National Academy and Holgate’s new leaders share a vision for education in Hucknall by working together to create greater community success

Holgate Mr Neil Holmes with students
Holgate Mr Neil Holmes with students

Rivalry between Hucknall’s two comprehensive schools has been a part of the community for generations but this historical legacy could now become a thing of the past.

Back in September, both Holgate and National academies welcomed new principals to take on the leadership of the schools and it seems that both men are determined to change the future of education in the town by working more closely together than ever before to raise the level of achievement for all students across Hucknall regardless of which school they attend.

Simon Jones is now in the cockpit of National Academy and flying high following their successful Ofsted report this academic year that defined the school as ‘good with outstanding leadership and management’ putting them in a strong position for the future.

But although his position is new, Mr Jones has been part of the leadership team at the Annesley Road school since 2008. He joined the team as assistant head before becoming deputy head in 2010 and acting head in 2013 when the former principal, Dr John Edwards, took ill.

Within these various roles at the academy, he has been helping to shape the future of the school for some time but is no longer co-pilot but captain.

“It is a privilege to now be the principal of National Academy,” said Mr Jones, speaking from his corner office on the first floor overlooking the school grounds. “My previous role here was to shape the curriculum and I had a vision of where the school was going as well as a track record of planning, implementing and delivering.The governors believed in me and I had the universal support of the staff.

“It has been a challenging year as principal but very exciting and the rewards are enormous.

“Knowing I am having a positive impact on the lives of so many students is a real privilege.”

With seven years under his belt at National, it might be said that Mr Jones had an advantage over his Holgate counterpart, who has never taught at the Hillcrest Road academy. However Holgate is very familiar to Neil Holmes as he is a former student.

Mr Holmes was brought up around the corner from the comprehensive on Rockwood Walk and ‘could see the school from his bedroom window’.

He now finds himself at the helm and retracing his steps around corridors and classrooms that he first walked as a child.

“I was looking for a headship and came across the advert for Holgate and just out of curiosity came for a look around,” said the 45 year-old who was deputy head at Baysgarth in Lincolnshire at the time. “But as soon as I stepped through the door I knew I wanted to return.

“Holgate is the kind of place that grabs you and I was hooked. It seemed to me to be fate and I’m delighted to be back but this time as principal.”

His career has taken him to Humberside and the East Riding of Yorkshire but Mr Holmes says Hucknall has been transformed since his departure.

“Hucknall has always had a strong sense of community and that hasn’t changed however the town has. I left soon after the Miners’ Strike. It’s a very different place now -very vibrant.”

It’s been a baptism of fire for Mr Holmes as not only did he have to get to grips with a new role but Holgate was undergoing changes.

“I definitely hit the ground running as one day I would be telling kids to tuck in their shirts and the next overseeing the building contractors as they continued with the improvements to the learning environment.”

Whilst the two leaders have individual targets and objectives for their schools they also share many similar future plans.

Improving attendance and preparing students for their lives beyond the school grounds as well as aiming for ‘Outstanding’ at Ofsted is a priority for both.

“Attendance is vital for all students,” said Mr Jones who looks after 1,200 young people. “Students have to be here as once they are here we can teach them and do a really good job.”

With attendance at 95 per cent at National and 93 per cent at Holgate improvements have been made through various motivational schemes and improved communication with parents and students but both heads pledge to do more to raise their attendance levels even further.

Preparing for the world of work at all levels is vital in today’s economic climate and initiatives are in place to enable, support and create opportunities for all students.

“We recognise that our students have to be ready,” said Mr Holmes. “Whilst maintaining our high end aspirations we are also looking to increase our vocational provision to give everyone the best possible life chances.

“Our exam results are improving and Holgate has produced record results in recent years but there is more to education than this. We want to help form well-rounded pupils who value their place in the world and can play their part in the global community.”

Post 16 is developing at National with plans to increase provision for students not only by improving the facilities but by offering increased choices.

“Our numbers have doubled since 2008 and our aim is to keep up this trend,” said Mr Jones. “This year we have received 128 applicants who know if they work hard they will do well as our pass rate is 99 per cent.” and

From stricter uniform policies, building improvements, curriculum changes, greater communication and consultation with pupils, parents and staff,together with a shared vision for the future of education in Hucknall, both men claim their schools and their students are already reaping the rewards

“We recognise that the people in Hucknall and its students at Holgate are as good as anybody anywhere,” said Mr Holmes of his 1,000 students. “We have a pride here and as Holgate celebrates its 60th anniversary next year we will be looking back and celebrating our successes whilst looking ahead to make this school outstanding in the future.”

Mr Jones agrees and too has high hopes for Hucknall’s students with their common agenda: “We are not an exam factory. Exams are important but it’s also about helping our students to become responsible citizens and equip them with the skills they need for life. It’s an exciting time and I’m here to make a difference.”

Holgate’s improvements this year and future plans

Emphasis on English Baccalaureate (EBacc)

New science block

New catering contracts has improved school meals

Become an Outstanding school in two years

Grow provision/increase school size to accommodate housing developments

Increase vocational facilities

Improve exam results further

Increase Post 16 provision

National improvements this year and future plans

Improved clarity of policies and procedures

Careers support and transition days improved as well as introducing Yr6 transition special support

Funded research/training/development of staff and teaching methods

Continued to develop community links both at home and abroad

New catering contracts has improved school meals

Improved behaviour and inclusion

Create an on-site faith centre

Become an Outstanding school in two years

Improve attendance further

Increase Post 16 provision