Highlighting best practice
Students study one-year GCSE
options across a range of
Teachers model the skills needed
to develop successful learners
Longdean School – located in the southeast of Hemel
Hempstead, Hertfordshire – is a secondary school and sixth
form with academy status. Their curriculum and pastoral
structure ensures that every student leaves Longdean with
control over their future. This rationale underpins the Longdean
strapline “rejoice in thy youth”. Head teacher, Graham
Cunningham, acutely aware that children only get one chance
for a world-class education, explains that the school puts
students at the heart of everything they do.
When I joined Longdean as deputy head teacher in January 2007, this was not the
case. Aspirations were low, the curriculum was narrow, behaviour and attendance
were poor, results were not good enough, and wider opportunities available
to students were limited. What the school did possess was a fantastic group of
students who wanted to be stretched and challenged, and saw school as a means
to improve their life chances. The school also had a committed staff that saw the
potential that existed in the school.
Changing things
Initially we tackled traditional areas such as attendance and behaviour to create
an environment in which teachers could teach and students could learn. We
encouraged staff to focus on the fundamentals of teaching: “teach the content,
mark the books, tell the students how they have done”. This mantra has remained
at Longdean ever since. Over time we evolved the curriculum, introducing a range
of subjects to GCSE and A-level programmes. We also developed the resolve
of our students by establishing a “Resilience” programme in year 7 alongside a
»Head teacher:
»Founded in 1970, became an
academy in 2011
»Based in Hemel Hempstead,
»Type of school: Mixed 11-
18 secondary school with
academy status
»No. of students: 1,216
»Mathematics and computing
»Ofsted: “Good”
Longdean School
“learningto learn” programme. This
sought to build on the pedagogy
students were familiar with in primary
school. As a result, the school was
judged “good” in 2010.
We did not rest on our laurels, seeking
instead to build on these foundations.
Two major developments we made
linked to the pastoral and curriculum
structure in the school. We introduced,
for instance, a House system alongside
vertical tutoring. We also established
a one-year GCSE option curriculum.
At Longdean, we end Key Stage 3 at
the end of year 8, meaning students
choose an option subject to study
in each of years 9, 10 and 11 while
spending more time on their core
curriculum. The rationale was to further
develop teaching and learning by
teaching students in smaller classes via
double and triple lessons. Students also
challenge themselves by being taught
in mixed-age classes and completing
a GCSE in a year. Furthermore,
students can hone their talents by, for
example, studying two technology or
performing arts subjects. In a system
where curriculum can be dominated
by English Baccalaureate, it has given
foundation subjects equal status. This
system has impacted positively on
results, especially attainment.
A vertical tutor system reinforces
this learning conversation, especially
when it came to making option
choices. Older students work alongside
teaching staff and middle leaders
in order to help students make
appropriate choices. Our four houses
of Da Vinci, Gates, Franklin and
Pascal reflected our mathematics and
computing specialism. By introducing
pastoral managers to each house, it
enables the school to build strong
relationships with families, providing
further improvements in attendance
and punctuality.
In 2012, I became the head teacher
of Longdean School. In addition to
huge strides in teaching and learning,
outcomes in many subject areas
have raised the aspirations of a lot
of students and parents, as well as
the reputation of the school in the
wider town. Still, there was work to
be done. It was my strong view that
collaboration with other schools and
organisations was the way to improve
the school further and provide more
opportunities for our students, both
inside and outside of the classroom.
Enhancing our students’ experiences
were two external developments. One
was as follows: I was approached by
the head teachers of Astley Cooper
School and Adeyfield School, both
situated in Hemel Hempstead and
withthe same challenges we faced.
They were looking to develop formal
links with other local schools to provide
opportunities for staff, students and
the wider community.
Forming a trust
Further discussions led to the
formation of the East Dacorum
Co-operative Learning Trust in 2014.
This foundation trust has attracted
some very influential partners such as
the University of Hertfordshire, Rotary,
Lloyds Bank, Herts for Learning, Epson
and the Schools Co-operative Society. The school promotes
healthy competition and
Students are
Teach the
content, mark
the books, tell
the students
how they have
Highlighting best practice
By working collaboratively and in tune
with the Co-operative Values, this trust
has held events for students, staff,
parents and the wider community.
The trust has also expanded, and now
includes Chambersbury Primary School
within its ranks. One of our proudest
achievements is the reformation
of our sixth form provision.
Acrossthethreeschools we now have
tailor-made provisions, focusing on
academic, vocational and work-based
pathways from 16 to 18.
A second important event was the
development of our International
Schools work. We have been
designated as a Global Learning
Lead School and we have struck up
a strong relationship with Bedomase
Methodist Junior High School in
Ghana, whom we are supporting
in building a senior high school. In
partnership we have opened a new ICT
suite at the school and have held three
exchange visits involving staff and
students. Our fourth exchange visit,
with Longdean students travelling to
Ghana, will be happening in July this
year. Our international schools work
has helped us to redesign schemes
of work, provide opportunities for
staff and students, and support other
international opportunities such as
“World Challenge”. This taste of
the great outdoors has also led to
the school delivering the Duke of
Edinburgh’s Award, providing more
life-changing experiences for students.
We are part of the government’s
Priority School Building Programme.
Thisenabled the school to move from
its 50-year-old buildings into brand-
new state-of-the-art accommodation
that reflected our curriculum,
aspirations and aims for the entire
community. We worked hard on
the design and wanted to create an
environment that was aspirational and
made visible more senior members
of the school working, providing the
right atmosphere. Examples of this are
the open-plan staff working areas and
glassed office spaces and classrooms.
The learning environment is infectious.
We have been in our new environment
since January 2017 and we are now
starting to see our sustained period
of hard work bring positive results.
Attainment and Post-16 Value Added
has improved year on year across the
curriculum, and students are leaving
with control and choice over their
futures. We are not complacent,
though; there are pockets of students
and some subjects we need to work
closely with to ensure that they too
reap the benefits – something that
will happen when we place students
at the heart of everything we do,
while encouraging them to “rejoice in
We are now
starting to see
our sustained
period of hard
work bring
positive results
Students are happy and
Students are globally aware and have
developed partnerships with schools
in Ghana