Headteacher of top Portsmouth state school: Here’s how we turned things round 

Headteacher of St Edmund's Catholic School, Simon Graham
Headteacher of St Edmund's Catholic School, Simon Graham

THE headteacher of Portsmouth’s top-performing state school has revealed the secret of his students’ GCSE success.

Eighty-one per cent of students at St Edmund’s Catholic School attained 9 to 4 grades – equivalent to an A* to C grade – including English and maths.

Outstanding school - St Edmund's

Outstanding school - St Edmund's

This represents almost 15 per cent more students achieving the minimum ‘standard pass’ than the next best performing school in the city – Portsmouth Academy where 66.6 per cent of students achieved 9 to 4 grades.  

It is the third consecutive year that St Edmund’s has outperformed other city state schools. But it hasn’t always been this way, as in 2011 it was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and faced being placed into special measures. 

The Ofsted report at the time stated: ‘Attainment in mathematics has been persistently low. Attainment in English was significantly below average. The proportion of students attaining five good GCSE grades at A* to C, including English and mathematics, was well below average.’ 

Headteacher Simon Graham said that key to turning round the school’s performance has been consistency and high expectations.

Mr Graham said: ‘We insist on very high standards in terms of behaviour. We have expectations which we always follow through. For example we have a policy of no mobile phones which is always enforced. There is a rule here that we don’t accept a student saying “no”. If you say “no” to a member of staff then you are removing yourself from the right to be part of that learning.’

One of the first directives from Mr Graham was to ensure teachers’ focus was on teaching and learning and not onerous administrative tasks.

‘When I came in I stripped away a lot of the monitoring and paperwork. At that time we were completing tracking data every six weeks which was totally unnecessary,’ said Mr Graham.

Unlike many schools which have restricted the curriculum, St Edmund’s has ensured students have as many options as possible.

‘As teachers we need to put ourselves in the shoes of our children,’ said Mr Graham. ‘We have gone in the opposite direction in giving more options to students. I also encourage teachers to take risks and try new things even if it doesn’t always work out. It is important children enjoy learning which is creative, fun and engaging.’

The achievements of the school are more remarkable when set against the backdrop of a catchment area covering one of the city’s highest areas of deprivation.

Mr Graham said: ‘All our year groups who arrive at the school tend to be below the national average based on Sats scores. We also have a higher than average number of pupils on free school meals and and who don’t have English as a first language.’

In 2016 the school achieved a progress 8 score of 0.49 which was followed up in 2017 with a score of 0.83, almost double the next best performing school. This year’s has not yet been calculated. Progress 8 looks at how students improve, not how high their grades are. 

Effectively the latest progress 8 score indicates that students who attend St Edmund’s are on average achieving almost a grade higher than students across the country. This score put St Edmund’s in the top two per cent of national school performance. 

Unusually for most headteachers Mr Graham is still involved in the classroom, timetabled as part of the science department.

‘I became a teacher to teach children. The best part of the day for me is still the teaching,’ explained Mr Graham.

As well as the positive perception this creates with staff Mr Graham also believes it enables him to empathise with and understand any prevalent issues at the ‘chalkface’.