The ‘Indy’ is rhapsodising over a new superhead:
Her first job after leaving school was as a cleaner. Now Joy Ballard is helping Willows High School in Cardiff clean up its act in a very different role – as its head teacher.
Ballard is also the latest inspirational head to be given a nationally televised showcase for her methods, after Channel 4’s documentary cameras followed the pupils and teachers at her school for six weeks late last year.
Quite a rise, eh? And yet the ‘Guardian’ is always telling us that the ‘disadvantaged’ are doomed to dead end jobs…
When she arrived at the school three years ago, only 13 per cent of the pupils were gaining five A* to C grades at GCSE including maths and English. “It wasn’t just the worst school in Cardiff – it was the worst in Wales.”
Three years later, 50 per cent of GCSE candidates are now achieving that landmark. But, as Ms Ballard puts it, “50 per cent achieving it means 50 per cent aren’t.”
Well, she’s learned something, at least…
The philosophy she has introduced at the school makes it clear to pupils that their teachers will never give up on them.
Oh, right. And…just how does that work, in practice?
The first episode of the series, to be broadcast later this month, features one pupil, Leah, a GCSE student, who is constantly truanting or arriving late for lessons, but has a love of drama. Her teacher, Peter Hennessey, has taken to ringing her on her mobile every morning to make sure she is coming to school. It doesn’t always work, of course – but in the end she gets her GCSEs.
Well, that’ll be great news for her future employer, won’t it?
Will they be willing to call her every day to see she turns up for her shift, or will they give up on her and hand her a P45?
Mr Hennessey is described by Ms Ballard as a “Victor Meldrew character”, and is seen by the pupils as one of their strictest teachers. However, his dedication to the job eventually pays off with Leah as she appreciates he is trying to help her.
“There are a lot of kids in our school who don’t find things naturally easy,” said Ms Ballard.
Like turning up..?
“It would be so easy to give up on (pupils like) Leah but I have an extraordinary belief in the kids. I just want us to keep them all there at school – including those who struggle along the way.”
The school does not resort to exclusions. “If you show you are disappointed with them (the pupils), that’s the biggest punishment of all,” said Ms Ballard.
She admits to being a “very emotional person” and that she “cries every day” about the school and its pupils.
Finally, something we can agree on! I’m weeping too. But not, I suspect, for the same reason…