AHEAD OF THE LEARNING CURVE

Jackie-Powell
When 100% of your school students graduate and get a place at university, you know you’re doing something right.

Perry Beeches – who have 2 academy schools in Birmingham City Centre, one in the JQ and one in Park Central – has made quite a name for itself since opening its first school in 2007. With a very smart uniform for students and a code of basic respect, its winning team of Headmaster Liam Nolan and Deputy Jackie Powell has created a family of schools that have taken the world of secondary education by storm.

We caught up with Jackie Powell, who has been with Perry Beeches for entire teaching career since 1993. We asked her what was the magic formula that has made Perry Beeches so successful.  “Our focus is on our students and on standards, making young people confident and take their place in society”. There was no hesitation in her reply and it seems giving children an eye on their place in the world, rather than simply turning up and taking tests, might just produce results.

One of the things that first struck us when looking at the Perry Beeches website, was a banner on the front page announcing their upcoming LGBT week. Clearly there is modern thinking at work and Jackie is clear that “We won’t accept any inequalities around race, gender or sexuality”.  So LGBT week is simply one of a number of celebrations at the school, from black culture to Diwali to Christmas. “We recognize everyone and celebrate their culture. Recognising someone’s worth is not complex.”

The celebratory weeks include special assemblies led by students and guest speakers who discuss experiences and prejudices. Liam Nolan is an openly out gay headmaster. Jackie and Liam are verbal exponents of “open and honest transparent conversations” with and among pupils and are of the view that “There’s nothing to be scared of and it’s absolutely important; homophobic bullying is part of life”. Throughout the year, students will still find around the school info about whatever weeks have taken place.

As an academy school, Perry Beeches receives direct funding from the government and this has allowed them to open in underserved areas where previous local authority cuts have closed down schools – the Jewellery Quarter has been without a secondary school since the 1980s. That’s now having an effect on the demographic of the Jewellery Quarter, with families no longer needing to move away when their children are old enough to start school, and it’s changing the types of property that are now being built there, with family houses now recognised as viable properties for developers to deliver.

Becoming part of whatever community they open a school in has been a large priority for Jackie and Liam, with an understanding of the concerns that residents and local businesses may have when a secondary school suddenly brings hundreds of teenagers into an area. And so cake mornings were the order of the day to set any worried minds at ease. This followed through to the school’s annual awards ceremony, held at St Paul’s Church and where they also put on carol concert with around 500 people attending.

Although non-selective, the results, reputation and current “Ofsted outstanding“ status of Perry Beeches have meant the school has had to reduce its catchment area from a radius of 2km, down to 0.7. Now the school is focusing on getting its students back to Birmingham after university to keep their talents within the city. “We want them to be a shining light in Birmingham” says Jackie.

And they probably will be.