Interview with: Ian Young, principal of Rainford High

Educate Magazine speaks to principal Ian Young to find out more about his teaching and leadership journey, and his upcoming anniversary of a decade at the helm of Rainford High.

This September will mark Ian Young’s tenth year as Rainford High’s principal.

“It’s interesting when you set out on a journey,” says Ian. “When I came to Rainford the school was very much unloved, it had lovely children but it had been left a little bit really.”

Just a few weeks in to his headship, Rainford High was designated as requires improvement by Ofsted. But this didn’t seem to faze Ian, who set to work on his vision for the school. By 2015, the school was graded good and has remained so ever since.

“By the time we got it from satisfactory to requires improvement to good in 2015, it had been a decade since the school had been good,” explains Ian.

“One of the commitments that I made to the community and the school was that it would never happen again. The community deserves to have a good school where they can always send children to get a good education for every child. An excellent education for all,” adds Ian.

Teaching for over 29 years, it’s this experience which has helped Ian tackle the highs and lows of school leadership. Starting as a history teacher, Ian’s first job was at Whitworth High School in Rochdale.

After four years, he moved to Bowring Comprehensive School in Huyton as head of history. He then moved on to Shorefields School in Toxteth as assistant headteacher, followed by deputy headteacher.

Then, in September 2012, Ian started as principal at Rainford High. Ian’s love of history was guided by a brilliant secondary school teacher, who inspired him to take the plunge in to teaching.

“He was knowledgeable, he had great relationships with kids, there was a level of humour, he gave you that level of respect you wanted as a young person but equally you knew not the cross the line,” says Ian. “I’ve got very positive memories about what education can bring to you.”

“When you’re 18, and even when you go to do your PGCE, do you really appreciate how important it is that you make a difference to children? I suspect not. Like most people, I grew up a lot as I went through life and realised the importance of what I was doing. Dealing with different communities and working with different communities to instil a passion for education and a trust in schools, is so important,” explains Ian.

Rainford High is located in Rainford, a village 5 miles north of St Helens with an estimated population of 8,000 people. Serving over 1,600 students from year 7 to sixth form, the school plays an important role in the local community.

“The vision for Rainford High is to provide an excellent education for all. What that drives is this idea of inclusion,” explains Ian. “To drive that vision, we have a very strong ethos around Everyone Matters, Everyone Helps, Everyone Succeeds.” These simple six words not only serve as a powerful visual reminder around the school (on lanyards, wall graphics and more) but have become embedded in the school’s culture.

“If you’re a student in the school or even a member of staff, Everyone Matters is sub headline to be polite, respectful and kind. What I really like about it is how simple it is, so Everyone Helps makes sensible choices, Everyone Succeeds, you work hard. It took us a period of time to reach that as an idea.”

But Ian admits that there are challenges involved in seeing this vision to full reality. “We recently had a diversity conference and one of the things I said in that is it’s a very simple idea – Everyone Matters, Everyone Helps and Everyone Succeeds,” says Ian. “But the challenge and complexity to deliver that is actually far more nuanced than I probably ever thought when I began.”

But one of the ways Rainford High is instilling this ethos is being ‘truly inclusive’ for all students. Ian says one of the school’s biggest journeys is around special education needs. “We have increasing numbers of young people with needs and equally an understanding within the school of what that means. You’ve got high needs children who may have traditionally gone to a special school, now in a mainstream environment and I think that’s really powerful.”

The school has also invested heavily in mental health support for students, particularly after the effects of the pandemic. Rainford High has 17 mental health first aiders, counsellors, two therapy dogs and strong links with organisations such as the ADHD Foundation.

A key part of the school’s journey was converting to an academy in 2017. Rainford High formed the Everyone Matters Schools Trust with the aim to collaborate and build relationships with other schools. “We’re at the point now, which is quite exciting, where a couple of schools in the locality have agreed to become part of the multi academy trust,” explains Ian.

“Bringing schools together to collaborate in an open and honest collaborative partnership is really powerful. Educational professionals looking at themselves in an open and honest light and being prepared to share practice and genuinely share what their challenges are, as well as what they do well is going to be very powerful.”

And although Ian can’t yet confirm which schools are due to join the trust, his vision is to have a coalition of nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools and colleges on board in the future.

As a lover of sport and a good quote, Ian understands the importance of organisational culture and staff wellbeing on running a school successfully. “Jurgen Klopp said something along the lines of ‘I’d like to work in a place that I would like to work,” says Ian.

“Culture is everything. Schools aren’t like elite teams. If you’re running the All Blacks or Liverpool Football Club, and X isn’t doing what he wants or wants to leave the team, there’s always someone else who wants that place. There’s always someone who says I want that shirt. That isn’t what it’s like in schools,” Ian explains.

“People’s lives change, they get married, have children and all those things and in a school, you are managing that as much as their professional development. Having a culture where you can be accepting of change and where people’s strengths develop and move as it progresses through their career is quite an interesting one.”

“What I appreciate now is the quality of the senior team I have around me and how they support me and how they allow me to do my job. But in the same way, I let them do their job. Without them, you can do it for so long but getting the right people around you as a leader, and the right people who disseminate that leadership to others is so important.”

So, how does Ian sum up 10 years of headship succinctly? “It’s been…interesting,” he reflects. Well then, here’s to another interesting decade of senior leadership.

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