They’ve Been Quinned’
When Stourport High School and Sixth Form Centre was awarded an outstanding Ofsted rating earlier this year, headteacher Liz Quinn was overwhelmed with emotion. She recalls bursting into tears at the news. The school had recently faced a challenging scenario, local reorganisation of a three-tier system into a two-tier system, which led to a significant increase in size for Stourport High School. This nearly doubled the school’s size from one school year to the next, making it a difficult task to manage. Quinn and her colleagues had to appoint 180 staff members and deal with nearly 50% new teachers and 750 new students. This was the biggest challenge that she and her colleagues had ever faced.
When the reorganization was happening, people around Quinn kept saying that everything would be fine in two or three years. However, she was more concerned about the current students in Stourport-on-Severn in Worcestershire, who numbered around 1,350. Quinn was determined to ensure that these students would not experience any emotional upheaval. The school organized additional staff, reorganized the curriculum, and made tutor groups smaller. With her leadership skills, Quinn directed everyone towards a successful outcome. It was a real leap of faith for everyone on the team. After this transition, school performance generally dips, but for Stourport High School, the January 2009 Ofsted inspection was a resounding success. Inspectors paid tribute to "the superb curriculum and the excellent academic guidance, care and support students receive throughout the school," plus Stourport high’s outstanding leadership and management.
Quinn’s colleagues describe her as terrier-like. She says, "I used to be upset when people said I was an iron fist in a velvet glove, but now I take it as a compliment." The role of a modern head, she says, is more about leadership than management. She believes that teachers can lead schools. She is prepared to challenge local authorities to ensure that the pupils in her care get the most out of their education. Her family taught her values and principles, which included making a contribution and fighting injustice. Everywhere she goes, she needs to make a difference.
Ironically, Quinn chose teaching as her profession because she had a horrible time at school. She was bored most of the time and wanted to make the experience better for others. She began her career teaching geography and found herself at a Leeds school with "tough kids." She became passionate about special educational needs and became a SENCo quickly. Quinn joined Stourport High in the mid-90s and was appointed head in 2000. This coincided with a period of national optimism when the Labour government was reinvesting in education. This was a time of reinvigoration and instilling a sense of self-belief and can-do attitude.
Stourport high’s catchment area is skewed towards lower-ability pupils, with nearly 30% of students on special needs registers. In August 2009, the school achieved its best ever GCSE results. 74% of pupils achieved five or more A*-C grades, compared with 63% in 2008, which was its previous best performance. Exclusion rates have fallen since Quinn took over, and behavior has improved. Her pupils believe that her favorite word is "resilience," and she provides mechanisms, support, and skills that lead to emotional resilience. Her role is to help students overcome problems and to provide them with the support they need to get through any situation.
Mike Humphreys, the deputy head, praises Quinn’s commitment to excellence and notes that she doesn’t compromise on standards. He describes her as rigorous and willing to challenge her students. However, he also notes that she never loses sight of the fact that every student is a person and teaches accordingly. Quinn’s open evenings are always filled to capacity, with both teachers and associate staff volunteering their time to support the school’s mission.
Humphreys highlights Quinn’s involvement in the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) project as evidence of her commitment to making a lasting impact in the community. Unlike many others involved in the initiative, Quinn is not content with merely improving upon the current structures; she wants something that will transform the educational environment and have a tangible lasting effect on the community.
Quinn’s dedication has not gone unnoticed by her pupils, who admire her passion and approachability. According to Lauren Millichip, a former pupil, Quinn is "passionate about her job," and students can feel that she genuinely cares about their success. Similarly, Lucy Fellows praises Quinn for her willingness to engage with students on a personal level, while Kirsty Elliot notes that Quinn is always available to help with any problems.
Sue Broome, a parent governor, praises Quinn’s energy and her ability to inspire people to do their best. She notes that her son even considers Quinn "cool," which is high praise coming from a teenager. Quinn’s disarming modesty is also a point of admiration; she credits the success of her school to her colleagues and feels like a fraud for winning an award.
The article closes with a list of other secondary headteachers who received RAF awards in their respective regions.