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Blue sky thinking on Educating Yorkshire

With a one-off Christmas special on the cards for Educating Yorkshire, Dr Caroline Bligh, Senior Lecturer in Education and Childhood, considers what we can learn from the success of Thornhill Community Academy.

Whether you love it or loathe it, Channel 4’s documentary ‘Educating Yorkshire’ has attracted a huge following of viewers across the UK – so much so that a one off Christmas special is to be screened on our televisions.

What is it that makes this school different from others in disadvantaged areas? Why are the children at Thornhill willing to please the teachers and head-teacher when others wouldn’t?

Thornhill Community Academy was not only one of the worst-performing schools in the country; but was ruled by a gang culture with teachers struggling to control classes. However, with the introduction of the dynamic Head-teacher Jonny Mitchell, there has been a visible sea-change in behaviour and the proportion of students passing five GCSEs (inclusive of English and Maths) has risen from 29 % in 2008 to 63% in 2012.

Is it simply a matter of replacing words like ‘control’ with ‘respect’ or is it a more complex mix? I suspect that there is interplay of key ingredients at play here that create the ‘perfect mix’ through which a positive learning environment can surpass a negative one.

A Head-teacher who:

  • Implements a unified approach to learning and teaching led by the Head-teacher
  • Develops a holistic picture of each child – as an extension to learning and teaching
  • Initiates positive changes with a balance of humour and guidance

Staff that:

  • Are forward looking – share positively in the smallest of victories
  • Know the children – concerned about each child’s progression
  • Respect each child – regardless of their prior behaviour
  • Really do care about the children academically, personally and socially.
  • Have raised expectations – they want the children to achieve.
  • Work as a team for the betterment of the children.
  • Address issues as they arrive – they listen, respond and react appropriately

The key ingredient at Thornhill appears to be an enormous dollop of ‘BLUE SKY THINKING’ - a unified, dynamic approach to learning and teaching across the school.

To Jonny Mitchell, I say, ‘a huge well done!’

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About the Author

Dr Caroline Bligh

Caroline is the Head of Subject for Education, Childhood and Early Years within the University’s Carnegie School of Education – a strategic leadership role.

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