Sheffield’s ‘worst performing’ school is a cut above the rest

Chaucer schools building and hairdressing vocational classes
Ellie McCormick and Ellie Pryor in the hairdressing salon with Head Scott Burnside
Picture by Dean Atkins
Chaucer schools building and hairdressing vocational classes Ellie McCormick and Ellie Pryor in the hairdressing salon with Head Scott Burnside Picture by Dean Atkins
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The head of a Sheffield school which has hit official targets for the first time says pupils are flourishing thanks to pioneering vocational classes.

Scott Burnside, headteacher of Chaucer School in Parson Cross, said the progress by kids through their school career is the best in the school’s history.

Chaucer schools building and hairdressing vocational classes
Cllr Leigh Bramhall visits the scheme at Chaucer School
Picture by Dean Atkins

Chaucer schools building and hairdressing vocational classes Cllr Leigh Bramhall visits the scheme at Chaucer School Picture by Dean Atkins

Thanks to a £15,000 investment the school has been able to introduce classes in construction and hair and beauty for its pupils.

Scott said the school’s construction skills site and hair and beauty salon have inspired youngsters to work harder in their academic lessons.

When Sheffield headteacher Scott Burnside discovered his school had been ranked as the worst performing in the city by Government league tables, his heart sank.

The toxic tag, for him, could not be further from the truth.

Chaucer schools building and hairdressing vocational classes
Cllr Leigh Bramhall visits the scheme at Chaucer School
Picture by Dean Atkins

Chaucer schools building and hairdressing vocational classes Cllr Leigh Bramhall visits the scheme at Chaucer School Picture by Dean Atkins

Deciding a child’s academic success based purely on GCSE results – as league tables do – can be misleading, said Scott, who is head at Chaucer School in Parson Cross.

While a pupil’s ending point is important, equally so is their starting point.

“Chaucer School is not failing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite,” said Scott.

“If you assess the progress our students make through their entire school career, we actually hit the Government floor target – for the first time in our history.

“This is a great time for the school and the league table does not do us justice.”

The Government ‘floor target’ assesses the number of levels a student achieves through their entire time at school – not just the result of exams taken aged 16.

Scott said: “We know that the percentage of students achieving five GCSEs at A-C is lower than other schools. But we can demonstrate that every student is making real progress here.

“We have a long journey ahead of us, but we are on the right path.”

In another respect, though, Chaucer School is forging a new path.

A £15,000 investment by Sheffield Housing Company has enabled the school to create a construction skills site and hair and beauty salon in a previously unused area of the campus.

Complete with workbenches, tools and equipment for undertaking jobs such as plastering, joinery and tiling, the construction facility is offering pupils the opportunity to learn key skills from trained professionals.

The hair and beauty area has been kitted-out just like a salon with hair washing basins, chairs, mirrors and all the equipment required to cut, curl, colour, straighten and dry.

Students are honing their techniques on mannequin heads at present but hope to progress to willing volunteers – their teachers – soon.

Scott said he is delighted to see the positive impact that the new resources are having with pupils, many of whom had previously become disengaged from the education system.

He said: “We have found that both of these learning environments have had a stabilising effect on the behaviour of the pupils who use them, as well as raising aspirations and helping them to develop an understanding of what it is to be successful.

“On these foundations, our students can build, apply, transfer and master skills that will not only qualify them for the future but help them to develop as individuals.

“The work and learning that we have seen so far has been outstanding and we have witnessed an increase in the engagement of these young people – not just in these sessions but with school as a whole.

“We thank Sheffield Housing Company for their funding for this fantastic initiative.”

Kye Maginn, aged 12, is in a group of pupils working in the construction zone and his interest in a trade has had an impact on how he views his other lessons.

He said: “After experiencing the construction classes, I have a positive goal to work towards in my other lessons.

“If you want to be a tiler or a plasterer but you haven’t got your maths qualification, they aren’t going to trust you to level something or measure a job. Starting to learn these trades has shown me how important it is to work hard and achieve my maths, as well as giving me a good understanding of the different skills involved in the job.”

Kieron Clinton, 13, added: “My behaviour in school was maybe not as good as it could have been but working on the plastering and tiling in the construction skills area has really helped me to improve this.

“I look forward to the lessons and it has been good to learn how to do these jobs, as it is something I would like to do in the future.”

Ellie McCormack, 14, is one of 10 students who have got to grips with the varied tasks involved in hair styling.

She said: “We come in here one day a week, alongside our other lessons, and it has been great to see what it is like to work in a real salon.

“There are a lot of tricky skills to learn but the more you practise, the better you get.

“This is something I have always wanted to do and being able to see how things are done, while I am at school, is giving me a head start.”

There are now plans to expand on the success of both initiatives.