Top marks for school's transformation

Cressex Community School in Buckinghamshire was the county's second lowest performing school, but a new partnership with the council and various local organisations has resulted in a more positive reputation, Eifion Rees discovers
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Cressex Community School
A new look for Cressex Community School in Buckinghamshire

The motto of the Cressex Community School in High Wycombe is an African proverb: "It takes a whole village to bring up a child."

Sandwiched between a business park and the M40, it's hard to imagine a less village-like setting, and yet the application of the principle is paying dividends for this once-failing school.

Last year Cressex was Buckinghamshire's second-lowest performing school, with only 25% of its 655 pupils achieving five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths – 5% less than its commitment as part of the National Challenge, set up in 2008 by the previous government to raise standards in schools.

In April this year Cressex became the county's first state-maintained Trust school, and one of the first Cooperative Trust schools in England, and its GCSE results were its best yet: 36% of students gained five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths, and more than 50% gained five or more passes in any subject.

The school's change in fortune is being put down to the formation of the Cressex Cooperative Learning Partnership, a collaborative effort on the part of various local organisations to raise attainment at the school and broaden opportunities for its students, with each bringing its particular expertise to the table.

The cooperative members include high-performing selective state school Dr Challoner's Grammar, in Amersham, Wycombe Abbey girls' independent, Buckinghamshire New University, the Cooperative College and Buckinghamshire County Council.

In essence, the educational bodies are sharing their expertise and pedagogy to help improve standards at Cressex, with the county council facilitating this new educational practice. Council representative sit on Cressex's governing body to make sure the arrangements that have been put in place work.

Sue Imbriano, Buckinghamshire county council's strategic director for children and young people, says partnership trusts are the way of the future.

"Schools are sharing much more in terms of their expertise across the piece and supporting youngsters in the wider community.

Self-esteem, confidence and resilience

As well as the content knowledge provided by the school, partnership trusts mean working with pupils in the context of family and community to build up their self-esteem, confidence and resilience. Our trust was set up to develop better opportunities for Cressex's students, their families and the community in general – we were very conscious that we wanted to be working within the school walls and in the community beyond."

Wycombe Abbey's summer school is one example of the new partnership in practice, attended by some of Cressex's talented students. Wycombe Abbey's sixth-formers work with Cressex students on literacy schemes and work alongside teachers to help those pupils develop.

Dr Challoner's has programmes set up around student leadership that Cressex students will also benefit from, teaching them about how prefects discharge their responsibilities, as well as providing them with a sense of community and responsibility, equipping them to lead their peers both within and without the school gates.

In return, Cressex, a specialist business and enterprise school, has been able to offer the other schools its expertise in those areas, as well as in special needs and English as an additional language.

Cressex headteacher David Hood says better exam results are only part of the overall picture. He says the partnership's aim is also to build closer links with and so improve the community.

"We'd like parents and community representatives to have more influence on what we do, joining the school's stakeholder forum and having their say about the development of Cressex." He says more applying to become governors "would be a great development".

A brand new £27m school building – funded by the now defunct Building Schools for the Future programme – has been "psychologically great", according to Cressex's head. "We feel as though we're standing proud, and it's good for the Trust to be clustering around a school that's feeling good about itself."

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