Willow Primary School

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Willow 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 Willow 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


100 years on, still remembered
Proud staff and governors
celebrate the achievements
of Willow Primary
Six years ago, Willow Primary joined Marish Academy Trust
as a sponsored academy. Set within a dynamic learning
community that is changing the shape of primary education
in Slough, it is now an equal partner. Gill Denham, the Executive
Headteacher, joined the school in 2012 after it had gone into
special measures. She tells
TheParliamentary Review
about how she has helped turn its fortunesaround.
When Willow opened in 2010, it was not the most auspicious of beginnings.
Established in recommissioned buildings in response to an urgent need for extra
primary school places, the school’s immediate rapid and ad-hoc expansion to a
roll of over 200 in the first year was difficult. This was set against the backdrop of
a local authority choked by the demand for school places and other services, with
inadequate social care provision for children. With the bar raised in terms of school
inspection, Willow’s plummet into special measures in early 2012 was unsurprising.
In the following year, we became part of a two-school multi-academy trust, the
Marish Academy Trust; this partnership became the catalyst for tremendous
change. Our turnaround was not a dramatic overnight transformation but rather
a steady climb, one step at time: striving for the heights, as described in the
Creating a culture of success
Willow serves a culturally diverse community where three quarters of its 460 pupils
have English as a second language. Increased deprivation, overcrowded housing
and a much higher-than-average proportion of immigrants and refugees are some
»Executive Headteacher:
»Founded in 2010
»Based in Slough, Berkshire
»Type of school: Primary School
»No. of students: 480
»No. of staff: 70
Willow Primary
Highlighting best practice
of the challenges the school has to
overcome. The initial and greatest
challenge at Willow, however, was
to improve staff morale. This involved
a subtle yet significant change in
direction, through the innovative and
simple idea of running two primary
schools as one large school on two
sites. Today there is one trust board,
one executive headteacher, five
deputies and one leadership team,
all of whom work trust wide. Class
teachers plan and assess together in
trust-wide year teams, which are led by
two leaders, one based in each of the
two schools. This approach, launched
in 2014, quickly improved morale
The newly merged Willow team, which
included trustees and governors,
designed a shared, strategic vision that
would build resilience throughout the
school. The strategy has culminated
in genuine distributed leadership that
delegates autonomy, and not just
tasks, to staff at all levels. Since 2013,
we have shaped an ethos that enables
everyone to exceed expectations and
become the best they can be. This has
been achieved in a time of financial
constraints and a crisis in teacher
recruitment. We have continued to
invest in people, whether they are
children, staff, partners or families.
Helping our students succeed
Education is a field in which we are
experts, where we focus on positive
outcomes for all and think outside
the box. When it comes to removing
barriers, we do whatever it takes.
Pupils’ attendance is an excellent
example of this. In 2013, poor
attendance had a considerable impact
on pupils’ progress and attainment,
and previously the only response had
been to refer parents to the local
authority. In 2014, this approach was
changed and a number of initiatives
were implemented that included
hiring minibuses to collect children
with attendance issues. Our progress
shows that a child cannot learn if
they do not attend school regularly
and punctually. Equally, children
cannot learn if they arrive at school
hungry or upset about issues they are
experiencing at home.
Willow focuses not only on the whole
child but on the whole family and
provides food, clothing, transport,
counselling, language support and
childcare. We offer free support to
the families of our pupils. We have
offered help to adults considering
higher education and guidance to
those looking for new employment
opportunities. Today, we no longer
At Willow, spontaneous
team building
opportunities are always
focuses not
only on the
whole child
but on the
whole family
and provides
food, clothing,
support and
become frustrated with partner
agencies; we meet needs instead.
At Willow, we have developed a
solution-focused approach that is
responsive to the needs of everyone.
This enables our staff to work
with parents to address problems
that may be deep rooted within
homes and families. The impact has
»Pupils’ attendance rose steadily from
2014 and exceeded 96 per cent
consistently throughout 2017-18
»There have been no permanent
exclusions over the last six years and,
in 2018, fixed-term exclusions were
at an all-time low
»Pupils are well behaved, exemplify
British values and make a positive
contribution to the community
»Pupils are well prepared for their
secondary education
»Disadvantaged pupils attain as well
as their non-disadvantaged peers
»Key Stage 1 results in 2018 were
above national averages in all
»Key Stage 2 attainment is in the top
ten per cent of all schools nationally
»Willow is full and all year groups
have a waiting list.
Empower to deliver
Willow’s positive focus on strengths
nurtures success. In 2014, when faced
with recruitment issues, we designed
a range of alternative incentives
to attract and retain teachers and
leaders; this included a tailor-made
leadership training course, Empower
to Deliver. It continues to provide
personalised development, training
and annual visioning days that sustain
our team and enable us to grow our
own future leaders. With eight deputy
headteachers and eight assistant
headteachers promoted from within
the team, including four deputies who
have been promoted to headship,
the impact is evident. Additionally, 12
team leaders and five special needs
co-ordinators have been trained over
the last four years. Second-generation
training courses have followed for
groups of staff with specific needs such
as fast-track for new leaders, trainee
programmes for new teachers and
the aptly named BLAST programme
for learning support staff. Finally, a
collaborative partnership, established
with another school in 2017, has
secured their improvement.
This is school-led leadership at its
best. The Willow team, as partners
within Marish Academy Trust, have
not only turned around their own
school, but also had a positive impact
on other local schools and their
whole community. Better still, Willow
provides opportunities for governors,
staff, pupils and parents to learn,
develop and lead, so changing future
life chances and improving outcomes
for all.
At Willow, we
developed a
approach that
is responsive
to the needs
of everyone
Year 5 learn about the
Roman Centurions


This article was sponsored by Willow 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 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