What makes a good headteacher? Alan Gray, of Sandringham School in St Albans, reveals all after winning Tes School Awards 2017 headteacher of the year
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Sandringham School’s Alan Gray has been named Headteacher of the Year by education training company tes. Reporter FRASER WHIELDON spoke to him about the secrets of his success.
He has been praised as an exceptional headteacher and an inspiration, who led his own school to greatness with his “exciting can-do approach to educational achievement”.
But after winning the headteacher of the year award from education training company tes, Sandringham School’s Alan Gray said: “It’s not just about me as a person - it’s about Sandringham and the community.”
Mr Gray came to the St Albans school from Hemel Hempstead 13 years ago - a move he said was the fulfilment of a vision he had of leading his local school.
Since the move, Mr Gray has taken Sandringham from a school rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted, to one rated ‘outstanding’.
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“When I first came here two things needed to be done,” he explained.
“Number one was behaviour for learning, the students’ attitude towards learning and also the quality of teaching.
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“Those two things are the cornerstone of any school.”
This was achieved, Mr Gray said, through a system of rewards and consequences.
He added that parents have to be on board with it and the school has to work with them.
“Our parents are magnificent and fully understand what the school is all about,” he said.
Due to its success, Sandringham has become a national support school - and Mr Gray a national leader of education.
“I go out and work with other leaders and support them in helping them move their schools forward,” he explained.
“So my job would be coaching, working with other heads, deploying staff, and helping them make progress.”
Aside from its academic results, the school has had much success working with the community.
Every Thursday, students serve food to the elderly at a nearby church and the school and its facilities are opened for community use.
“The school is open all hours,” he said.
“You will have, on an evening, people on site until 10pm, using the sports facilities and the Sandpit Theatre.
“You are making people understand the gates do not close at 3pm.”
Running all these facilities is a sizeable financial burden for the school at a time of ongoing austerity.
While the government has protected the schools budget from cuts, many headteachers are struggling with rising costs and rising pupil numbers.
As the head of the Hertfordshire schools forum - which oversees the finances of the county’s school - Mr Gray has become aware of the financial pressures.
It is something Sandringham School has not escaped.
He said: “Sandringham is really well run in all areas and one of the key areas is finance.
“We are always able to make things happen when we needed to and have never run a deficit.
“Our forecasts are very tight, but the new government is recognising it has cut things too far and need to run things back a bit.”
While Westminster whirs away on that issue, the students at Sandringham have been taking part in a series of extracurricular activities.
There was an arts week at the end of June, with beatboxing, music composition and a pyrotechnics demonstration.
This was followed by an extended learning week and a fit for life week, focusing on getting students involved in different fitness activities they may not otherwise experience.
On the arts week, Mr Gray said: “What we found was they really enjoy that it gives them an opportunity to perform or work backstage, which gives them the ability to take responsibility. And it’s all about learning.
“The government is focusing very heavily on what they call traditional subjects, at the exclusion of creative subjects. At Sandringham we feel there is a place for the arts.
“The idea of fit for life week is, just like arts week, is maybe have a change in habits so they do something differently for the rest of their time.”
The Tes School Awards judges said: “Alan Gray is an exceptional headteacher.
“He has led his own school to greatness and has found time to support other schools both locally and internationally.”