Based on exam results alone, Long Sutton’s Peele Community College should have been placed in special measures when it had its Ofsted inspection in January.
That’s the frank assessment of its new headteacher, Elizabeth Smith, who says bluntly: “That’s the black and white.”
But Ofsted saw beyond the results – the shoots of recovery, signs of a turnaround – and the school was categorised as “requires improvement”.
Now Elizabeth sees the journey for Peele as being about becoming a good school, not only in the next inspection verdict from Ofsted but by delivering the quality of education its pupils deserve.
Elizabeth (47) joined Peele in May 2013 as deputy head and was made acting head last summer when the headteacher resigned.
She was confirmed as headteacher a few days ago, after six candidates were interviewed for the job over two days.
She said: “I was treated like all the other candidates and yes it was a strong field – that was something I was made aware of.
“I knew I had to be focused and I prepared for it like you would for any interview.”
What are her ambitions for the school?
Elizabeth says: “For the local community to have a good school on their doorstep.
“At the moment they don’t. They have a school in Ofsted terms that’s moving in the right direction but, let’s face it, has got the badge of RI (requires improvement).
“I want these students to have the educational experience that they deserve.
“I have started that. I wasn’t long in the post when I led my first Ofsted and, given the results in the summer, the college really did incredibly well.
“Ofsted were able to see really this is a school that is not special measures – based on the results, it should have been and that’s the black and white.
“What I was looking for them to say was there was ‘capacity for improvement’.
“When I heard those words I realised there are people there who can see that the college is definitely moving in the right direction.”
Elizabeth aims to raise students’ aspirations to achieve in the classroom, to look beyond the college to exciting careers, starting businesses or gaining university places and to have a sense of pride in themselves and in Peele Community College.
Earlier this year, Elizabeth found herself fielding criticism from a small number of parents as she set about enforcing the school’s existing uniform standards, which had been allowed to slip, for example, with youngsters turning up to class wearing plimsolls or trainers instead of black leather shoes.
Elizabeth said: “One parent said things like ‘well it’s only Peele Community College, it’s not the high school, it’s not the grammar school, what is she trying to achieve?’
“Another parent said ‘it is only Lincolnshire’.
“What does that mean? Does that mean we are not as good as other counties?”
Monday was a red letter day for the college as all students apart from this year’s school leavers were issued with brand new blazers and ties to give them a smart new corporate look.
The blazers and ties were a gift from an unnamed benefactor, which avoided any burden on school budgets or the parents’ pockets.
Like many schools, Peele has a mix of qualified and unqualified teachers but Elizabeth says that’s not a worry as long as the staff can teach really well.
She says: “I am not a snob. Just because you haven’t got the ‘badge’, you can still train up. Some of our unqualified teachers have performed better than the qualified teachers.
“I am intolerant of poor teaching.
“I am intolerant of people who come in and go out and think ‘it’s just a job’.”
Elizabeth herself spends five hours a week teaching her subject, English.
She says: “I have got the top set, Year 11, so no pressure!
“I think it’s important that I do teach, not just for credibility – I love being in the classroom, to be quite honest.
“I am part of the English department – I report to the head of English, I meet all his deadlines.”
What do the pupils think of her?
Elizabeth says: “I think the children know that I am consistent, I am fair and I will always listen to them, but they also know that I have a very firm line.
“I am not an ogre.”
Unhappy days of separation at boarding school
Elizabeth Smith was born in Cameroon and was the eldest of four children.
Her dad, Trevor, who came from Derbyshire, travelled widely in his work with oil companies and that meant Elizabeth had long periods of separation from him and her mum, Hadiza, because she was sent to UK boarding schools.
Elizabeth says: “That was quite traumatic, actually.”
She gained O-levels at Harrogate Ladies’ College, A-levels at Trent College, Long Eaton, and her English degree from the University of Nottingham.
Elizabeth joined the John Lewis Partnership’s graduate trainee scheme, but that wasn’t right for her.
She recalls: “I just quit without telling my parents and I turned up on their doorstep saying ‘I have quit’. They said ‘do you have a plan?’ and I said ‘of course I have got a plan. I am going to become a teacher because I love English and I love literature’.”
She had senior posts in West Yorkshire and Yorkshire before moving to Long Sutton.