Red Oak Primary School

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Red Oak Primary 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 Red Oak Primary 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 Heather Madsen
A school for champions
Red Oak Primary School, based in Lowestoft, was enduring
a difficult time when the current headteacher, Heather
Madsen, was appointed. For a while, they were failing to
meet many national targets and were receiving poor Ofsted
judgments. However, they soon realised that the key to getting
back on track was ensuring that children were enthusiastic
about coming to school. For this reason, they centred their
curriculum on sports, which has resulted in the school winning
many trophies and playing a leading role in the community. It
has also got parents more involved in their children’s school
life – an achievement of which the staff are particularly proud.
Heather tells
The Parliamentary Review
more about the journey
the school has taken.
Red Oak is a two-form-entry school based in a part of Lowestoft which is in the
bottom five per cent nationally in terms of its deprivation index. This is the most
important contextual detail of our school. Around 50 per cent of our children
qualify for pupil premium, although many other families don’t claim due to
stigma. It’s a high-unemployment area with high dependency issues, as well as
intergenerational social, mental and economic challenges.
When I first arrived as headteacher, teaching and behaviour were in a very sorry state.
Even the basics like uniform were not being met, something I felt was important
to get right. Knowing that I was working in a deprived area, I decided to fund a
uniform for each child, using cheap but nonetheless adequate-qualityclothing.
»Headteacher: Heather Madsen
»Located in Lowestoft
»Type of school: Primary
»No. of pupils: 455
»Middleweight boxer Anthony
Ogogo, an Olympic medallist,
attended the school under its
previous name of Fen Park
Red Oak Primary
Highlighting best practice
Somethinglike this goes a long way in
helping children to feel they belong and
are ready to learn. It allows them to feel
like they are part of something bigger
than themselves. I also established
many free after-school clubs with the
intention of achieving a similar effect.
Never give up
Given this situation, I feel it is
supremely important to prepare our
children not just for tests and exams,
but for life in its entirety. We want
them to become whole citizens
and to imbue them with a sense of
responsibility, both to themselves and
to wider society. For children to thrive,
it’s also necessary that they don’t feel
limited in what they can achieve. The
children must believe that they can do
anything and have high aspirations.
To give substance to this ethos, I
have centred the school on a system
of values based on sports. This is
encompassed by our motto: “Believe
to achieve”. Central to this value
system is the idea that children will
overcome their difficulties – be they
emotional or physical – and thereby
become the best version of themselves.
We teach our children that no matter
what is keeping them down, they can
keep moving forward, which feeds into
our school vision of “living is learning”.
I also believe teachers should have a
positive attitude. They must come in
with a spring in their step and leave
their issues aside when they enter
school in the morning. Encouragement
and discouragement are both
contagious, so it’s vital we get this
right. We need to instil positivity and
the will to overcome barriers and
develop resilience.
A curriculum that works for
children and parents
Throughout my time as headteacher,
I have remained resolute in my
conviction that there is no “one size
fits all” curriculum for children. The
circumstances of every school and
every location are unique and are best
understood by the people who spend
their time working there day in and
day out. I have thus ensured that we
do not deviate from our sports-based
curriculum. This has been our key
to making sure that children remain
enthusiastic about school and want to
A holistic approach to
school life
It is supremely
important to
prepare our
children not
just for tests
and exams,
but for life in
its entirety
attend. It speaks volumes that over the
last few years, we have transformed
from a school with below-national-
level attendance percentages to
one where they are now above the
As an example of how we push
sports to the maximum, we now run
tournaments for all Active Learning
Trust schools. We also run all the
sports events for Trust Hub Group, as
well as many other sports tournaments
in Lowestoft. We began as a school
that was always coming in last place
and have turned into one with regular
firsts and county and national entries
across a range of sports.
All of this is also appreciated by the
parents, many of whom can’t afford
sports activities outside of school.
Indeed, parents are more involved in
Red Oak than ever before. When I first
became headteacher seven years ago,
only two parents came to parents’
evening, out of a school roll of 240
children. Now, we have 455 children,
and 98 per cent of parents come in for
parents’ evening. We wanted parents,
especially those who perhaps didn’t
have a great experience at school
themselves, to feel at ease coming into
school to meet the staff.
Moving forward with
Moving forward, I’m excited for the
new opportunities the future can
bring. As a school, we are always
moving forward and looking at ways
to improve provision for the children.
If the opportunity ever arose, I’d like
to see us take over another school
so we could have a junior and an
infant school. Although unlikely at the
moment, this is a long-term ambition
of mine.
I’d also like to see us build on our
success. We have many subject leaders
who are passionate about their areas,
and these too are areas of strength.
An improvement on our existing IT
systems would be a welcome addition
to all of this.
Whatever happens, though, I am
confident in the long-term future of
the school. We have continued to
move from strength to strength, and
I have the determination to ensure
that we are the best we can be.
The improvements we have made
already are astronomical – a trend I
firmly believe will continue due to our
dedicated, passionate and resourceful
team. We view ourselves as a caring,
nurturing school where children
can thrive and achieve what they
are capable of achieving, regardless
We aim to inspire a love
of learning
Fun outdoor activities
We began as a
school that was
always coming
in last place and
have turned into
one with regular
firsts and county
and national

This article was sponsored by Red Oak Primary 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