Dominic Mackenzie, Formby High School

Without even passing through the gates of Formby High it appears the school is steeped in success, with an ‘outstanding’ grade in its most recent Ofsted report and a website highlighting both local and national sporting and academic achievements over recent years.

This strong reputation played a part in attracting headteacher Dominic Mackenzie to the school. Having completed one full year at Formby High, he reflects on his decision to take the helm there from his deputy head position at the also outstanding St Edward’s College.

“I wanted to go to a school that had a really strong reputation and I was aware of Formby High’s reputation in terms of academic performance but also because of performing arts. The school has a national reputation for performing arts,” says Dominic. “I wanted to join a school that I felt was similar in terms of the community it served and the demographic to my previous school and what was also really important to me was a school where the values came through really strongly.”

According to Dominic, the “really strong position” that Formby High is in allowed him to spend the first year getting to know the students, staff and community while focusing on maintaining continuity, as opposed to having to make “significant or drastic changes”.

Shortly after his appointment the headteacher already felt he’d made progress in convincing the community that high standards would be maintained. He added: “We admit 160 students in Year 7 and typically receive about 400 applicants. We had our open evening in September 2012, which was my first major event, and I was really pleased because we received 460 applicants. That to me indicated that out in the community the message has got through that the school is going to continue to be strong.”

The top job had long been Dominic’s career goal, from his perhaps slightly unorthodox way in to the profession to spending the last five years of his 16-year St Edward’s stint as the deputy. He started out as an unqualified teacher at the independent school and achieved his teaching qualification in the first year, having worked towards his PGCE with the Open University.

“Once I’d joined the profession I was very conscious of wanting to move through and have career progression. I was very fortunate at St Edward’s because in a fairly short space of time I was able to work my way onto the senior leadership team and to deputy headship level,” explains Dominic. “I worked very closely with the gentleman who’s currently headteacher – John Waszec. He was a real inspiration and a great role model and I think working with him and learning from him gave me the confidence to appreciate I can do the job myself.”

With this in mind, it would appear Dominic is leading by example when it comes to the school’s motto; ‘determined to achieve’. It’s a motto he believes “cuts across all aspects of the school”, from the classroom to extra-curricular activities and making friends.

“It’s about saying ‘give it a go, really try your best’ and the vast majority of the students buy into that,” says the headteacher. “I suppose it’s because they know they’re well supported, they know they’re not going to be judged if they don’t succeed as long as they really have tried their best, and they also know there are lots of opportunities for them, so if they’re not great at sport they might be a good musician.

“Part of my responsibility is to ensure they have the opportunities to seek out their strengths and really work with them.”

There’s also a focus on helping students achieve their potential once they leave school, and Dominic has made it a priority to ensure their learning is in tune with the working world.

He explains: “One of the things I’m very conscious of is that the economic climate and the workplace are changing and what we need to do is evolve to ensure the children we’re teaching, when they leave school, are prepared for the changing environment.

“We’ve started to make what I would describe as significant enhancements to the curriculum, for example, the introduction of computer science as a GCSE. We’ve implemented the extended project as an options choice for the most able in sixth form.”

During the summer 200 new computers were also introduced in the school with Dominic adding: “Quite a lot of the work I’m doing is around a campus development plan to ensure we’ve got buildings that are fit for purpose and suited to education in the 21st Century context.”

On entering his second year, the headteacher not only hopes for good exam results but says: “The main priorities are to ensure the environment continues to improve, and to build on a lot of the work we’ve done in the last year in terms of the learning environment and the buildings and campus improvements.

“Secondly, to ensure we’re in the position whereby when an Ofsted inspection team does walk through the door it isn’t a big event, that it’s actually just part of the routine and everybody in the school is confident, well equipped and we have everything in place to ensure we receive a judgement which reflects where the school’s actually at.”

In the longer term, Dominic sees his future lying firmly with Formby High, saying: “I think in a short space of time I’ve become part of the fabric of the buildings and I want to continue the journey with Formby High over the next however many years, rather than moving on to bigger schools or a different type of work.

“Ultimately I’d say that what I want is for Formby High to provide a world class education so that we are the school of choice.”

“It isn’t just about improving things that need to be improved, it’s about maintaining the things which are the real strengths.”

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