26th Jan, 2022

Coventry author documents how two former city heads transformed a failing Birmingham school

A COVENTRY-based author and journalist has written a new book documenting how two city headteachers helped transform a failing Birmingham secondary.

Amid the Covid crisis Chris Arnot, 71 from Earlsdon, has managed to write, research, and publish ‘Decline and Fall to Rise and Shine – nine months in the rebirth of a dying school in a virtual year’.

The book tells the inspirational story of how education trouble-shooter and former Coundon Court headteacher David Kershaw, and his team at the Central Academies Trust, managed to turn Lordswood Boys’ School into one of the highest-achieving and most improved non grammar schools in the UK’s second city.

Former freelance national journalist Chris set out to speak to students, Lordswood’s head Lee Williams  – previously an art teacher at the school – and staff during a ‘rampaging’ pandemic to underpin the journey they had been on.

Lordswood’s new £16 million state-of-the-art school in Harborne was due to have its grand opening in March – but was postponed after the first Lockdown was announced.

Despite sitting in a ‘comparatively posh’ area of Birmingham, Chris says most pupils come from the inner-city or terraced streets of nearby Bearwood and Smethwick. The vast majority are Asian (40%), Afro-Caribbean (38%) and Eastern European ((10%).

The school had been in special measures from 2014 to 2017 after years of decline in the grades and behaviour when David Kershaw was asked to take over the school. It was in debt and pupil numbers had fallen to 320. Another educationalist from Coventry, Michael Rennie, was brought in as director of school improvement.

Chris had ghost-written David’s autobiography ‘Thanks Shanks’, so was already aware of his previous ambition to be a professional footballer while playing for Huddersfield Town FC under Bill Shankly. The footballing legend told David that he was not going to make it as a pro and he really ought to be a teacher – and even paid for him to get the necessary qualifications.

One chapter of the new book is dedicated to former Lordswood student, James Cheam-Smith, a talented musician, who won a scholarship to Eton and has since been offered an unconditional place to study German at Lancaster University. He describes what it was like before David and his team arrived and recalls writing an essay while there was a fight ongoing in the corridor “Two boys crashed through the door and landed on my desk. The first three years or so were a struggle,” said James.

Another chapter features other heartening success stories of students, including Malvin Ormali who arrived in the UK from Nigeria three years ago, and achieved such outstanding GCSE results he was offered a place to study A-levels at Handsworth Grammar.

Impressively in less than three years David and his team have seen Lordswood become one of the fastest improving schools in the UK under Progress 8 measurements.

Decline and Fall to Rise and Shine – nine months in the rebirth of a dying school in a virtual year’ is available at Waterstones in Coventry, Kenilworth Books, Earlsdon Post Office and Amazon.

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