Interview with: Chris Wilson headteacher of Alsop High School

Educate sits down with Chris Wilson, the new headteacher of Alsop High School to talk about his inspired vision, The Alsop Way and having the most committed staff in Liverpool.

By Elle Foster

From a young age, Chris Wilson was encouraged by his parents to do the very best he could at school as it will ‘set you up for life’. “This ensured that I paid greater attention in school and what teachers did and their influence on young people in a school environment,” he says.

Wakefield-born Chris attributes his passion for education to his head of sixth form and English teacher. He says: “They really shaped my life and destination. They gave me a passion for learning that wasn’t there at GCSE and it inspired me to do better.”

It was at this time Chris realised he wanted to do the same and give back to society. Chris went on to study History at the University of Sheffield and later completed his PGCE there. He also met his wife during this time, who is originally from South Liverpool.

Up until now, Chris’ teaching career was based around Barnsley, Sheffield and Wakefield.

Starting as a history teacher, he went through to middle leadership, then at a multi-academy trust in Wakefield, he moved into the senior leadership team, looking after teacher and learning, NQTs and the ICT provision. He also put into place the Schools Direct Programme and progressed to assistant principal and head of sixth form.

It was in Sheffield that Chris developed the passion, vision and desire to be a headteacher. The idea of being responsible for implementing a vision and a plan, that would help regenerate a community for generations to come, was what spurred him on to take the next step in his career.

“As my wife is from Liverpool, we always knew we wanted to move here eventually. It wasn’t until I saw the opening here at Alsop High School and the advert which included a piece written by the head boy and head girl. It was written with such warmth and determination. They knew their school was good but it could be much better and they wanted someone to come on board and help achieve this.”

Chris was really inspired and moved by the advert. He recalls how he thought ‘he found the one where he could put his first application in for headship’.

“I remember coming into Alsop High School and speaking with the students about their hopes and aspirations. They are such an amazing group of young people who have passion and absolute kindness – they just want to be recognised and celebrated. If I could wave a magic wand it would be to help the rest of the world realise what people in North Liverpool have got to offer.”

Chris couldn’t be prouder of the students. He says: “We’ve got the people and the talent here and when you look at the students; the writing they produce, the shows they produce, films they create – they are so talented but I need them to believe it as much as I do.”

The school recently launched the Alsop Way – a new initiative with three key pillars that they are trying to base all of its school improvement around.

“The three elements are Knowledge, Respect and Opportunity. ‘Knowledge’ – helping students acquire knowledge and them to value it. ‘Respect’ – helping students respect others and themselves, and ultimately that will lead to ‘Opportunity’ because everything we do has got to be improving the life chances of these young people.”

The Alsop Way has helped clarify decisions and methods of improvement. When it comes to behaviour, Alsop High School’s focus on respect means lots of positivity on rewards. Chris says: “All my staff make a positive phone call every week to parents and they are all made up by it. This is a great way to build relationships and also to say to young people that ‘positive actions can get lost sometimes but we see it, recognise it and value it’.”

Having worked in areas of social challenge, Chris brings a level of determination and complete refusal to believe that deprivation should be a barrier that stops children from fulfilling their potential and aspiration.

Chris has faced situations with challenging behaviours before and believes that it is about understanding students and why you want them to do something. “It’s not about power, it’s about purpose.”

“Naturally I want every single student to achieve excellence, whatever that represents for them. I want them to have those life chances and opportunities. I want to see an increase in results and outcomes.”

However, he also believes in teaching them how to be resilient and how to deal with the fact that education is not a linear journey. He says: “There will be ups and downs along the way but they can still enjoy success along that journey – it’s not just about the end point. I want that [vision] to breed a sense of positivity and inclusion, and that every student can recognise that they are valued and they have something to contribute.”

Speaking about immediate improvement, Chris’ biggest focus, like many other schools in the city, is attendance. He says: “I want every child to want, and to love, to come to school. I want them to recognise they have a place here in Alsop High School and that we deeply care about them and we will not only look after them, but we will serve them.”

“I want students to feel secure and be inspired by the academic process of learning which is all about the high-quality teaching and learning, where staff are regularly coached and supported to be the very best version of themselves. Once you have that going on in a school, then you have something really special because that will drive the future improvements.”

Alsop High School is a school where the community wants it to do well. He says: “The community recognises we have had some challenging times but they are fully behind us.

“I really want to build upon this as we still have hard to reach families and want to show them that the school can work for them. We’re investing a lot in adult education, in the hope that this will become a hub in the community for people where they might not have had the greatest experience in education previously.”

Talking about his strong team of over 190 staff, Chris reckons he has the most committed staff in Liverpool – although he quickly adds he doesn’t want to be too controversial with that statement!

“They are just fantastic! They work long hours on behalf of the students that they serve and I’m looking forward to working with them to ensuring that we focus our energies on improving teaching and learning, to ensure every student can learn and fulfil their potential.”

For Alsop, the school understands it has to move forward and there are things to improve. Chris says: “We need to do this in a sustainable way that means staff are happy to work here, and be a part of Team Alsop and are going to be here for years to come, serving the community. It is no good doing things that burn people out for the year and then move on – meaningful and manageable change is what we’re looking for.”

Posed with the question ‘where do you see Alsop High School by this time next year?’ Chris says: “I’d like to ensure we are a school where students are safe, happy, well looked after. I’d also like to be recognised, as a community, that we are providing a very high-quality education for young people.

“I also expect that there will be excellent teaching in every classroom and we will really focus our principles around retrieval practice and extending writing and reading. Ultimately in time this will increase outcomes and progress for students, and ensure they are all moving on to really meaningful destinations in the future.”

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