Grace Academy Solihull

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Grace Academy Solihull'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 Grace Academy Solihull 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

Principal Darren Gelder
Our students are confident,
well-rounded learners
Grace Academy have undergone a remarkable
transformation over a short period of time. Originally
founded in 2006 to help to improve pupil outcomes in
an area of socio-economic deprivation, they were assessed as
“inadequate” in 2013. Through an overhaul of the curriculum
and a concerted effort to empower their staff, they have been
able to significantly improve student performance and have
doubled their general attainment level. They were also ranked
the most improved academy nationally in a Sutton Trust report
released in January. Principal Darren Gelder joined the school
in 2013 and explains how they have achieved this change and
what they have planned for the future.
The school was established in 2006, supported by its sponsor Lord Edmiston.
We are part of a group of academies, with our partners based in Darlaston and
Coventry. We are located in an area of high socio-economic deprivation, with
roughly 60 per cent of our students entitled to the pupil premium. We have based
our provision around a central ethos of grace, respect, integrity, potential and
excellence, which is now tangible to anyone who visits the academy. I arrived in
2013, when the school was summarised as “inadequate”. Attainment was at
37 per cent, staff morale was low and it was clear that swift improvements were
essential for students and staff alike.
We are now rated as “good” by Ofsted and have doubled our attainment level to
74 per cent. This improvement is particularly evident in English, as 89 per cent of
»Principal: Darren Gelder
»Established in 2006
»Based in Solihull
»Type: Secondary school
»No. of students: 800
Grace Academy
Highlighting best practice
our students now achieve a good pass,
placing us in the top group of schools
nationally. Our disadvantaged students
now outperform non-disadvantaged
students across the country. All of
our students, regardless of their
background and setting, can compete
for apprenticeships, university places
and jobs on equal footing with any
other student in the country. A key
indicator of our success is our level of
subscription: when I arrived, we were
at half capacity, whereas now we are
oversubscribed. We have achieved
high levels of attendance across the
board and are now one of the highest-
performing academy schools in the
local area. For the first time in some
years, many of our students are now
continuing on to higher education
and university. We view this as a
mark of the progress we have made
in terms of both higher results and
our efforts to engender an appetite
for learning. A key part of our role,
as well as producing great results, is
to ensure that our students have the
other skills they need to be successful.
A full and well-developed enrichment
programme exposes students to a wide
variety ofexperiences.
Encouraging professional
Pivotal to achieving this rapid growth
was focusing on each student as an
individual. We ensured that all lessons
were thought through and fully
differentiated. In terms of our staff, we
have focused on both their wellbeing
and their professional development.
To ensure they can manage their
schedules, we have reduced the
amount of marking and assessments
they must undertake while still
improving outcomes. We recognise
that the biggest challenge for teachers
is time. We have built in an extra
hour of continuing professional
development each week for every
teacher. This takes place alongside a
weekly meeting on Tuesdays, in which
each teacher engages in professional
reflection and talks about the next
steps they can take to improve their
work. This is followed by an hour to
act on these improvements during the
day. This opportunity for improvement
is fundamental to improve both the
curriculum and our teachingstandards.
There has also been a marked culture
shift. We are continually reflecting
A well-developed
curriculum is of
paramount importance
A key part of
our role, as
well as
great results,
is to ensure
that our
students have
the other skills
they need to
be successful
on our practice and constantly check
that out our curriculum and wider
offer are appropriate for our students.
Our school action plan is developed
collaboratively, and every person
involved in the school is consulted in
the formation of our five key points
each year.
Our school is situated within a
diverse local community, and we
have reflected this within our internal
environment. The academy has
the benefit of an ethos team who
work tirelessly to deliver a wide and
encompassing enrichment offer
to students throughout the year,
including hosting events, running food
drives for the homeless and performing
outreach in Manchester.
Review and refine
As with schools across the country,
recruitment presents a challenge.
This stems from a dual source of
reduced funding and fewer available
candidates. Fewer people are
choosing to become teachers and
while government targets for teacher
recruitment are helping, more can be
done. By striving to reduce teacher
workload and creating an inclusive
culture, we have been able to achieve
a low rate of staff turnover. Rather
than hiring new candidates, we have
focused on making our existing staff
the best that they can be. We have
also ensured that teachers feel like
experts in their respective fields, and
we have made a concerted effort to
reprofessionalise and empower them.
We have also been working with Teach
First and Now Teach and are currently
conducting a pilot project for Now
Teach in the Midlands. These help to
widen our potential recruitment pool,
should we need it.
As we look ahead, we are setting
challenges for ourselves and our
students. We want our pupils to
be able to compete with anyone,
regardless of background or context.
We are developing our extracurricular
activities to ensure that each student
leaves as a more rounded person,
combining academic achievement
and experiential development. By
continuing to adhere to our central
ethos and improve the outcomes of
our local pupils, we are confident
that we can develop the school into
becoming “outstanding”.
We want our
pupils to be
able to
compete with
regardless of
background or
Not neglecting
extracurricular subjects

This article was sponsored by Grace Academy Solihull. 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