance
and the running of our school on
all levels; our community promotes
social cohesion, respect and care –
guiding principles of Duncombe. We
regard parental support as key for a
school with such a high number of
children coming from disadvantaged
backgrounds. By supporting our
parents in all areas, we seek to provide
a home life where our children can be
happy, prosper and achieve success at
school. Our support for our own staff
has to mirror that which we provide
for our parents.
Parents often recommend our services
to other families with similar issues
across London, often from boroughs
beyond Islington. We have a robust
induction programme for them
and use key workers to ensure they
settle quickly and confidently. We
run ESOL classes for our parents
along with parenting courses, teach
supplementary GCSE modules for
mature learners and have introduced
a wide variety of parenting classes.
Accessing fathers is one of our hardest
tasks for which we are constantly
seeking innovative ideas and initiatives.
But it is also really important for us to
provide parents and people from the
local community with opportunities
to express themselves artistically and
to achieve success academically.
Within the school, there are numerous
opportunities to engage in fulfilling
activities, many of which are parent
initiated and run, such as volunteering,
learning languages, ceramics, fine
art, textiles, yoga, Pilates, dance and
“keep-fit” sessions. Off-site visits are
organised for parents to enhance their
enjoyment of our classes.
Our ethos is very much based around
praise rather than punishment. We are
a “positive behaviour school” and we
use praise alongside our cooperative
learning strategies to reward those
who are putting in that extra effort
regardless of the area. Rewards are
frequent and numerous. Whether it’s
the “grabber”, our inspired reward
token with weekly class raffles, or
the half-termly attendance parties
and films. We even have an annual
PlayStation raffle for children who
have good attendance and punctuality
rates. A strong ethos around pushing
the zone of proximal development
has led to our children seeking
recognition by doing their best and
supporting each other, a better way of
gaining attention and a surefire way
of receiving positive accolades, prizes
We are reputed for accepting high
numbers of volunteers, many from
challenged backgrounds, who are
looking for a fresh start and an
opportunity to give back to the
community. We have worked closely
with local secondary schools, youth
employment programmes, young
people leaving care, the probation
service, London universities and
colleges, CSV and, of course, parents.
Her Majesty the Queen has visited us
to celebrate our work with volunteers.
Our governors
both promote
and actively
propagate our
based ethos
Singing our hearts out at
our spring concert