At the helm of ‘school on a mission’

Headteacher of Boston Spa  School, Chris Walsh.
Headteacher of Boston Spa School, Chris Walsh.

Chris Walsh, who has been headteacher at Boston Spa school for the last five years, is clearly not a man to rest on his laurels.

With a surprise Ofsted inspection and a legal challenge in the wake of the English GCSE exams scandal, he could be forgiven for feeling a little challenged this year.

The school has seen its GCSE pass rate leap from 54 per cent to 96 per cent at 5 grades A* to C in just four years.

He said: “Our school is a school on a mission.

“When I first came here our mission statement was ‘A path to the future for all’ but the school was not achieving in the way it should have been.

“Every child matters to me here.

“We want children to leave Boston Spa matching or exceeding those schools that they would attend anywhere else.”

The larger than average school, which has 1.500 pupils and 100 teachers, celebrated 10 years as a specialist Sports College in January 2011.

To illustrate its athletic status a statue based on Olympic gold medallist runner Usain Bolt has been installed outside the entrance to the school.

It is the work of Jenny Barber, an ex-student, who wanted to design a piece that described achievement, success, momentum and celebration.

The headteacher explains that the sculpture is dressed up each week in a different set of clothes and accessories.

While I am visiting, the school is getting ready for Breast Cancer Awareness day, when the sculpture will be dressed in pink.

Mr Walsh said: “It is a brilliant piece of work serving as a great celebration for our school community, and recognition of our first decade as a Sports College, but it also acts as an inspiration to all our young artists coming through our school.”

Like neighbouring Wetherby High School, Boston Spa School has a large catchment area, taking in children from areas across North and East Leeds.

Mr Walsh says he is in favour of giving pupils more choice in what they choose to study at an early age, with pupils at the school sitting two GCSEs before entering Year 10 – the traditional start of GCSE exams in the national curriculum.

He said: “I think it empowers children to choose their curriculum at an early age which helps shape their planning.”

The school also offers a range of extracurricular activities for children including a film club, debating club and a school reporters’ club.

Mr Walsh says he expects respect from his pupils, admitting that some are slightly scared of him, but says the children are in a good learning environment.

“Parents give us their child at 11 and it is an unwritten contract until they are 18 that when they come out they will be ready to go to university, young adults in their community and have achieved academically.”

“In school we have three mantras, which are that everyone will be treated with respect, everyone is going to make progress, and no one will steal another’s learning.”

The last rule, he explains, means that pupils are not allowed to distract others during lessons.

Outside of work, the 50-year-old father-of-two, who gets up every day at 5.30am, has more relaxing interests as a keen wildlife and bird photographer but admits juggling the roles of dad and headteacher can be a challenge.

“I work very hard at being a headteacher in school and being a dad at home.

“I try and make sure I am home three times a week to eat an evening meal with my family.”

Last year’s Ofsted report which rated the school as ‘good’ overall stated that the school “made good progress in the majority of lessons” with students having a “very positive attitude to learning.”

And as for the main issue of the day, Mr Walsh tells me it is computer problems.

“The only thing that is not improving at Boston Spa School is the internet connection.”