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“Transforming the worst school in Britain” An Interview with Wavelength SpeakersHub’s Drew Povey

In 2003 the school’s inspector, Ofsted, branded Harrop Fold School in Salford “the worst school in the country” putting it into special measures, the lowest rating a school could have.

Behaviour was so bad that two local bus companies refused to transport pupils attending the school and a quarter of school-leavers went on to be classed as NEET (not in education, employment or training). Worse still, the school had inherited a financial deficit which was the largest of any school in the country.

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Fast forward to today and things couldn’t be more different. Harrop Fold is now oversubscribed and it has gone from being on the brink of being closed down to being rated Good by Ofsted.  At the helm of this seemingly impossible transformation is Executive Headteacher, Drew Povey. He took over leadership of the ailing school at the turn of the decade, one of the youngest school leaders in the country.

During this time Drew has united staff and pupils alike around the ‘Team Harrop’ vision. Creating a culture of people making the difference, everyone working together toward a common purpose.

It’s a simple yet powerful approach that draws heavily from the lessons Drew has learned playing competitive sport. As a schoolboy his own academic fortunes were transformed when he discovered the discipline and focus which came from playing rugby. He took the experience of the playing field into his studies; “I learned through sport that it takes practice and commitment to improve,” says Drew “it was obvious to me that if I wanted to change things at Harrop Fold we needed to think like a team, working together, striving to change things.”

The Team Harrop approach has created the unifying purpose which has facilitated the turnaround in the school’s fortunes. “When you play sport, everyone has a role to play, everyone signs up to what the team wants to achieve,” he explains “as a leader I focus on my strengths and surround myself with a team that works together to achieve the common goal.”

And that common goal is about wanting to make a difference. A phrase used time and time again by teachers at the school.

It’s the vital ingredient for motivating a team faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. Teaching has the reputation for being stressful, Drew cannot offer the big financial incentives and bonus schemes of a commercial organisation, the hours are long and the external pressures on the profession as a whole from government cuts, league tables and constantly shifting goal posts are tough.

To succeed everything comes back to reinforcing the reason behind why they all do what they do. “Will-power and financial rewards only work for a certain length of time in any organisation,” says Drew “but the purpose, the why you get up in the morning to go to work, you can’t put a price on that.”

Drew knows that engaging people at the emotional level will reap far more returns than financial incentives alone.

Leading from the front, he is a highly visible presence within the school. Morning and evening he can be found on the school gate in a high-vis jacket, giving words of encouragement to the pupils, being present if problems occur. Similarly, he walks the corridors daily, visits classrooms, leading by walking around in its truest sense.

“Everyone has a role to play in Team Harrop and I will not be an effective leader by sitting behind my desk all day.” he explains.  Every time a bell rings in the school, all the staff come out into the corridors to ensure that there are no problems as pupils move between classrooms: teamwork in action. “I am inspired as much by the cleaners, the pupils, the teaching staff as I am by the great captains of industry I have been fortunate to meet in my career.” he says.

Always focusing on the positives, being reassuringly optimistic, Drew has been able to create an environment where staff feel motivated, supported and fulfilled. Now from being the failing school that no-one wanted to work at, teachers proactively choose to apply for roles Harrop Fold and be part of the team. Attrition is now 3%, it’s a team people want to join.

Catch the last remaining episodes of  Channel 4’s recent series, Educating Greater Manchester which featured Drew Povey and Harrop Fold School.


Drew is part of Wavelength’s SpeakersHub. To view his full biography & video and book him to speak at your own event please click here.

Drew is also a regular contributor to our Connect programme. For more details on the 2018 programme and to download the brochure go to Connect 2018.

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