The last time I stepped foot inside the grounds of Howden School I had just been awarded the “most exotic and extravagant hairstyle 2007” in our final assembly.
But I doubt I would have got away with my “Busted-inspired hairstyles” in today’s modern schooling era.
That all feels like a lifetime ago, but as I ventured back to my old stomping ground after 12 years I felt a wave of nostalgia flood over me as the iconic towering red and white blocks came into view.
The school itself hasn’t changed a lot since I first entered the gates as a wide-eyed Year 7 student in 2002. It’s “new block” building which hosts drama and music is almost 20 years old.
Despite a refurbished roof and new doors and windows, it looks exactly the same from the outside.
The only big difference is the content – 3D printers, advanced learning classes and more devoted teachers.
“Turbulent times” at the school hit rock bottom at the end of my time at the school in the summer of 2007 as things started to unravel and the once promising school ended up in special measures in 2010.
The head teacher at the time then left in the wake of the damning Ofsted inspection in July 2010, along with a lot of decent and old-school teachers who took retirement.
He was replaced by an acting head and chief executive. The head was then replaced by former Hull teacher Gary Cannon in September 2014.
Despite being modest about the transition to get Howden back to being a Good school “with elements of Outstanding”, Mr Cannon hails his teaching staff and fantastic students.
“I’m not some type of Messiah who did this turn around all by myself,” said Mr Cannon, as he beams with pride showing me around each department.
“It’s the teaching staff and the pupils who have bought into what we are doing here that made it happen.”
I notice immediately that the school has had a change of character, and the pupils are not bursting for the bell to ring a the end of the day.
When the school day finishes, a lot of students are given the opportunity to attend extra classes and use a night bus to get home safely.
Mr Cannon said getting out of special measures was not just a box ticking exercise, but instead it was a way of thinking and about building a strong ethos.
Speaking about the affect of ‘special measures’, Mr Cannon said: “People fall out of love with the school, after the students and then the parents. Then it’s the community that follows. It’s hard to get a school back from that point.
“How do you get 38 teachers behind you, that’s what is the hardest task in a way. Some teachers can’t handle the pressure of special measures and it takes real diamonds, those hard working, persevering teachers to get you out of it.
“The way we did it was to create an ethos of working together for the same cause – the students – and we called it Team Howden.”
The school managed to dig their way out of the hole they found themselves in and turn it around.
Mr Cannon adds: “It was one of the quickest ways any school got out of it – I think in history.”
It was eight years prior to that when my old head teacher had turned the school around and his “firm but fair” attitude paid dividends in the way that the school carried itself. However, after he left, the school lost its way
When the school was placed in special measures it had a long-standing, devastating impact on the Howden community. With the town’s pride shot, it was always going to be an uphill task to turn it around.
Many students, admits Mr Cannon, were “too far gone” at the stage where they had been let down for three years before the overhaul and were left to fizzle out – and “not given a fighting chance”.
Mr Cannon says he had the biggest connection to the classes he taught entering the school in September 2010 and he felt a duty to those Year 7 students to make sure they had the best possible education available to them.
VIEW OUR GALLERY: Hull Live Reporter Tom Kershaw returns to Howden School
“Now, parents actually want to send their children here, teachers want to teach here,” he said. He points at a teacher who we meet in one of the classrooms during our 90 minute tour of the school.
“Mrs Rowe was my Neymar signing of the season this term, fantastic signing,” Mr Cannon said.
It seems clear that Mr Cannon loves the school and is passionate about it – almost as much as me when I roamed these corridors. We talk about the balance between sporting talents at the school who side line their education for their on-field exploits.
He tells me that pursuing excellence through sport is one of the key ways they in still the pursuit of excellence into students. In spite of this Mr Cannon has never had a footballer make it professionally at the schools he taught at.
However, I’m quick to point out that if he had taught at Brayton Academy in Selby, during the time he was instead at Selby High School, he would have met a young Hull City starlet called Tom Cairney, who would eventually go on to become Fulham FC’s captain.
