To showcase the excellent work of free school leaders across the country, NSN has conducted a series of interviews with leaders of recently opened free schools to hear how they’ve implemented their vision and confronted the challenges of opening a new school.
We recently spoke to Vicky Mummery, headteacher at Hatchside School, a special school in Redbridge. The school serves children aged 2-7 years with a range of special educational needs and has a focus on assessment and early intervention. Hatchside School opened in April 2021, as a part of Astrum Multi Academy Trust.
Tell us about the original idea behind the school?
“The school came from Redbridge local authority’s SEND review, which identified a need for a school for young children with complex needs. They predicted that there would be a growing trend in the borough. The rationale for the school was early assessment and early intervention, so that children could receive support as early as possible. The idea was that children would come here until Year 2, and then we would try to support them longer term as they transition out of the school.
We see a lot of movement in Key Stage 1 for young children with needs, because it becomes apparent that they find the increased formality of their learning more challenging, so the idea is that they stay with us while we identify whether they would thrive in a mainstream school, or would need more specialist support.”
What is unique about the school?
“The school is unique because it’s small, and for ages 2-7. When the school is full, we’ll have 16 assessment places, which are young children coming here because they are finding it difficult to have their needs assessed in a mainstream setting. These children are embedded within the school and they will have a particular holistic assessment, done by the school staff.”
What has been your biggest challenge so far and what steps have you taken to overcome it?
“It was a challenge to recruit teachers. This was particularly challenging in a new school because teachers rely on Ofsted grades and word of mouth. As a new school you are unknown, even if you are a part of a trust. We’ve had to recruit in different ways; recruiting some teachers from within the trust and developing our own in-house.
Staffing, in general, is a challenge, and I would advise new free school heads to keep getting out there and keep trying to promote your school.”
What steps have you taken to develop the school’s identity?
“This has been challenging because of the pandemic. One of first things we did was to hold a trust recruitment fair online. We had 70 people attend, which was good because it is a small trust. We had been out there promoting ourselves through our families and through the local authority. Some of this consisted of myself and my deputy going out there, talking to people, going to conferences and making sure we were present.”
How do you define success at Hatchside School?
“Success is about how the children progress, and also the staff. This can’t focus all on academic items. It is partly about making sure they can maximise their academic outcomes, but it’s also about making progress towards their EHCP.”
What inspired you to lead a completely new school?
“I have an Executive Head, so I was partly drawn to the idea of leading a new school where I could bring my own ideas, but I also knew I had someone with experience to support me. I knew that I was working with a really established trust with experienced staff. I just thought, when else are you going to have that opportunity. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I knew it was going to be hard work, but creating something brand new is very special.”
What advice would you give to other free school leaders who are preparing for their first term of opening?
“Have a plan but recognise you’ll have to be really flexible. What I thought was going to happen and what has happened have been really different. Be patient, have faith in what you’re doing and it will come.”
What would you like to achieve in the next 3 years?
“I would like all our children to make progress and I’d like to support them to attend the right school in the long term. I’d like to make sure staff are reaching their full potential. I want our vision to come alive and I want that to be validated by Ofsted. So it’s about the children achieving, staff achieving and the school being recognised for that by a formal platform.”
We’d like to thank NSN Hub member Vicky Mummery for taking part in this interview, and telling us about the rewarding and challenging aspects of opening a free school. The NSN Hub brings free school leaders together to learn, support and inspire one another. It provides a space to connect and find solutions to the issues which come up from running a new school. If you are a free school leader and would be interested in joining, would like to contribute or if you have any questions, please get in contact here.