Free school story: Reach Academy Feltham

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Reach Academy was set up by a group of teachers who wanted to transform opportunities for children living in an area of high child poverty.

The school has been open since 2012 and was the first all-through free school to be judged ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.

When they set out to create a new school, Reach Academy’s founders, Ed Vainker, Rebecca Cramer - now the Principal and Head of Secondary respectively – and Jon McIntosh, had a clear mission: to provide all pupils with the skills, attitudes and academic qualifications to flourish and live happy and fulfilled lives.

In practical terms, this means that the school aims to ensure that all children, regardless of their starting point, achieve the grades that would allow them to access a top university.

To deliver this ambitious goal, the school has a number of unique features. First, it is one of a growing number of all-through free schools which hope to offer continuous education from Reception all the way through to Year 13, avoiding disruptive transitions. The school also offers an extended school day giving more timetabled time for learning. The school is  smaller than average, with only 60 pupils in each year, ensuring that all pupils benefit from strong personal relationships. Finally, the curriculum at the school is planned backwards from what it takes to achieve top grades at A-Level so that pupils, staff and parents know exactly what progress they need to make each year. This means, for example, that pupils in the early years of the secondary school do almost twice as much English and Maths as children in other schools, so that their literacy and numeracy skills are as strong as possible.

But the school is not only about academic achievement: for Reach, this is only one ingredient in what it takes for young people to be successful. As a result, staff focus not just on the academic progress pupils are making towards but also on the character traits and social skills they will need to excel later in life. In practice, this means that the school’s behaviour system is based around five values – which all pupils are encouraged to demonstrate. This focus also extends to lunchtimes, where all pupils eat with staff in small ‘families’ to help them develop stronger relationships. All the food at the school is prepared on-site, and was recently praised by restaurateur Henry Dimbleby (founder of Leon) and London Mayor Boris Johnson who described his meal as, “the best school lunch I’ve ever had”.

Just as with its pupils, the school has high expectations of its staff. This includes volunteering at holidays and weekends to offer pupils enrichment opportunities, being available on the phone in the evenings to speak to parents and children about their homework and even allowing the children to call them by their first names!

The school is clearly proud of its dynamic staff, who work tirelessly to deliver the school’s vision and develop good relationships with the children. The average age of teachers at Reach is 28, something which fascinated a journalist from The Times during a recent visit, and all but two of the teachers came to teaching through the Teach First programme – which places high flying graduates into schools in challenging circumstances.