Executive principal Martin Campbell on progress at North Cambridge Academy
Secondary school's preliminary results show it is helping students to exceed expectations
Cambridge North Academy has come a long way in its five-year history.
It has moved into a new building, transformed its curriculum and helped its pupils achieve significant progress.
And it’s this word – progress – that is on executive principal Martin Campbell’s lips when the Cambridge Independent visits.
For when school performance tables are published soon, it is the measure of pupils’ progression that will make for interesting reading at the academy, which was created from The Manor School in 2013.
“I think it’s a pretty remarkable journey from where we started,” says Mr Campbell. “We have every reason to believe, once finalised league tables are produced, that we will have a very, very good set of ‘Progress’ measures – I might use the word outstanding.
“This is the added value that a school gives to a child. This added value manifests itself in the score a child gets in English, maths and the other subjects that they choose.
“When the measure is validated, we hope that it will show the highest Progress score in the history of North Cambridge Academy.
“This group was the school’s first full five-year cohort, so we’re particularly pleased that we added more value to their education.
“Ofsted are due to visit again this year and I think they will be particularly pleased about the progress made by all pupils .”
You need to be something of an accomplished mathematician to grasp the intricacies of the government’s Progress 8 measure.
But it is based on how a pupil progresses from Key Stage 2, at about the age of 11, to Key Stage 4, when 16-year-olds take their GCSEs. A score of 0 means a pupil has performed in line with others who had a similar starting point.
“Our estimated figure will be +0.37,” predicted Mr Campbell. “Last year’s figure, which put us in the top 30 per cent schools nationally, was +0.28. English, maths and the English baccalaureate subjects should all be positive, which emphasises that there was across the board progress.”
The Progress score is important because, viewed in isolation, the attainment figures for this year’s GCSE pupils may raise questions.
About 45 per cent achieved grade 4 (the equivalent of the old grade C) or above in English and maths, down from 61 per cent last year, and well below the national average.
“The 2013 cohort that we inherited from the predecessor school, The Manor, was a very challenging group in the sense that at primary school they did not achieve what they should have achieved in many, but not all, cases. There were of course some exceptions and we had some very high-ability children in the cohort.
“We believe our Progress score this year will show we added, on average, four grades over the 10 subjects they took. In other words they achieved four grades higher than they would have in a nationally average school,” says Mr Campbell.
It is the school’s broad, experience-based curriculum and extra-curricular activities that he points to as the catalyst for this progression.
“I don’t think there is a silver bullet,” he says. “If you look at it as a pie chart, it’s a little different for each child. We try to do many different activities to create a well-rounded individual who is confident, resilient and has the skills to manage an ever-increasing workload academically, and cope in a more complex world. We give every opportunity for that person to experience difference.
“If they don’t go to the theatre, we’ll take them to the theatre.
“If they want to experience leadership, we have a number of ambassador programmes together with leadership development programmes across all year groups. We work with Fitzwilliam Museum and Kettle’s Yard, who are partners in many cultural activities.
“If they don’t know what the experience of work looks like, we give them a week’s work experience in Year 10 but before that they have a whole package of interviews and mentoring with business leaders using Form the Future.”
The school also has strategic partners, offering mentorship and support, along with work experience opportunities: accountancy firm Grant Thornton, chip maker Arm, Wood Green Animal Shelter and Wates the construction firm.
“We also have children spending longer in the school day in terms of after-school activities. Our children do extra lessons, we run free Saturday schools in art, photography, dance last year and football this year,” adds Mr Campbell.
“All of those things put together over a five-year period create the resilience, skills and confidence needed. That’s what unique about us. The moral imperative here for teachers to spend weekends, holidays and after-school making sure the children achieve as much as they can pays out in these Progress results.”
These external links reach into the sporting world too. The school is a Norwich City football hub, has new £250,000 tennis courts supported by Cambridgeshire Tennis and the city council, a partnership with Anglia Ruskin University through a Dojo judo centre, and a £250,000 gymnastics centre for the school and community.
“The longer you spend in structured activity the more benefit you get,” says Mr Campbell.
“It’s a community school and therefore we are open 364 days a year and we try to get children to attend as much as possible through offering different activities, clubs, programmes and trips.”
North Cambridge Academy has room to grow in its new building.
“The school was built for 700 and we moved in two years ago. We have 450 and we expect to grow by at least 50 pupils year on year. But we will still be the smallest secondary school in Cambridge,” says Mr Campbell.
As it grows, he hopes to ensure the school has broad appeal.
“I’m not blind to the perception of North Cambridge Academy that it has traditionally served an area of Cambridge that is believed to be under-privileged,” says Mr Campbell. “However, there are very few people who haven’t changed their view after I’ve given them a tour. Our curriculum is broad, balanced and we focus on the whole child, not just their academic ability.”
The broad experience on offer perhaps reflects its principal’s own intriguing background.
A former soldier in the Scots Guards, with tours in Northern Ireland and in the Falklands during the conflict in 1982, he also has experience as a croupier in London, a wind surfer and canoeing instructor and a manager of hotels in Savoie, France, in addition to roles as head of English and vice principal for Parkside Federation and principal of Kettering Science Academy.
He offers three key reasons why parents would choose the school.
“I would say North Cambridge Academy gives a unique experience where we focus on the whole child’s academic, sporting and cultural abilities,” he says. “We try to provide as much activity to create a well-rounded child.
“Secondly, in terms of the progress of your child, this is a very small school. We know every child well and ensure that pastoral care is the best it can be for every child.
“The third reason is we have a broad range of children from a broad range of backgrounds. In fact we have 27 different languages spoken at NCA. We are truly multi-cultural.”
Mr Campbell is often asked how the school can help high achievers.
“North Cambridge Academy is not an academy in isolation,” he points out. “It is part of Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust. We have six schools, from Stamford in the north to us in the south. We are 15 minutes from Swavesey Village College. The schools work in partnerships and share resources, the most important of which is staff.
“They share the director of maths as well as the director of science and PE. Other staff work across both schools for the betterment of pupils on both sites. It is very much an integrated model to ensure high standards for all.”