Headteacher at country’s largest secondary school says it brings challenges and opportunities

Headteacher of Ashfield School Richard Vasey
Headteacher of Ashfield School Richard Vasey

The growth of Ashfield School’s sixth form has led to it being named as the largest secondary school in the country once again.

There are currently 2,570 students on its role, along with 187 teachers and 130 support staff.

The recent growth is mainly down to the expansion of the school’s Post 16 Centre, which has seen an increase in student numbers from 200 to 670.

But headteacher Dick Vasey said that although there are challenges associated with being such a big school, it also brings opportunities.

“The challenges for me are the two Cs,” he said.

“Communication can be challenge in such a large organisation and that’s something I would include internally between staff and communication with so many parents and getting that right.

“That’s a challenge we have been aware of and have been trying to improve over the last four or five years.”

“The other C is consistency,” he said.

“In such a large organisation, ensuring that everyone acts and behaves in the same way in terms of school procedures and policies has been a challenge but we have worked hard to ensure we are consistent in that practice.”

Of the many advantages and opportunities that being a big school brings, Mr Vasey pointed to flexibility being one of the main ones.

“Flexibility in terms of finance,” he said, “as the vast majority of the budget is driven by pupil numbers.

“This enables us to reduce class sizes and to have a continual programme of refurbishment in the school.”

“The other massive opportunity is the breadth and width of the curriculum options that we can put on at the school.

“Key stage three follows the National Curriculum but in key stage four in year 10, there are over 30 option choices including a range of vocational options.”

Ashfield offers courses in areas such as hospitality, hair and beauty, construction and uniformed services - courses that were taken on to plug a skills gap in the local jobs market and because they cater for the interests of students.

Smaller schools would often struggle to offer such a wide range of vocational subjects as well as the usual academic ones.

And the school ensures that students can continue their options in its Post 16 centre so students can stay on at Ashfield rather than have to leave to attend a further education college.

Mr Vasey said: “The other aspect is whatever course they choose at 14, there is a progression pathway at 16.

“Students don’t have to carry on doing motor vehicle maintenance or hair but if they choose to do it at 14, they can progress at 16.”

The size of the school means it can also employ subject specialist teachers in all areas so teachers focus on their preferred subject and which Mr Vasey said, helps maintain a high quality of teaching.

Parents may fear that their child could get lost in a school the size of Ashfield but it has revamped its pastoral system to make sure that form tutors have the time to get to know their forms and can act as a point of contact with home.

The school knows it is important that students feel welcome and comfortable in their surroundings.

“Even though there are a lot of students, we want them to feel that they are being treated as individuals,” Mr Vasey said.

“We also have a good induction programme into the school so most students coming here will have visited twice in year five and again in year six.”

Especially during lesson time, the school does not feel as big and busy as you would think and though the school site is large, it is not overwhelmingly so.

“Students have no more teachers or subjects then at any other school.

“The only difference is, at this school, they might walk a bit further to get from technology to science or from English to maths,” said Mr Vasey.

Though most school year groups are full, numbers in some years are not at the 405 student limit because there are some low birth rate years currently passing through.

However there are some particularly large year groups going through primary schools at the moment and Ashfield expects all years to be full when these children are old enough for secondary school,

“We would envisage that the school will be oversubscribed in the future but there are no plans to make it any bigger,” said Mr Vasey.

Larger schools have been in the headlines recently following the news that several councils in England are applying to build so called ‘super size’ secondary schools to cope with the rise in student numbers.

But Mr Vasey said that the Ashfield School community does not spend too much time thinking about its size.

“I don’t think people really think about it,” he added.

“There’s been some publicity because the Government has made an announcement that there should be more large secondary school because they are more efficient, but being the biggest secondary school is not a label that we really hang on to.”