Ten years ago Hodge Hill School was the worst performing secondary in Birmingham. Results were rock bottom and staff were leaving in their droves. But head teacher Marie McMahon turned the school around by going ‘back to basics’ – and was last month voted Midlands Head of the Year. Education Correspondent Kat Keogh reports.
GO into any busy head teacher’s office, and you expect to find filing cabinets stuffed with paperwork and timetables tacked to every available inch of wall space.
Marie McMahon’s office at Hodge Hill Sports and Enterprise College, however, is different.
Among the admin is an entire wall covered with pictures of smiling students proudly posing with their GCSE results, with their names and grades carefully labelled below.
But when Ms McMahon arrived at the 1,200-pupil school ten years ago, it was a very different story.
Results were rock bottom, with just nine per cent of pupils leaving the school with five or more good GCSEs.
The school – then known as Hodge Hill School – also faced a staffing crisis, with supply staff brought in to teach the majority of lessons in some subjects.
It was on the verge of going into special measures when the Scots-born teacher joined as acting head in July 2002.
The fourth head in two years, Ms McMahon was only supposed to stay for a term, but it soon became apparent Hodge Hill needed help – and fast.
“The school was in crisis in every sphere you can imagine,” she said.
“At that stage it was the worst school in the local authority by quite some margin and it was stuck.
“It had a problem retaining head teachers. Out of 70 teachers there were 16 vacancies, so about 20 per cent of lessons in my first year were taught by supply teachers.
“Not only that, but the building was collapsing – literally. Windows were falling out, it was a real decrepit building.
“But worse than the collapsing building was the collapsing self-esteem of the parents, the kids, the governors, the community.
“Everyone had lost faith.”
Ms McMahon decided to turn her one-term secondment into a full-time role after applying to become permanent head.
She said her first job was to bring a back-to-basics approach, with pupil welfare at the heart of each decision.
This included changing the curriculum to include vocational subjects alongside academic qualifications, making sure students wore the right uniform – and remembered their manners.
“Everyone had to say good morning to each other in the corridors,” said Ms McMahon.
“I wanted to create role models from day one and to this day I do gate duty every morning, and I do break and lunch duty.