Introducing the new Headteacher of Smithdon High School
As the school year gets underway at Smithdon High School, newly appointed headteacher John Hirst speaks to Town and Around about his background in education and his vision for the school.
“I’ve worked with the school quite closely for two to three years as Deputy of the West Norfolk Academies Trust, and the opportunity came up to step in and become head of Smithdon High School,” John begins. “I know the school and staff well, so it’s been a really good start of term.”
John was born in Manchester and spent ten years teaching on the Isle of Wight before moving to Norfolk in 2002. Since then he has also been Headteacher at St Clement’s High School in Terrington St Clement.
“Originally, I was a history teacher then head of department, senior leader, assistant head and deputy head at Springwood High School. When we became West Norfolk Academies Trust I became Deputy of the Trust responsible for outcomes and school improvement in all of the secondary schools,” he explains.
On his vision of the school, he states: “What I want it to be is a really happy school where kids work hard and go on to do great things. I think that the school should be central to the community.”
“In the past few years I feel that has dipped slightly and we’ve become a bit more isolated from the community. So, we’re looking at building that up again. We’re doing a lot more in the community and a lot more with the primary schools to try to build it up.”
“We’re looking to give students a lot more ‘say’ in the leadership and direction of events. That’s my ambition – to get everyone involved. And everyone is happy and responsible for outcomes, the school is better, and everyone is happy to be here and works harder to get better outcomes.”
On becoming more integrated into the community, John reiterates that strides have already been taken towards achieving this: such as during the last school year, when 300 primary students came to Smithdon for a sports festival which they hope to hold again this year.
There was also a concert held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ ‘The White Album’ and, working with the local district council, primary schools were invited to the school to watch a series of plays performed.
On the implementation of the new school uniform, John states that it signifies “a new start and a new approach”: when the school was originally opened in 1954 the uniform consisted of grey flannel trousers for the boys and grey skirts for the girls with a navy blazer with a red trim.
“Although we’ve introduced a new uniform, we’re getting back to that original history and heritage of what the school once stood for,” he adds.
A Grade II listed building, famous for its predominantly glass and steel exterior, Smithdon is said to be one of the most significant buildings in the area after Ely Cathedral being one of the few remaining examples of Brutalist architecture.
Noting how Smithdon is growing in numbers after a dip in intake in previous years, John states: “As the school is getting more successful, numbers are growing. For example, there were 85 Year 11 students that just left and this year’s Year 7 total 140.”
“Our reputation is getting better, links to the community are getting stronger, and our ethos, values, vision and its success are becoming clearer.”
On just what Smithdon can offer prospective students, John explains: “We offer an excellent education, with really great new teachers and well-established staff here. I think parents can feel confident that their children will be safe here, that standards are high, behaviour is good, and we’re working on providing lots more opportunities for children such as days out, trips abroad and Duke of Edinburgh awards.”
Particularly emphasising the importance of preparing students for post-16 education, John believes that the school is well equipped to shape the students into becoming confident and learned young adults, noting that students are going onto Springwood Sixth Form in high numbers.
“We’re getting students involved in the running of their school so that when they leave, they’re going to have good outcomes, good GCSEs and a clear direction of what they want to do in the future,” he says. “And they’re going to have all those extras – cultural capital and experience - which deliver on their post-16 futures.”