WHAT a difference 12 months can make.
That’s the message from Collegiate High School, as headteacher Cherry Ridgway looks back on an eventful 12 months at the helm.
The Blackpool Old Road specialist sports college has endured a turbulent few years – but blue skies are reappearing as the school settles into the new term.
Mrs Ridgway stepped over the Collegiate threshold in the summer holidays of 2010, and it was clear a massive challenge lay ahead.
Four headteachers had been in post since Keith Clarke retired in 2001, and the number of pupils on the roll had dipped significantly.
In addition, there were budget problems, school inspectors from Ofsted had given Collegiate a notice to improve and staff moral was at its lowest ebb.
But one year on, the school has been transformed. Exam results have improved and Ofsted says it is pleased with progress in standards of teaching and behaviour.
Mrs Ridgway said: “Change was urgently needed at Collegiate – parents were voting with their feet and numbers dropping dangerously.
“It was hard to know where to start when so much needed to be done.
“But top of all our priorities has always been giving our students the best chance of success.
“Obviously, that strategy is beginning to work, already we’ve had inquiries from parents about places for next year which is really great.
“I’ve had to push colleagues quite hard, but I’ve been overwhelmed by the many quiet words and gestures of support which have told me that we are in this together.
“I’m sure staff and parents are feeling a sense of optimism as we start another year.”
Mrs Ridgway came to Collegiate from Lytham High, the second largest school in Lancashire, where she was deputy head.
Before this, she was deputy head teacher at Rose Bridge School, in Wigan. But she says she has never worked as hard since she joined Collegiate.
Tough decisions needed to be made and long evenings have been spent planning and many weekends devoted to balancing the books.
Changes have been made to the way children are disciplined, as Mrs Ridgway vowed from the start to take a zero tolerance approach to behaviour which stopped others from learning.
Fixed term exclusions have been scrapped in favour of an internal unit, which means pupils behaving badly spend five hours in school learning in isolation, instead of being out on the streets.
Methods of teaching and learning were radically overhauled, and steps put in place to tackle poor attendance. But the new methods were viewed as controversial by some – and the strain of new leadership on top of the already challenging climate weighed heavily.
At the end of last term, there was talk of an afternoon of strike after a small number of staff complained they were being overworked.
But despite the challenges, Mrs Ridgway said she was encouraged throughout her first year by signs her resolve would bring better times for the Collegiate community.
She said “I know students and staff want Collegiate to be the proud school it once was, and that weighs heavily with me.
“My job is to lead them towards that goal.
“In February, Ofsted Inspectors said progress in the autumn term had been good, and teaching and learning were improving.
“I was also enormously encouraged by the fact our Year 11s achieved the school’s best ever GCSE results, and am raring to get the new year started.
“The staff have had a raw deal at times, and they knew it.
“The school now has a firm foundation and everyone’s hard work and sacrifices are clearly paying off.”
Collegiate has got off to a positive start this year with a new initiative to give every Year 7 child an iPod touch, so they can access the internet to help their studies.
And the buzz of excitement in the corridors is music to Mrs Ridgway’s ears. She said: “The students were tired of changing faces, and parents began to lose patience and wanted stability and ambition to return.
“What has changed over the last 12 months is the belief in Collegiate.
“Teachers have worked wonders, and their skill and commitment has helped our youngsters achieve. There have been no tricks and flicks, there are no short cuts or easy answers.
“What we’ve had is a team pulling together and if we carry on, we’ll pick up even more momentum in 2012.”