Moun­tainlov­ing new head has high aims for King Solomon

The Jewish Chronicle - - EDUCATION - BY SI­MON ROCKER

HANNELE REECE, the new head of Kan­tor King Solomon High School in Red­bridge, might never have been where she is now but for a sport­ing ac­ci­dent.

She was play­ing for her univer­sity, East Anglia, in a ko­rf­ball match in Europe — “a weird cross be­tween bas­ket­ball and netball” — when “I went left and my knee went right”. As she re­cu­per­ated, she reconsidered the mil­i­tary ca­reer she had been plan­ning.

Her fa­ther sug­gested teach­ing, “so I did and I have never looked back”.

Al­though this is her first term as per­ma­nent head, she was in charge al­most the whole of last year af­ter the then head Matthew Slater went on un­ex­plained per­sonal leave, part­ing com­pany with King Solomon in May. The school has had to weather a pe­riod of tur­bu­lence since the forced de­par­ture of a pre­vi­ous head, Jo Shuter, in 2014.

But the one thing Ms Reece, 40, can bring is con­ti­nu­ity. When she ac­cepted a his­tory post at King Solomon 19 years ago, six years af­ter its open­ing, it was her first job. She has risen through the ranks: head of hu­man­i­ties, as­sis­tant head, deputy head. She says she has been lucky that each time she sought to broaden her ex­pe­ri­ence, a role came up for her at the school.

De­spite the chal­lenges of last year, she says, KKSHS wasn’t as af­fected as much as it might have been. “The se­nior team have been very con­sis­tent and are ab­so­lutely de­voted and com­mit­ted. Fun­da­men­tally, our staff care about the kids. You fo­cus on the kids in front of you and you try to ig­nore what­ever is go­ing on out­side.”

Her fierce loy­alty to the school is ob­vi­ous. “We’ve seen a lot of change but I would ar­gue that in many ways we haven’t changed.

“Su­per­fi­cially, 20 years ago peo­ple would see we were a small, ba­si­cally midde-class, white, Jewish school. Su­per­fi­cially, peo­ple would look at us now and say we ob­vi­ously have a dif­fer­ent in­take. But in terms of the feel­ing from the stu­dent body and the staff, not much has changed.

“The stu­dents are tre­men­dously in­clu­sive and tol­er­ant. Stu­dents who may find it dif­fi­cult in other places are wel­comed here. We have a large num­ber of staff who have been here per­haps not as long as I have, but not far off. That means that al­though there has been a lot of change, a lot of the best as­pects of us have stayed.”

Jewish chil­dren now com­prise around 30 per cent of the pupil body, with Mus­lim stu­dents, at around 25 to 30 per cent , the largest of the other faith groups. “I be­lieve we are an ex­cel­lent model be­cause we have rel­a­tively few is­sues be­tween stu­dents of dif­fer­ent back­grounds and if we can roll that out, to the high street, to Lon­don, to the UK, we’d be do­ing very well as a so­ci­ety.”

But she is clear that King Solomon re­mains in ethos an Ortho­dox Jewish school. Ev­ery child, re­gard­less of their faith, takes Jewish stud­ies GCSE and it is one of the top sub­jects in terms of re­sults. The an­nual Poland visit and bi­en­nial tour to Is­rael, while mostly taken up by the Jewish stu­dents, are open to all. “I think Is­rael has a lot to of­fer every­body be­cause it is such a mixed com­mu­nity,” she says.

“When I meet par­ents of new stu­dents, I al­ways talk about the three things we are built on — and they are those Jewish val­ues of learn­ing, char­ity and com­mu­nity.” She has al­ready taken steps to strengthen Jewish ed­u­ca­tion at King Solomon, em­ploy­ing three ad­di­tional staff in the Jewish stud­ies and ke­hillah (com­mu­nity) de­part­ments. A new pro­gramme on Jewish text study is in­tended to en­gage the aca­dem­i­cally most able Jewish stu­dents. A sec­ond ini­tia­tive is a sum­mer trip to Is­rael for school leavers in or­der to pre­pare them for univer­sity. She is also keen to

The se­nior team are com­mit­ted and de­voted’

in­crease ties with lo­cal rab­bis, syn­a­gogues and Jewish in­sti­tu­tions “so we can gen­uinely touch as many Jewish fam­i­lies as we can.

