Interview with: Ken Heaton, headteacher at Florence Melly Community Primary School

Educate catches up with Ken Heaton, headteacher at Florence Melly Community Primary School, to discuss working with the city’s two biggest football clubs, a diverse career in teaching and going back to his roots.

Educate catches up with Ken Heaton, headteacher at Florence Melly Community Primary School, to discuss working with the city’s two biggest football clubs, a diverse career in teaching and going back to his roots.

By Lawrence Saunders

By Lawrence Saunders Florence Melly Community Primary School on Walton’s Bushey Road was founded in 1927 by Florence Elizabeth Melly – a woman who devoted her life to serving education in Liverpool.

Thirty-three or so years later, a local lad who’s life would share a similar dedication, started in the school’s reception class.

It’s doubtful that Ken Heaton could have foreseen his life would lead back to the place where it all began, but that’s exactly what happened in the autumn of 2015.

Like many Florence Melly pupils, Ken attended Alsop High School en route to university in Kent where he would complete his PGCE.

A series of teaching posts in schools across the south followed, before Ken upped sticks again to undertake his first headteacher position in Cumbria.

After seven years back up north, Ken returned to Liverpool as an inspector of primary schools for the Liverpool Education Authority (LEA), alongside a similar role at Ofsted.

During this time in his career, Ken sat on a government committee for education centres and helped set up a hugely successful facility at Liverpool Football Club.

‘Reducate’ was located in Anfield’s Kop stand for 11 years and helped thousands of local children learn with enjoyable educational programmes.

No partisan, Ken was instrumental in establishing Everton Football Club’s study support centre, ‘Extra Time’, where local pupils could go after school for an alternative learning experience.

At the LEA, Ken was a learning network director for Toxteth and Everton, and then for a number of years he was a qualified school improvement partner.

“I’ve worked with a heck of a lot of primary schools in Liverpool!,” says Ken. “If a school went into trouble, they’d send me in to get it back on its feet.”

Throughout his various tenures however, in his heart Ken still remained a headteacher, and so when the chance came up to return to his childhood primary school in 2015, he jumped at the chance.

“The job here at Florence Melly came up when the school had dropped into ‘requires improvement’,” he explains. “I thought ‘God, I went to that school as a child and here’s a chance to put something back’. So I applied, got interviewed and got the job. It was a dream come true!

“Like many of Ken’s previous positions, being headteacher of Florence Melly has been a challenging journey, but it has paid off with the school leaping from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘outstanding’ in its newest Ofsted report.

“It’s hard for schools to jump from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’, but to jump from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘outstanding’ – you don’t get many in the country doing that,” says Ken.

Following an inspection in February 2017, Ken himself judged the school as ‘requires improvement’, but by the summer test results were above national averages and he was confident an ‘outstanding’ rating was merited.

Fast forward to July 2019 and with that ‘outstanding’ rating in the bag, Ken explains how the astonishing transformation was achieved. “Everything is about raising the bar, high expectations and collective accountability,” he says.

Ken initiated ‘Spotlight on Learning’, where, alongside himself, teachers observe each other’s classes and look to build on strengths, rather than criticise weaknesses.

Supporting staff has been a big factor in Florence Melly’s resurgence, with teachers given a day off to write their reports at home – away from the distractions of school.

Meanwhile, Ken recently used his contacts to organise an afternoon of BBQ and drinks for staff on The Shankly Hotel’s roof terrace to mark the end of term and celebrate the wonderful Ofsted report.

Making the the most of his business connections and ensuring a tight funding budget goes as far as it can go is a key part of Ken’s strategy for school improvement.

“Any company [we work with] I exploit and say ‘right, we want something back from you’ – that is then spent on the children and the staff,” he says.

“Our finance woman is superb. If you’ve got someone like that who is ruthlessly protective of the children’s money then you get value for money.

“I think [having a member of staff] like that is going to be more and more needed with cuts to school funding.”

The effectiveness of Ken’s commitment to creating a supportive environment was illustrated when Ofsted reported that 49 of the 50 school staff said that they “love working at Florence Melly” – Ken jokes that he was the one unhappy employee.

It’s not just the staff who have received increased support since Ken came in. One of his key challenges on his appointment was to significantly raise attainment in Year 6, something he has achieved in part by the hiring of a third Year 6 teacher.

It’s clear that the move, amongst others, has paid dividends, with the latest Ofsted report noting that “from generally low starting points on entry to early years, pupils make outstanding progress by the end of Year 6”.

Inspectors also highlighted how much pupils love learning, describing the classrooms as “exciting places to be at Florence Melly”.

But there’s no chance Ken is going take his foot off the gas after all the positive feedback – he’s determined to see the school retain its exemplary ‘outstanding’ rating.

In 2007 there were 37 Liverpool primary schools classed as ‘outstanding’ but many of them failed to retain their grade when retested – something Ken is adamant won’t happen at Florence Melly.

“We will not let that happen,” he says. “We are working our socks off and we will up it a gear now.

“If we’ve been in fifth gear then we’ll go into sixth gear because we don’t want that to happen to our children and our school.”

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