School focus: Highcrest Academy

Neil Stocking, Vice Principle of one of our Champion Schools, Highcrest Academy, gives his thoughts on how teaching has changed over the years, the challenges he faces on a daily basis at Highcrest Academy, which many schools will relate to and the ways in which the school overcomes these challenges:

“I’ve been a teacher for nearly 15 years, spending the last 3 of these at Highcrest Academy. My love of sports and football made me want to share this passion with others, initially through coaching at weekends and in school holidays for local sports teams. Becoming a PE teacher was a natural progression route - after I turned down an offer from Sir Alex Ferguson, of course!

Thanks in part to the teachers who inspired me, namely Mr Hammond and Mr Samuel, my experience at school was a good one.  I’ll never forget the feeling of being encouraged to realise my potential. Going into teaching meant that I could emulate my childhood mentors and encourage pupils in the same way.

In my teaching experience, I’ve found myself at schools that face similar challenges to one another. Highcrest, like previous schools in which I’ve taught, is a melting pot - a mix of abilities, backgrounds, culture and ethnicities. This is something which is supported by the school’s complete comprehensive intake.  It comes with great benefits and, of course, challenges.

The school battles against issues in the community and keeping kids engaged in school is a challenge when poor influence can disengage pupils. Structure and routine is important, as well as instilling the same self-worth that I was fortunate enough to be encouraged towards by my own teachers: that you are valuable and education can help you realise that.

With that, we’ve adapted our offer to focus on how we can support these unique challenges. We concentrate our PHSE lessons on issues that affect or could affect our pupils such as responding to peer pressure, addressing drugs and alcohol issues and promoting British Values that we expect in our society.

The education landscape is changing constantly; we need to be agile in how we continue to strive towards delivering a good curriculum and teaching experience to all pupils, even if resources are becoming more limited. This isn’t always easy, class sizes growing and teacher intake is slowing down.  

With the introduction of Progress 8 and Attainment 8, in theory we should be able to demonstrate value added for all pupils. This isn’t always possible as there are pupils for whom the academic curriculum and traditional GCSEs aren’t suitable. The reduction in coursework and focus on a cumulative exam makes it harder for those pupils who don’t excel with this method.

That being said, we’ve taken steps at Highcrest Academy to offer a diverse curriculum to support pupils such as technical options from NCFE in Health and Fitness and exploring other technical subjects in Hair and Beauty and Rocket Science, to broaden our curriculum and introduce pupils to new subjects where they might find their strengths. Introducing these options at an early age helps stop those pupils becoming being disheartened through traditional subjects and assessment methods and perhaps disengaging with education altogether.

For the future of education, I’d like the focus to be on the individual schools and pupils, without the emphasis on comparison across such a diverse country with a range of challenges.  We’ve exceptionally committed staff at Highcrest who go the extra mile to help pupils achieve in an environment that sometimes doesn’t work in their favour. This is something which is not recognised or rewarded often enough."