“One of the things that has been lost over the last three or four years has been that con­nec­tion with the lo­cal shuls. I think a lot of them don’t re­ally have an un­der­stand­ing of who we are or what we do.”

From South Manch­ester orig­i­nally, she is from a long line of Sal­va­tion Army of­fi­cers — her par­ents, their par­ents and their par­ents be­fore them. While she has “moved away” from the re­li­gious as­pect, “the ground­ing it gives you in the im­por­tance of look­ing af­ter oth­ers, of char­ity, of mak­ing the right de­ci­sions, that stays with you.” When she’s been with King Solomon to Is­rael, “it was like go­ing through my Sun­day school sto­ries”.

She is aware that the school’s mixed­faith in­take has put off some Jewish fam­i­lies but “the thing I al­ways say is if the Jewish com­mu­nity wants a Jewish school, they have to send their chil­dren to us”.

And the way to at­tract more, she be­lieves, is to pro­vide an “out­stand­ing ed­u­ca­tion as well as the Jewish ed­u­ca­tion”. If the school can con­tinue im­prove­ments in GCSE and A-level re­sults in re­cent years, she be­lieves, it will be­come “the nat­u­ral choice”.

She hopes to build on the school’s good Of­sted in 2016 to make it a good school with out­stand­ing fea­tures at the next in­spec­tion and in five years, an out­stand­ing school. The pos­i­tive mes­sage from the last Of­sted is get­ting out, she says, “This is the first year we have had a wait­ing list.”

One way to nudge up the aca­demic per­for­mance ta­bles would be to limit the ex­ams taken by less aca­dem­i­cally able stu­dents — a ploy she re­gards as “just morally wrong. We are a re­li­gious school and we there­fore have an obli­ga­tion to do what is morally right. To do what is right is what­ever gives our stu­dents the great­est chances of life suc­cess.”

Vo­ca­tion­ally-ori­ented cour­ses are be­ing ex­panded in sub­jects such as PE, digital photography and busi­ness stud­ies to en­sure a broader choice for all. The more aca­demic A-level in PE may be fine for a fu­ture phys­io­ther­a­pist, for ex­am­ple, but if you are aim­ing for a coach­ing job, a more vo­ca­tional course might be bet­ter.

“Three years ago we were in the lu­di­crous po­si­tion that stu­dents could do very well in GCSE rel­a­tive to their abil­ity but then we had noth­ing for them,” she says.

But while stu­dents over­all make good ed­u­ca­tional progress, some­times the most vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents don’t do as well as they might — “and that’s not good enough”.

She has ap­pointed one of the school’s most ex­pe­ri­enced staff, Naomi Carmel-Brown, to the new post of head of in­clu­sion, to over­see ad­di­tional sup­port for those who need it.

“If you are born in the wrong part of Red­bridge, you face sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­ers,” she says. “Thirty per cent of our stu­dents are in re­ceipt of free school meals. Those stu­dents, when they are in school, need ex­tra sup­port and pro­tec­tion to mit­i­gate the dif­fi­cul­ties their cir­cum­stances have brought them.”

She was a pop­u­lar choice as head. The mes­sages of sup­port from par­ents and for­mer pupils on the school’s Face­book were “re­ally grat­i­fy­ing”, and on the last day of term, as pupils came to see her, she says, “I don’t know how I got out of my of­fice door.”

Most of the sum­mer she spent plan­ning for the year ahead — save for a twoweek break when she and her hus­band went to the French Alps. Last year the head­teacher who “loves moun­tains” as­cended Kil­i­man­jaro — “it was a per­sonal am­bi­tion I fi­nally ful­filled. It’s the hard­est thing I have ever done.”

This is the first year we have had a wait­ing list’

GCSE col­lec­tors at King Solomon High School

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