Upper Wharfedale School

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Upper Wharfedale 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 Upper Wharfedale 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 Andrew Taylor
Formula 1 in Schools, a
national success
When he was appointed as deputy headteacher in
2004, Andrew Taylor says it would have been fair
to describe Upper Wharfedale School as a “true
secondary modern” – a school that served students and families
who were unsuccessful with grammar school selection tests,
one that Andrew feels was a “second choice”. He says that
low aspirations were entrenched at every level of the school
– the curriculum was narrow, and self-esteem was poor. Now
celebrating his 15th year at Upper Wharfedale, Andrew tells
TheParliamentary Review
more about the journey and how
things turned around.
By the time of my appointment as headteacher seven years later, this perception
and reputation had changed. I was leading a school which was becoming
increasingly popular and ambitious. Through our shared, passionate commitment
to the progress of every student, firmly underpinned by an unrelenting drive to
create an inclusive and aspirational community, we are now oversubscribed; our
number of applications is three times the published admission number.
Many students who have passed the 11-plus exam still name Upper Wharfedale
as their first choice. Students travel significant distances to attend the school; our
catchment area is some 200 square miles, with a number of students travelling over
40 miles every day.
This has been a long and continuous journey, rather than a series of “quick wins”,
and it has firmly established our ethos and high expectations. Our vision and values
»Headteacher: Andrew Taylor
»Established in 1955
»Based in Threshfield, North
»Type of school: Non-selective
community secondary school
for students aged 11 to 16
»No. of staff: 53
»No. of students: 300
»SEND: 16 per cent
»EHCPs: 7 per cent
Upper Wharfedale
Highlighting best practice
have remained the same during my
tenure and are actively promoted every
day by every member of staff. We aim
»Successful, lifelong learnerswho enjoy
learning, make good progress and
achieve their full potential, regardless
of ability, gender, socioeconomic
background orethnicity.
»Confident individualswho are able to
live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives,
with confidence in their own abilities
and how to use and applythem.
»Active and responsible citizenswho
make a positive contribution to
society. We value and respect all
members of the school community,
and we demonstrate that every
child really does matter by teaching
them well and expecting the best
Unrelenting focus on progress
As such a small school, we pride
ourselves on our inclusive and personal
nature. This enables us to personalise
our curriculum as much as possible
to suit individuals’ needs, rather than
forcing them to go down pathways for
the sake of performance tables. We
have high moral standards and firmly
believe that by doing the right thing,
the right results will follow.
As our intake ability is below the national
average, we are progress rather than
attainment-driven; we are accordingly
placed within the top five per cent of
schools nationally for Progress 8. In
2018, with a score of +0.61, we were
the second-highest achieving mixed non-
selective school within a selective area in
the country. Importantly, all students go
on to further education or training at
an increasingly varied number of sixth
forms or colleges and subsequently
attend high-performing universities.
Care, guidance and support
Our dedicated student support
department works tirelessly to ensure
that students are well supported
emotionally and academically in order
to reach their potential. As well as a
safeguarding team, we have a social,
emotional and mental health team
who are trained to support our most
vulnerable students.
At Upper Wharfedale, education is
about much more than exam results.
The values of respect and tolerance
are an integral part of our curriculum,
and we aim to provide as many
social, moral, spiritual and cultural
experiences as possible, so that our
young people can lead confident,
healthy and responsible lives as
individuals and members of society.
Distributed leadership
As a small school, it would be easy
to have a narrow hierarchy – and,
indeed, this used to be the case. We
now have a leadership structure which
promotes staff development while also
encouraging calculated risks within a
trusting yet challenging framework.
This structure has been one of
the key drivers of our continuous
improvement; it has facilitated both
a sense of shared accountability
and consistent reinforcement of our
priorities. We strive to recognise that
there are always ways in which we can
improve further.
Visits to industry to
broaden students’
We have high
standards and
firmly believe
that by doing
the right
thing, the
right results
will follow
All staff are expected to take
responsibility for developing their own
practice through actively debating
methodology and challenging the
norm. With many subjects delivered
by just one teacher, we recognise that
strong links with other schools are
essential and consequently benefit
from local teaching school alliances
to allow a process of continuous
professional development.
Overcoming challenges
Our journey to date has been hugely
rewarding, and it has only been made
possible by the sheer commitment of all
concerned. The school has continued
to prosper within an increasingly
challenging educational climate.
Financial and curricular challenges
remain, and there is an overwhelming
amount of pressure on small-school
budgets, but we stand firm with
our belief in a broad and balanced
experience. This is best displayed by
our recognising arts and technology
subjects as being just as important as
the core English baccalaureate subjects.
We have also constructed and renovated
facilities, enabling us to accommodate
the challenge of significantly increased
intake of another 50 students over the
next four years. In turn, we will continue
to further develop our curriculum offer
and increase student choice at Key
Stage 4. We will need determination
and resilience to overcome the
financial burden we have, but with
continued focus and moral compass
we are steadfast in our mission.
Continuing to aim high
Going forward, we will strive to
provide breadth in our small school.
We are aware that the arts and other
subjects sometimes viewed as “less
academic” are being cut from some
schools’ curricula. We’re resisting
that change – we offer design and
technology, music, drama and art
classes as well as IT provision to
ensure our students get the rounded
education they deserve.
Context is everything. We’re a small,
rural school and there are financial
pressures – we can’t deny that. We just
want to meet those pressures head-on
without taking something away from
our curricular offer. It’s simple – if we
believe that something is appropriate
for a student, and they want to go
down that pathway, we will support it
100 per cent.
The values of
tolerance and
permeate the
Student leaders visit
parliament annually
Science in action


This article was sponsored by Upper Wharfedale 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