Martyn Campbell, St Edmund Arrowsmith Centre For Learning
Having spent more than three decades at St Edmund Arrowsmith Centre For Learning in Whiston, Headteacher Martyn Campbell talks through the most rewarding and challenging aspects of being a school leader.
A holistic approach
by Jennifer Chamberlain
Despite entering the profession at a young age, Martyn Campbell never aspired to be a teacher. Having passed his 11+ to study at Preston Catholic College, he didn’t like school and, with sport being the only thing he was interested in, he had initially set out to become a sports journalist. However, it was his negative experience of school, as well as his brother’s poor education, which, in the end, encouraged him to become a teacher.
“I had experienced both excellent teachers who had a real vocation and kept me on the right track but also teachers who should never have been in control of students. I suppose in my ideal way of thinking I wanted to do something to readdress the balance” he says. “Spending three years at college in Liverpool meeting new people also seemed like an attractive proposition.”
After completing his degree, the young teacher took up his first position at St Columbas Catholic Comprehensive, where he taught geography, PE and undertook pastoral responsibilities. In 1984, he moved to St Edmund Arrowsmith (SEA) and has remained there ever since.
“I was happy to take on numerous roles”, he elaborates. “There was no five year plan to become a head, I just accumulated a raft of jobs and went from there.”
Now, after more than thirty years at St Edmund Arrowsmith, Martyn reflects on the strong community links built up over the years: “It was a very close knit community and has served the local community well over the years. I am still in contact with ex-students who send their children and now even grandchildren to SEA.”
Unlike most secondary schools, SEA is classed as a ‘Centre for Learning’, a term which was born out of an investment made seven years ago by the local authority. The idea behind the term, Martyn explains, is wrapped up with the local community. “Where else can young people go and mix with their friends in a safe environment? The Learning Centre is for the whole community: parents, carers, local groups as well as for our students at weekends.”
As a Catholic school, SEA is celebrating a recent successful report from the Archdiocese. The Catholic faith underpins the ethos of the school, which Martyn believes is of fundamental importance. “I would like to think we live it rather than just have it listed in a document. We must look for the common good, live life to the full and enjoy ourselves,” he says.
One thing that is clear from both the school ethos and from the headteacher’s approach is that the students come first. Martyn speaks honestly and frankly about the social issues young people currently face and why the school has a responsibility to support students in all aspects of their lives.
“Life, for some of our young people, is becoming more difficult every day as government cuts and changes in education begin to bite,” he says. “As a school we have to understand the circumstances and issues that some, but not all, our students have to deal with on a daily basis. We have to support,challenge and stretch those students so they are given the same opportunities that all other students are given.”
Martyn puts unique emphasis on the individual student. “Every student is different. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses and we need to know what they are in order to help them move forward. The staff are dedicated to realising each student’s potential.”
Over the easter holidays, students have been given multiple opportunities to stay engaged with school life including residential trips, sporting visits, medical training as well as a trip to Lourdes.
This holistic approach is of fundamental importance to the headteacher, who believes that a full education nurtures a student’s intellectual, spiritual, moral, personal, social and cultural development. “Education is not just about achieving 5 GCSEs A* – C including English and maths,” Martyn explains. “It’s also about producing responsible and reasoning adults who can improve their local communities. Failing an exam does not make you a bad person, but making a wrong decision in your local community may have that effect. Students need to be taught the consequences of their actions.”
There seems to be a recurring theme of community running through Martyn’s words. Indeed, it seems that, as a headteacher, his care and attention expands beyond the people inside the school gates. “The relationship with parents and carers is vital. We are all in this together and we all want our students and children to realise their full potential.”
Encouraging parents to get involved with school life and listening to their views has had a positive impact. “Every parents’ evening, the views of the parents are collected and the results are put on the school website. This is very important to the school as these are the views of the people who know us best.” In his vision for the school, Martyn is positive but realistic. In terms of short term action, the head is keen to address the OFSTED rating.
“Inspections from the HMI, the Archdiocese and the local authority have been very positive, and the school has the capability to become outstanding, but we need to match the OFSTED criteria for good first. We could have sulked about the OFSTED report but when looked at in detail there were lots of positives there. We want to improve as quickly as possible and we are doing so.”
Martyn realises that exam results are vital to this improvement and students are responding positively to the extra efforts made to secure their success. More than a hundred students have been attending mock examinations on Saturday mornings so, as the head puts it, “the commitment is there for all to see.”
Improvements to the learning environment are also having an impact with the recent building of new science labs. Costing more than £500,000, the labs will enable more students to study A-level science in the future.
What’s increasingly clear from Martyn’s words is that he truly cares about young people, and not just the students in his school. Certain issues weigh heavy on his mind and he is adamant that schools must take action to protect students across the country.
“The biggest challenge at the minute is the rise and use of technology and the negative impact it can potentially have on young people’s lives,” he begins. “The Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) agenda cannot be ignored. In my opinion it is the greatest danger to young people and it must be on the action list of every headteacher from primary to secondary school. It cannot be seen as someone else’s problem and, unfortunately, it is not going to go away.”
Training staff, parents and children about how to spot the signs of CSE and what to do is, in Campbell’s opinion, the best way to tackle the issue and keep students safe.
Martyn moves on to discuss the most rewarding aspects of his position as headteacher of SEA. “It’s seeing young people moving on, becoming successful teenagers then adults and watching them grow and change,” he says. “There is a massive amount of talent in the area and students with great potential. Give them a chance and they will succeed”.