Nottingham Forest fan Mr Cannon tells me: “Nigel Clough had three A grade A levels because he always knew if football didn’t work out there was something he could fall back on.”
Despite being aggrieved at hearing the name Clough as a Leeds United fan, he does have a point.
I was in a similar boat when I was at school, I wanted to be the next Alex Turner from the band The Arctic Monkeys. My band had just appeared on a music competition show on the BBC and I didn’t really care about my education.
My teachers would pull me to a side and tell me to calm down and work hard so I had something to fall back on.
I knew it was important because we were told every day, but I didn’t know at that point how much schooling shapes the rest of your life.
I won’t be the first person to point out that no one likes being a mature student or attending night classes when you’re late 30s and 40s because you messed about in class.
My predicted GCSE marks, which included Gs, Fs and Es in my ‘strong subjects’, was a shock to my system. It made me start to really knuckle down at the start of Year 11 and pull all focus away from my band, quit my football team and start putting every waking moment into course work and begin blitzing revision.
I managed to turn it around with As, Bs and Cs. I’m told by Mr Cannon that if I had pulled off the unthinkable in today’s grading world that I would have seen as doing better than getting high 8s and 9s because a lot rides on your predicted targets.
I’m quick to point out to my old Maths teacher who I saw down the corridor that I did achieve a B in Maths. She says she remembers, but was quick to point out some of my classmates didn’t make the cut.
There is never much of legacy to leave behind at schools, an etching across your desk, some remains of stagnant chewing gum, but mainly it’s the playground stories and the memories that pad out the small talk in bars of weddings, and sadly, funerals in the years that follow.
Being a journalist, I hear of David and Goliath stories all the time, but it’s this little school’s journey that has really had a touching impact on the town and its surrounding villages.
This is in despite of it needing to be dragged from the depths thanks to its relentless, hard-working teachers, those stalwarts described by Mr Cannon as “diamonds”.
It just so happened that those diamonds he speaks of paved the way for myself 17 years ago to grow as a person – and are actually still at the school who have had to deal with the stress and tension of being scrutinised by the inspectors between 2010 and 2011.
Mr Cannon adds: “What we endeavour to do at Howden School is to build those young people who will leave school and go out and make a contribution to society.”
The big difference I see with Howden School is the fact their Year 10 and Year 11 students are treated more like adults. They have their own segregated cafe and chill out areas in what used to be the old Youth Club centre.
I found that when speaking to the GCSE-bound students that they give a lot more respect to the staff in return for their heightened status within the school. For example, they aren’t racing around the school like the excitable Year 7s.
The uniform has only changed slightly with the Key Stage 4 students allowed to have personalised maroon-coloured hooded tops and the once green PE kit was only changed in 2017 to Maroon, all of which was designed by the students.
I find the school has modernised it’s curriculum and its technology and art department even have the use 3D printers and laser cutters to produce student’s work.
But in other areas of the school such as the English class I attended, I still found the curriculum was circulating around the traditional stalwarts of Romeo and Juliet. I tell the students that they should wait until they get to college and they start studying Dr Faustus at A-level.
After attending a Year 7 art class I realise that there are so many children that are talented enough to go on and do great things in the future. It’s fantastic that the school pushes these talents by coming up with commissions to create their long-lasting stamp on the school.
Mr Cannon informed me that every student last year has gone onto college, employment or apprenticeship.
The school still has improvements in the pipeline and are working on a new project to learn mandarin in the classrooms of the future which sounds very exciting.
The school in September 2017, and became an Academy and joined The Consortium Academy Trust, working with a group of like minded local schools who put the students at the heart of everything they do.
Despite the school’s small catchment area, its football teams are excelling and pupils with more niche sports are being pushed through their education to compete at a national level.
I have no worries that the school is a fantastic asset to the community and I’m eager to return in the future to see how my old school is getting on. Surely an “Outstanding” Ofsted grading is not too far away.
Follow all the latest news by Tom Kershaw
Tom Kershaw is a reporter for Hull Live and the Hull Daily Mail. He is currently covering breaking news in Hull and East Yorkshire.
You can also call him on 01482 315266, or email him: [email protected]
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