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Sue Williamson visits Richard Challoner School

Throughout the academic year SSAT Chief Executive Sue Williamson heads out on the road to visit schools within the SSAT network. Recently, she visited Richard Challoner School in New Malden, south-west London. She was blown away by what she found…

I met Sean Maher at the SSAT National Conference 2017 and he invited me to visit Richard Challoner School. It’s interesting because Sean and the school rejoined SSAT due to the work we’re doing on teaching and learning and it was really good to have the opportunity to visit a school I’d not been to before.

I think the very positive ethos of the school came through from the beginning and the warm welcome we had. You could feel it was a value-driven school and that really came across. All their positive achievement reinforced from the very beginning.

Sean and I discussed the school’s direction of travel and it was a very positive message that he had. One of the things that impressed me the most was the school assembly. It was a positive assembly by the Deputy Head… But it was the applause! The students broke out into applause! There was a great sense of warmth.

We met Ewan, a sixth-former with specific learning difficulties, and the school’s moral purpose was to give that young man a chance to succeed in life. They were doing it because it was the right thing to do. And that’s what came across, that the school had values, the students had values and they listened to each other and every one of them had a story to tell about how staff had supported and helped them.

The school is so determined to keep a broad curriculum and to do their best for every young person in that place. That came through from the moment we arrived to the moment we left. I’ve always believed that SSAT is by schools, for schools – you can’t sit in your office in London and say “I know about schools.” You have to get out and see schools, see the work that’s going on.

I try to do two school visits a week if I can. Earlier this year we spent a week up in the north-east and I visited seven schools in a week. We like to celebrate best practice and the success of teachers and students at SSAT and the best way to do that is to go and see it and encourage the schools. Schools are very modest institutions – they don’t like to blow their own trumpet. And things they sometimes take for granted need somebody from the outside to come and say “Wow – that was really good!”

It’s really important that you have that face-to-face contact with schools and to meet heads like Sean to hear what their challenges are. That way we can provide schools with the support they need. You can’t say you’re a schools organisation if you’re not in schools.

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