GUEST COLUMN: Big plans to ensure success at Shirebrook Academy, by new principal Mark Cottingham

Mark Cottingham
Mark Cottingham

There is no doubt that, as the new principal of Shirebrook Academy, I have big shoes to fill.

My predecessor, Julie Bloor, did a tremendous job transforming the school during her five years here, leaving it in rude health with an outstanding rating from Ofsted and a purpose-built £27m building to call home.

Achieving that kind of success is extremely difficult and it was earned, in part, to Julie’s commitment to working in partnership with parents and local residents, which has established the Academy as a community school in every sense of the word.

That is what attracted me here. Pupils can only thrive when school and parents work together and our school is somewhere the whole town is proud of, with local people visiting her regularly to take part in sport and leisure activities.

I also encouraged community involvement at my last school, da Vinci Community School in Derby, which bears many similarities to Shirebrook Academy, especially since it too serves a community which experiences pockets of social deprivation.

Shirebrook Academy is slightly larger – it has 750 pupils compared to 600 – it has more floor space, more facilities, bigger playing fields and a Sixth Form. It is also a Teaching School, which means that we train student teachers, host learning visits from staff from other schools and send our staff elsewhere to offer school-to-school support.

I already feel very at home in Shirebrook, because, living in Sheffield, I know a lot about the town and have worked in schools in ex-mining communities before, in Barnsley and Doncaster.

I can also relate to the pupils, having grown up on a council estate. I was the first person in my family to go to university, an experience which has taught me the value of encouraging young people to explore the wider world in order that they have high aspirations and the widest possible range of options when they come to choose a career.

School plays a vital role in this, as well as fostering self-confidence and pride, and I want to continue the work that the Academy already does in this area. I also have a few ideas I want to introduce, including the Shirebrook Stars, an eight-point etiquette guide that reinforces our values and rewards good learning habits and attitudes.

I plan to increase the stock of books in the library and appoint a full-time librarian, I want to see how else we can use the space in our wonderful atrium and I am also keen to promote sport.

In the shorter term, we need to review our GCSE results because, in contrast to recent years when results have been consistently strong, the overall figure was disappointing this year, partly due to issues surrounding the marking of our English coursework, something that affected many other schools too.

The motto of Shirebrook Academy is Your Learning, Your Future. I want to make sure that our students take that to heart and understand that no matter who they are, they have it in them to achieve – and our school has already shown that it can be done.