Monday, 7 November 2011

Arden bid to change admission policy

ARDEN school is looking to change its admission policy over concerns that local children are missing out on places, its new headteacher has said.


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Plans are to be brought forward to give priority to children who live in the catchment area and have attended one of Knowle and Dorridge’s three primary schools.

At present, only those who live within the catchment area get priority.

Headteacher Martin Murphy, above, who started in September, told The Silhillian: “We know there has been quite a lot of upset caused over the years because of numbers and those restrictions.

“There are some families who have children in our local primary schools who, because of where they live, sometimes cannot get into Arden.

“Families who have children in partner primaries should have access to Arden. It makes sense as a community school.”

This year, 565 parents put the school as one of five preference for their child to start at Arden out of 240 places. Of those, 207 put it as a first preference.

Mr Murphy, who has moved from Cumbria, said he had first hand experience of the race for school places as he battled to get his daughter into St George and St Teresa RC Primary School in Dorridge.

He said: “The pressure on my family because of that was immense.

“We were looking for houses to buy or rent without a place for my daughter. I would not have been able to bring my family with me.”

Yet he said despite getting academy status in 2010, giving school leaders greater freedom to set admission policies, he pledged no further “huge changes”.

Mr Murphy said: “I have spent the last 25 years working in self governing schools and I do believe it offers better value for money and opportunities for young people.”

This year the school recorded its best ever results, including 92 per cent of pupils getting at least five GCSEs including English and maths. It is regularly rated one of the best comprehensive schools in England.

Yet Mr Murphy said it is a major challenge to improve the score. He said: “We are hoping we can sustain 92 per cent. For a state comprehensive is incredible.

“If we can improve on 92 per cent we will, if we can maintain it we will.”

Pupils who struggle academically will not be forgotten, he said, pointing to a recent independent study commissioned by the school into its strengths and weaknesses.

He said: “It found ‘there are no invisible pupils at Arden’. That is a powerful, powerful statement, we must never lose sight of that.”

He said: “High expectations is something that is very rich, high expectations from parents, high expectations from the staff and the community.

“Care and compassion is incredibly important for our plan. If we get that right in terms of the expectations and the wealth of talent then you actually move the school forward.”

Arden’s behaviour policy will not change, he said. “I have always been a great believer of working with young people and the last resort is permanent exclusion. Surely that means that, as a society, we have failed.

“However, there are occasions where behaviour can be so bad that exclusion is the only route, I would never shirk.”

He also revealed the school is looking to lease a former caretakers’ bungalow to a private day nursery to boost the school’s budget, cut by six per cent this year.

Yet the school’s finances are in a “very good” state, are not in deficit, and there had been no teacher redundancies as a result of austerity measures, he said.

But 1960s school should ideally be completely replaced, Mr Murphy said, though the national funding picture meant only modifications are likely.

Mr Murphy said: “I would like to remodel and rebuild if the opportunity arises.”

The safety of pupils who walk to school is a key concern, he said, and this was brought into sharp focus the first week of this term when a 15-year-old boy was knocked down.

While this was “completely self-inflicted” and the boy escaped with bruises, he said road safety is a concern.

He said: “Station Road is a straight busy road where the vast majority of drivers seem to break the speed limit.

“I am very concerned about that for the students of Arden.”

Mr Murphy was previously director of community development at the Richard Rose Foundation in Cumbria, which operates two academies in Carlisle. He replaces Ann Green.

He backed traffic calming and a 20mph limit outside the school.

The school is no longer legally obliged to install a planned road hump by the junction of Station Road and Purnells Way.

It has pledged cash for other measures instead, as part of terms agreed last month by Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council.

The 20mph zone has also long been discussed by the council.

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