A college at the top of the class

Whitby Community College feature''Head teacher Keith Prytherch infront of a student's painting of Einstein
Whitby Community College feature''Head teacher Keith Prytherch infront of a student's painting of Einstein

THE head teacher at Whitby Community College, Keith Prytherch freely admits that just a few years ago, students didn’t want to go to his college.

It was on the verge of being taken over because it was under performing and staff were falling out with each other.

From about 2005 for a period of three years Ofsted had branded it a “category of concern” yet Keith, originating from North Wales, saw something he could change and took the helm.

Several quick fix approaches were suggested; clear out the disruptive students and get rid of the teaching staff or take the blueprint from another successful school and apply it to Whitby.

But he shunned these and it might have taken six years for the revolution but WCC is now reaping the rewards.

An inspection in April 2008 labelled WCC “satisfactory”. Indeed that was an improvement on the one before but a year ago it was a totally different story.

Inspectors rated the college as good with some outstanding features and found improvement was continuing at “an impressive rate” .

They reserved praise for the leadership of the head teacher and his management team, quality of teaching from the 100 strong staff, student progress and behavior and attendance of the 830 pupils.

Keith said: “It is a massive, massive team effort.

“Sometimes it is embarrassing when being the head teacher you get singled out for some sort of praise, that is not right and proper.”

There is a management structure in place which may seem complex but embraces the whole school.

Middle managers, such as heads of subject meet every three weeks with the head, deputy and assistant head teacher.

They discuss issues affecting the entire school and also swap ideas and best practice which can be applied to different structures.

It is chaired by Sam Lee who is the head of science. She said: “It is the middle leaders that are taking things forward. It is not all from Keith downwards, we are going to him with ideas.”

Then there is a student leadership team made up of pupils and staff who also meet regularly. Madelaine Hann (16) and Joe Parkin (17) are two of them.

They take views from fellow students back to teachers, attend governors meeting to keep them informed about what is happening at student level and lead assemblies to pass on any necessary information.

Joe said: “I really enjoy it, it is a good way to get things done. I am constantly asking people ‘are you enjoying lessons’. I really feel like we can help.

Madelaine added: “Instead of just complaining about something we can take it to meetings and actually do something about it and see how we can positively take it forward.

“We understand how things get done and how we can change things and see the benefit.”

One of the things that has changed is the subjects on offer. In addition to the traditional academic lessons WCC has introduced more vocational courses – there is a motor vehicle workshop utilising motorbikes which have been confiscated by the police – a hairdressing and beauty suite and more emphasis is being placed on coursework.

The WCC revolution under Keith and his team is also looking to the teachers of the future. Former students who want to go into teaching are being employed as learning mentors which gives them vital practical experience.

Keith said: “It is our job to develop every single person, whether that is a member of staff or a student to the best of their ability.

“With that in mind, they may or may not want to stay here. If they move on that I right and proper for their careers but on the other side it is not easy to get good people to apply for positions in Whitby, especially in the current climate and we are rurally and coastally isolated.

“So there is something around developing our own people and involving them in what we are doing.”

It is this approach which has led to Keith being invited on to an Ofsted Headteachers’ Referral Group for the north.

“When we introduced ourselves they were all head teachers running larger schools or federations. We didn’t tick any of those boxes but I think In was there because of the position WCC were in and the way it has progressed quicker than any others school in similar circumstances.”