New Mangotsfiled headteacher interview
Hetty Blackmore has become the first woman headteacher at Mangotsfield School. She tells the Voice about her plans for the future
How long have you been at Mangotsfield?
I taught my first lesson here as a newly qualified English teacher in 2002 and worked here for a number of years before marriage, children and a move to Chipping Sodbury School. It was a joy to return to Mangotsfield 18 months ago as deputy head and when the opportunity arose to apply for the permanent post of headteacher I had to go for it!
So you have happy memories of the school?
I love this school. I was Miss Tabor back then and I taught English and media studies and ran two World Challenge expeditions, to Botswana and Zambia in 2006 and to India in 2008. I am still in touch with some of the first tutor group I saw through the school. They are in their late 20s now and some of them have become teachers, which is lovely.
What do you see as the current strengths of Mangotsfield School?
It is a very calm place for learning. Behaviour is good. Our Ready to Learn system works so well now that the numbers of students having to leave lessons has halved from a year ago. Our support for vulnerable students is also recognised as very strong.
Will you be making lots of changes?
No! I have taken over halfway through the academic year and I am continuing with The Mangotsfield Way, which we launched in September. One of my reasons for wanting the job was that I knew the school was on the right track and I wanted to drive it forward.
Tell us more about the Mangotsfield Way
It is our school vision. We want our students to Love Learning, Embrace Challenge and Show Respect and we are all working together to create a strong community. Our staff team are committed to delivering an ambitious, culturally broad and knowledge rich curriculum, and to meeting the needs of individuals.
How do you bring learning to life for students?
I always want learning to be as exciting and engaging as possible, both inside and outside the classroom. Recently, we had a Holocaust survivor in to speak to students. Another highlight was a Greek myths day for the whole of Year 9 (see photo on page 24) , while a group have been ski-ing in Andorra.
Mangotsfield has never received a Good report from Ofsted and exam results are below average. How will you tackle this?
Our data is disappointing, there’s no denying that, but we have a clear picture of what we have to do. Like many schools, we are returning to a two-year GCSE programme to ensure students in their first three years with us receive the breadth of curriculum they are entitled to. We will decrease the number of GCSEs that students sit.
Mangotsfield recently closed its sixth form. What's your feeling about that?
There is sadness about the loss of the sixth form, of course, but we are fortunate in having a close partnership with Downend School, whose Post 16 centre with excellent teaching and a record of success, is only a mile away. The change allows us to really concentrate on our delivery of the curriculum for our 11-16 students.
Many readers remember Mangotsfield featuring - not always in a positive light - in the BBC TV series School in 2018. How do you feel about that?
It’s important to realise that the show was filmed more than two years ago. The school has continued on a dramatic journey of improvement ever since and is now in great shape. Anyone who would like to see for themselves the reality of life at Mangotsfield in 2020 is welcome to contact me to arrange a visit.
What support do you have for continuing that improvement journey?
Being part of CSET - Castle School Education Trust - is a great help. I work closely with the three other secondary headteachers (of Downend, Marlwood and Castle), the CEO Will Roberts and his team, and our governors, including our experienced chair Ann Duff. The trust is appointing a director of education and the school is recruiting two deputy heads.
Is there help beyond the trust?
Government funding is enabling me to have support from Dave Baker, CEO of Olympus Trust and a National Leader of Education. South Gloucestershire secondary schools, which most people now know are poorly funded compared with the rest of the country, are working hard to improve their performance. I have always believed in being outward facing; I previously worked as an Advanced Skills Teacher, which took me into other schools for extended spells.
How will you develop the school’s relationships with parents, neighbours and the wider community?
Last year’s high-profile fundraising project, Mango 50, had the benefit of increasing parental engagement and we are very grateful to our Friends of Mangotsfield School, who support us in many ways. We have plans for engaging with business and community groups locally and are also keen for our students to go out into Bristol and beyond to take advantage of the many opportunities available to them.
What role do students play in building community at Mangotsfield School?
There is no stopping them! Students have trained as Anti Bullying Ambassadors and Wellbeing Buddies and have supported the Resound foodbank. Our Eco Team is particularly proactive; they have presented assemblies, sold wax wrap, worked to reduce single-use plastic on site and they have plans to create a bee-friendly garden on site.
How do you see the school’s future?
It’s looking promising! We have 74 teaching staff and 38 support staff dedicated to taking this truly comprehensive school into the 2020s. We are building strong relationships ; I am always out and about around school - I even have a pink hi-vis jacket given to me by students.
We have about 1060 on our roll at present and our numbers are growing. Offers go out this month to prospective Year 7 students for September and we look forward to getting to know them and their families.
Finally, this is a big job you have taken on. How do you switch off from the pressures of the role?
My husband is also a teacher and we have two children, aged eight and ten, so I spend a lot of my ‘free’ time running round after them. We have a 1985 camper van and enjoy
and enjoy camping in West Wales and Devon. I run, do yoga and read - lots! I am an English teacher after all.