The Fermain Academy

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by The Fermain Academy'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 The Fermain Academy 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

We offer a variety of
academic and vocational
The Fermain Academy was established with the purpose
of supporting vulnerable learners. To meet the needs of
their students, they have adopted an alternative style of
teaching, using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as their foundation.
In order to function more successfully than mainstream
education, they offer a mix of vocational and academic
qualifications, always stressing the essential links between the
two. This attention to detail has been successful, and the school
is rated “outstanding” in all areas. Headteacher Nic Brindle was
the first employee and was tasked with designing the school
from scratch. He tells
about their
innovative teaching practices and how they have adapted to
national teaching shortages.
Formally opened on 1 September 2015, we are a free school rated “outstanding”
in all areas. I was the first employee, appointed in December 2014, and was tasked
with setting up the school from scratch with a £1.4 million design and build
process. I instigated a three-year growth plan, and every year we have been open,
we have been over capacity. Our students are vulnerable learners, ranging from
those who have been permanently excluded to students who have not attended
school because of bullying or mental health issues. Our catchment area spans south
Manchester, Cheshire and Staffordshire. I have always worked with vulnerable
students, as my background is in social, mental and emotional health support as a
qualified teacher.
»Headteacher: Nic Brindle
»Established in 2015
»Based in Macclesfield
»Type: Alternative provision
free school
»No. of students: 64
The Fermain Academy
Highlighting best practice
Adopting innovative teaching
Because of the nature of our student
population, we have to be different
to mainstream education while still
maintaining the same standards of
academic success. We have adopted
a different approach to education
while ensuring that our students have
the same outcomes, and we are one
of only a few alternative provision
schools in the country to achieve this
high standard successfully. While we
still offer GCSEs, the main difference
is in our vision. Rather than adopting
the standard pedagogical approach,
we use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,
following the core concepts of what
any human needs to be comfortable.
Our core ethos is focused on this, and
we have found that attainment, and
the idea of Bloom’s taxonomy, has
followed on naturally. Our students
have great potential and simply need
a different approach to ensure that
they are successful. Key to this is a
foundation of mutual respect, and
the fact that we have had no “not in
education, employment or training”
students in three years is testament to
the quality of this model. Every child
who has left our provision in this time
has entered post-16 education.
In terms of our curriculum, we employ
a cross-topic-based teaching approach
and focus on stealth learning. For
example, we use darts as a way
to embed maths teaching into the
routine. Everything we do must have
a reason behind it, a justification
for why it is necessary. While this
type of learning can happen in the
classroom, it needs to be consistently
tied to real-world applications. The
curriculum itself is extensive, and we
offer both vocational and academic
qualifications: from arts and childcare
through to construction and design,
plus hair and beauty. These two
strands do not happen in isolation,
however, and we endeavour to show
the importance of the links between
the two: if a student wants to learn
plumbing, it is essential that they
study maths. Those who do not have
a future in academia will be placed
into high-quality apprenticeships. We
tailor our curriculum to the needs of
each individual student and we do
not just employ teachers. Instead, we
often employ industry professionals,
who we then teach the fundamentals
of teaching – our construction teacher
is a bricklayer, for example. Alongside
having incredible subject knowledge,
this means that our teachers can
provide practical knowledge and tricks
We use Maslow’s
hierarchy of need as a
base for our provision
Our students
have great
potential and
simply need a
approach to
ensure that
they are
of the trade. They are also up to date
with all the new developments taking
place in their speciality. This blend of
the academic and the vocational leads
to the real-life retention of knowledge.
Our facilities are specialised for our
specific needs, and, while our budget
was not huge, we have focused
on a lot of small details. All of our
upstairs classrooms are colour coded
to reduce the anxiety of our students.
Our quieter areas are carpeted, and
we encourage our students to leave
the classroom if they are struggling
to cope for any reason. If this occurs,
we work with that particular student
to develop coping mechanisms and to
offer emotional wellbeing support.
The need to recruit teachers
and reform exams
One of the main issues we face is
recruitment. Beyond the national
shortage of teachers, it takes an
incredibly special person to work
with our cohort of children, so these
problems are exacerbated for us.
A huge amount of empathy and
emotional intelligence is needed,
which is not something that can be
taught. Consequently, my pool of
potential recruits is far smaller. To try
to remedy this, we recruit graduates
and guide them through our own
training programme. This has allowed
us to find quality members of staff.
There is also a massive shift in the
way exams are being conducted.
While previously there were various
different types of qualifications, this
has changed to more-standardised
exams. With our range of students,
many struggle to sit an exam for two
hours, especially without a coursework
element. In my opinion, coursework
grades should be valued higher, as
an exam focus unfairly disadvantages
those who struggle with the format.
The skills required in examinations
have quickly become outdated in the
age of the internet, and it is now more
important to have interpersonal skills
than it is simply to recall knowledge.
We are rapidly expanding as a
trust and have just opened our first
alternative provision primary school.
Our key development, however,
has been opening the county’s first
mental health school. All of the pupils
at this school will be statemented,
and the school is designed around
a high level of Child and Adolescent
Mental Health Services involvement.
This school will help those with
more-intense issues, expanding on
the work we are currently doing.
We are also working with the local
authority to ensure that we can meet
the individual requirements of each
child, no matter their needs. Moreover,
we are working with other schools
to share best practices, ensuring that
every vulnerable learner has a sufficient
support network behind them,
enabling them to access the same
opportunities as their peers.
While this
type of
learning can
happen in the
classroom, it
needs to be
tied to real-
Our facilities are
specialised for our
specific needs

This article was sponsored by The Fermain Academy. 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