March 10th 2016 was a momentous day for one local school in Balham. It was the day Ofsted published their report on Ravenstone Primary School, declaring it good. The welcome news closed the door on a dark period for the school, stretching over two and a half years, following the inspection body’s previous report, ‘Requires Improvement’.
The newly reinvigorated school won’t be stopping at good. Its website declares that: “The journey does not end here and we are now striving towards becoming ‘outstanding’.”
Ofsted noted that teachers are enthusiastic and motivate pupils to want to learn; the school’s work to support pupils’ personal development and welfare is exemplary; that pupils behave well and help each other; and that leaders, including governors, are effective and are now having a positive impact on teaching and how well pupils are doing.
The Exec Head brought in to clear out the dead wood and lay different foundations for the school did just that. Some teachers left; others stayed; a skills audit of the governing body brought in different governors; phase leaders were brought in to create ‘mini schools’ and a leadership structure for staff and finally, the search began in 2015 for a new head. Hampered by a shortage of primary school heads in London, it took two rounds to find the right candidate.
It has been a painful period for everyone. “The two years were difficult,” says Morris Tolaram, PE Instructor and a 15-year veteran of the school. “Some people adapt to change and some don’t. The Exec Head made sure everyone was pulling in the same direction.”
A rash of posts on NappyValleyNet this year reflected how high emotions were running when a request from a parent new to the area, whether to place her child in Ravenstone, Fircroft or Rutherford House, unleashed a rash of replies defending the school.
Headshrinker referred to Ravenstone as, “a lovely, warm school but probably a bit disorganised. That has changed as the Exec Head has knocked it into shape.”
Marmitelover said the Exec team, “have got everybody to pull their socks up. They needed to sort out some of the organisation and I think they have really done that without losing the lovely nature of the school.”
I’macowboy says the school has, “proved its immense resilience thanks to the impressive efforts on the part of both the staff and the parents to make it the best it can be.”
Broken Dad best summed it up: “Personally if you want a school with very nice parents, good discipline and brilliant teaching you cannot go wrong with Ravenstone. It’s much like a village school in London.” In a later, post Ofsted post, he declared: “The school seems to be motoring now”.
It is motoring under Joe Croft, in his first post as head, having started only this September. Despite looking as though he’s just left school himself, he is personable, a natural leader and has infectious enthusiasm. To say that he’s got off to a flying start is an understatement. He has created focus groups of children, started pupil progress meetings, a peer mentoring scheme, has re-written the PHSE curriculum to focus on issues such as e-safety, and has plans for a counselling service and arts specialist.
And that’s not all. Having inherited a lower, middle and upper phase manager/leaders structure – what Joe calls “my eyes and ears of the school” – he’s already going through a leadership restructuring in order to heighten and realign his key leaders.
Just three months in and he’s “spending high” on the school’s allocated professional development budget so that Ravenstone has the best equipped teachers. Staff are shooting off to Belleville School for training, a literacy consultant was brought in for six weeks to help them plan lessons and he’s going to create a Lounge of Learning for staff next to their staff room on the first floor. Inspired by the Google offices where his chum works, he will incorporate podded areas for coaching and the like.
”My belief is to provide teachers with everything they need,” he says earnestly. “Teachers don’t get looked after enough; they need to be spoilt. I want to empower people and develop staff .” His actions stem from his firm belief that all you need is good teachers.
He walked me round the school pointing out new desks, the wall he’s knocked down in Nursery and the school reception, the walls he’s put up, the plans to turn the front playground into Telly Tubby Land, with undulating soft play surfaces, the electronic sign-in for packed lunches on order, ditto brand new gates to be installed to shout out that Ravenstone is back in business.
Croft’s over zealousness is akin to that of a playful puppy, impatient to get everything in place as fast as possible. He’s keener to be visible – shadowing teachers, walking the corridors, chatting to children – than spend too much time in his small ground floor corner office which has a particularly uninspiring view.
“The foundations have been laid and the roots are strong,” he says. “Now it’s the flourishing side. We have high aspirations. We’re going to be sitting alongside the best schools in Wandsworth. It’ll be over-subscribed in a few years.“
This old Victorian building is buzzing again and Joe reckons this will be the year that Ravenstone will be back on the map. “What we need is continuity for two to five years. You don’t see results overnight,” says Morris. “It’s early days; we’re still fine tuning.”
But the goal is clearly in sight now, for children to do well academically but also to cater for the whole child, including what Joe calls “physical literacy”, ie curriculum enrichment through clubs, sport, music, creativity, dance and drama. This was something that impressed me when we sent our child to Ravenstone a decade ago and it’s good to hear this creative side of the school will still thrive.
Today, Joe has the encouragement and support of a high functioning governing body – “we are eyes on but hands off” says co-chair of governors Rebecca Huggins – plus staff who have “poured their heart and soul into the school and worked enormously hard,” she adds, and not forgetting a fabulous parent community willing Ravenstone to continue the progress.
Joe just needs those parents contemplating Fircroft or Rutherford House to think again and help fill the school again to its full 450 pupil capacity.
Timing is everything and it was unfortunate that the previous Ofsted report co-incided with the opening of Rutherford House a few streets away on Balham High Road. Many prospective parents took a gamble on the brand new school.
“I’m not doing things for Ofsted,” Joe explains. “What I’m doing is best practice, not Ofsted,” he declares.
We all know that there is so much more to a school than an Ofsted report. When I accepted a place for my son, we didn’t even look at one; we were easily persuaded by the atmosphere, the mix of children, the richness of the non-academic subjects taught, the friendliness of the place, the fact that the head seemed to know all the children’s names, the feel it had of a real community school and the vibrancy of the PTA.
I had exactly the same feeling when walking round with Joe Croft. Ravenstone is back and I know I am not alone in rejoicing.
Ravenstone Primary School
Telephone: 020 8673 0594 / 020 8673 8277