‘Strict is good – it moulds us into young gen­tle­men’

Five years ago, pupils were em­bar­rassed to ad­mit that they went to St Thomas the Apos­tle Col­lege – an in­ner-city school on the brink of clo­sure. Last month, it was named Tes’ sec­ondary of the year. Adi Bloom de­tails the story of an amaz­ing trans­for­ma­tion

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - INSIGHT -

IN THE old days, peo­ple sim­ply did not want to go to St Thomas the Apos­tle Col­lege. Such was its rep­u­ta­tion, in fact, that even the cur­rent head­teacher did not want to go there.

“I’d stupidly reg­is­tered with a few head­hunt­ing agen­cies,” says Ea­mon Con­nolly, who at the time was deputy head­teacher at Moss­bourne Com­mu­nity Academy in East Lon­don, un­der fu­ture Of­sted chief Sir Michael Wil­shaw.

“They said, ‘Do you fancy be­ing head of an all-boys’ school in Peck­ham?’ I said, ‘You have to be kid­ding.’”

St Thomas the Apos­tle (“Stac” to those who go there) was every­thing that one would ex­pect from an all-boys’ sec­ondary in this his­tor­i­cally de­prived area of South Lon­don. The school was bot­tom of the bor­ough’s league ta­ble for achieve­ment, but top for juvenile crime.

Though Stac has space for 150 pupils in a year, in 2012 there were only 67 boys in Year 7. That same year, only 42 per cent of pupils achieved five A* to Cs at GCSE.

In 2016, 81 per cent of Stac boys at­tained five good GCSE passes, plac­ing it sec­ond in the bor­ough’s league ta­ble, be­hind a girls-only sec­ondary. It had its first ap­peal over places. And, last month, the school was named Tes sec­ondary of the year.

This was not some­thing that the cur­rent sixth form could have fore­seen when they started Year 7. “I used to say ‘I go to Stac’ like I was em­bar­rassed,” says 17-year-old Em­manuel Otobo, who is sit­ting with friends in the din­ing hall.

“Other peo­ple would say, ‘Ugh, Stac boys,’ and you knew what they were think­ing. Like, that you were low achiev­ers, like you just weren’t fo­cused. They thought that you were com­ing here for some kind of so­cial life.”

‘It was about mak­ing a dif­fer­ence’

Most of the boys live on nearby coun­cil estates; in at least one case, a fam­ily of four lives in a sin­gle room. Many pupils are re­cent im­mi­grants, and speak English as an additional lan­guage. When teach­ers took pupils on a day trip to see the sky­scraper The Shard, sev­eral boys pointed at the Thames and asked whether it was the ocean. Peck­ham is fewer than three miles from the Thames.

But it was pre­cisely th­ese boys who changed Con­nolly’s mind, af­ter his ini­tial re­luc­tance to con­sider the Stac head­ship. “I was just hooked,” he says, of his first visit to the school. “Talk­ing to the boys is some­thing quite spe­cial. The rea­son I got into ed­u­ca­tion was to make a dif­fer­ence. Although the first days here were tough, it was very much about mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.”

When Con­nolly took up his post in 2012, the school was un­der threat of clo­sure;

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.