Oh We Do Like To Teach Beside The Seaside!

pleasure beach

This blog is a response to Alex Quigley’s (excellent as always) blog on attracting teachers to coastal towns (The Teach by the Beach Challenge). Alex is absolutely correct in saying that the only sustainable solution to recruitment of outstanding teachers and teaching assistants is to “grow your own” – although there is something wrong with the phrase. This blog is about my colleagues who live in and around Great Yarmouth who were there before me and will be there when I am gone. They haven’t been grown – they’ve the grown themselves.

I teach in Great Yarmouth Primary Academy. It was the archetypal failing coastal town school. We have had nine head teachers in nine years. Four years ago, only twenty five percent of our pupils left with a level 4 in reading, writing and mathematics.

And our children need to achieve more than most. Children from Great Yarmouth have the odds stacked against them. 65% of our pupils are entitled to free school meals. Unemployment locally is very high. The academic achievement of Great Yarmouth young people is very low. It has been a heartbreaking story since the school opened in the 1930s. At our low point (a protracted low), our school was somewhere in the bottom performing 300 schools in the country. But we aren’t now.

Last summer 70% of our pupils reached level 4 in the combined English and maths measure. We have had 3 years of improvement. 70% isn’t enough, but haven’t finished yet.

Alex might have written his blog about our school. He describes attempts by superheads and trusts to descend and “transform” schools. We’ve had that and the school has been transformed. But transformation is fragile. Any change could bring a school down. Sustainability isn’t through leadership, and it isn’t through teachers who stoically drive the Acle Straights road twice a day. The reason we will never go back is the commitment and skill of our local teachers and teaching assistants.

These colleagues are not a conventional group of educators. They are bright, committed people, many of whom the education system failed. In their twenties, thirties and forties, many are completing their degrees and teaching qualifications on the job. Many went to our school here, and their children came here too. They know every child, every brother, sister and cousin. They know every parent.

And they are good. Pupils in their classes make exceptional progress. Perhaps because they don’t know it isn’t possible, or perhaps because they won’t accept less, our staff enabled 68% of our pupils to make 3 full levels of progress from KS1 to 2 this year – three times the national average.

The journey isn’t over – we still have a way to go. But our local teacher and teaching assistants guarantee the future success of our pupils. We haven’t grown them – they’ve grown us.


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