Harrogate Grammar School is having a big influence in and out of the classroom. Reporter Alex Johnston discovers how it is spreading its success over the district.
Pupils from eight schools across the district, dressed in handmade animal heads, shared the stage with internationally renowned actor Samuel West at St Wilfrid’s Church in June.
They performed composer Benjamin Britten’s opera Noye’s Fludde, on the 100th anniversary of his birth.
The brainchild of Harrogate Grammar School (HGS) Music Programme Leader Emily Segal, the performance attracted sell-out crowds, and a place in history as one of the widest-reaching community events for schoolchildren ever attempted in Harrogate.
And it was a direct result of the alliance HGS, a Teaching School, has formed with schools across the district, in a bid to open up facilities to young people.
The Red Kite Alliance is a grouping of seven secondary schools, six primary schools and one special school.
HGS Headteacher Richard Sheriff explained: “Being a Teaching School is a huge privilege and provides many additional opportunities to our staff as well as the environment that supports highly effective teaching and learning.
“The strength of our work as a Teaching School has been that it has been a partnership project working with other great local schools to get the best deal for young people whatever school they attend.
“The ideas, inspiration and challenge that comes from working in the Red Kite Alliance are a huge help in achieving our aim of ‘excellence for all.”
Cheryl Smith is headteacher of one of the alliance schools, Western, on Cold Bath Road. She said: “Being in partnership with Harrogate Grammar School allows our students to have many enrichment and cooperative opportunities; from being part of the Noye’s Fludde community production recently, to taking part in special Language and Music days alongside HGS students and other pupils from across the cluster, to being able to use the sports facilities.
“All these events are paramount in providing a dynamic, supportive learning platform for students enabling them to achieve their full potential as well as aiding the smooth transition from primary school to secondary school.
“The Alliance also offers invaluable shared professional support”.
HGS converted to academy status in March 2011. Last year saw record-breaking GCSE results, as 91 per cent achieved five or more A*-C grades, including English and Maths - the best in Harrogate.
Minister for Education David Laws hailed the results, congratulating the school on its presence in the top 100 non-selective state schools in the country.
National Leader in Education (NLE) Mr Sheriff said: “HGS has a very proud tradition of academic excellence based on the school’s former incarnation as a selective school, however we now place great emphasis on ‘excellence for all’, not just for a selected few.
“We are very proud of the consistently outstanding results our students have achieved and the fact that students of all abilities make outstanding progress.
“As an NLE I have the opportunity and privilege to work in schools in other parts of the region and always come away with ideas and information that helps feed into our school improvement plan. It also makes me reflect on just how lucky we are at HGS and how lucky I am to be the leader of what is a wonderful organization full of amazing colleagues and students and serving our town and locality so well for so long.”
He refers to initiatives for students such as the Sports Leaders, who regularly take to primary schools to increase participation and competition. They are trained to introduce pupils to new sporting activities, such as Paralympic sport boccia. The school chooses a charity to support each year, focusing efforts throughout the year on the single student-chosen cause. Last year, pupils raised an impressive £16,460 for Matugga School in Uganda.
Jim McHugh, the Chair of Governors said: “Harrogate Grammar School is constantly seeking ways to develop its delivery of high quality education and, consequently, our students can make the greatest possible progress.
“However, it can be seen through our actions that the school is also determined to do whatever it can to work corroboratively with other educational establishments for the mutual benefit of all the young people and the Harrogate community.”
The school’s focus on forming alliances with schools in the district runs in parallel with opportunities handed to its own students to branch out.
A school spokesperson said: “The school has active links with various community based programmes such as Harrogate Halos, who currently run a breakfast netball club for girls, which has led to an increase in girls joining the community club. “These community-related activities are all additional to a wide selection of extra-curricular activities on offer at the school.
“Others, such as the Enrichment programme where staff offer their skills and talents to provide pursuits from baking cupcakes to learning iMovie, take place within curriculum time.”
The senior choir recently sang with local group Vocalis and the English Touring Opera in ‘The Emperor of Atlantis’ at Harrogate Theatre, and the girls of the senior choir performed in Britten’s ‘St Nicolas’ in Leeds Town Hall alongside the Leeds Philharmonic Choral Society, Northern Festival Orchestra and GSAL.
The jazz band has represented the school at the Harrogate Competitive Music Festival and joined the senior choir and barbershop at the Harrogate International Youth festival, held at the Royal Hall.
Being handed the opportunity to perform in St Wilfrid’s with so many performers is likely to remain in the minds of the youngsters involved
for many years.
The benefits to HGS in terms of future student recruitment are clear, but forging links between schools that would not normally have cause to form an alliance reflects a community spirit present across Harrogate.
Moved by the performance, Mr Sheriff said: “The music was just fantastic. You have got what seemed like hundreds of small children from all the different schools with animal heads on, it was just a delight.
“It was Emily’s idea and her inspiration. Without her, it would not have gone anywhere.
“Benjamin Britten wrote the piece to be performed by the community, and it was an excellent way to involve the partner schools.”
He concluded: “Rather than being a school which isolates, we are a school that, we hope, makes sure kids understand and are confident about coming to secondary school. This was a community performance, and to have the courage to perform was just amazing. I am already talking to the Primary School heads about what we can do next.”
The new Year 7 students intake day takes place on Wednesday, July 10 from 9am, while an intake evening for parents runs from 7pm on the same day.
Contact 01423 531127.