Cambridge

The inside story of how North Cambridge Academy is defying the odds

As far as schools go, North Cambridge Academy (NCA) hasn't got the greatest reputation.

Bound to its former days as The Manor, it has done everything in its power to shake the stereotype of a 'bad school'.

But head teacher, Martin Campbell believes the league tables are not representative of how far it has come.

He says a multi-million pound investment, new teaching staff and a revised academic timetable have all contributed to creating a better learning environment.

Last year, the number of students who continued into higher education was the highest in the school's history, with a significant number of students going on to study at Hills and Long Road Sixth Form Colleges.

But what do the students think about the school? And do they suffer because of a rep it can't shake?

New name, new look

Pictures of the new North Cambridge Academy, Arbury Road, Cambridge (Image: Trinity Mirror)

In September 2013, North Cambridge Academy, as part of Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust took over the running of a school which was deemed to be failing.

In February 2016, what was then the Manor School moved into a £10 million new build as part of the Priority School's Build programme.

This came after it was deemed to be one of the worst 250 school buildings in the country.

At the same time, NCA also worked on building a number of partnerships including with Cambridge Gymnastics and together funded a £250,000 new gym centre.

Developing relationships with Anglia Ruskin University and the city council has also worked to ensure a £30,000 investment in an onsite Judo Dojo centre and a £100,000 floodlight tennis centre – which is open to the school and to the community to hire.

Refreshing Honesty

Head teacher Martin Campbell at North Cambridge Academy

In an interview with Cambridgeshire Live, Mr Campbell made it clear he knew the former Manor School had a poor reputation.

However, he wanted to highlight the progress it has made and celebrate five years of improvement.

Admitting a large portion of pupils at NCA do come from disadvantaged backgrounds, he doesn't believe enough onus is put on the work the school has done to make learning accessible for all.

"The school is in a disadvantaged area," he said.

"And when pupils start at this school many, not all, but many have poor literacy and numeracy skills.

"We work hard with pupils and parents despite the challenges faced by the school.

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"We worked together to ensure that barriers to improvement were removed, excuses were not accepted and the cohort made progress year on year.

"There are outstanding schools across the country which have not made as much progress with pupils as North Cambridge Academy.

"Pupil who were predicted to achieve a lot less achieved a lot more."

The school also constructed a curriculum which would emphasise the massive gains in English and maths pupils were making covering a range of topics from religious studies to food technology.

More than a classroom

North Cambridge Academy holds its annual senior citizens Christmas party 2016

One of the things Mr Campbell put a huge emphasis on is extra-curricular activities.

He stressed the importance of being more than a classroom and judging school success on more than just a set of exam results.

At NCA pupils are encouraged to get involved in a number of courses, including the Duke of Edinburgh award and the firebreak qualification which is run in association with Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue.

NCA also runs three Saturday Schools in dance, netball and art and photography which Mr Campbell believes have helped students to "build up self-confidence, self-esteem and resilience."

Getting out and about

In the summer edition of the NCA news, Mr Campbell wrote about how these opportunities have opened up a wealth of new experiences for the students.

He spoke fondly about taking the NCA choir to the Royal Albert Hall – which was for some of the pupils their first time visiting London.

"Arriving very early in London and almost at Parliament Square, I decided that we would walk the rest of the way to the Royal Albert Hall," he said.

"Together with 35 pupils and staff, we walked a total of five miles past Downing Street, Buckingham Palace and the Serpentine.

"For some this was their first time in London… Many had never really explored the capital's sights and they didn't stop asking questions, eager for knowledge."

"The finished product"

Erica Calaca is hoping to go on to study law at Harvard University. (Image: Cambridgeshire Live)

Mr Campbell said he wanted to prove the school's success by showcasing the "finished product."

Cambridgeshire Live caught up with three of the 45 former NCA pupils (from the latest cohort) to see what they thought about their school experience.

Erica Calaca, Chloe Langford and Eszter Elo, all 17, have shared their stories about what it was like to go to school at North Cambridge Academy.

All three girls were among the highest performing students of their year- and each has a promising career ahead.

The trio admitted they had never experienced any backlash about their previous school- until they explained it used to be The Manor, which Erica said was often met with gruff looks from new peers.

"No one knows where North Cambridge Academy is," she laughed.

"Then you tell them it used to be The Manor and they give you that look."

Erica admitted she wasn't always "the best behaved" in school but attributed much of her success to strong relationships with teachers, joking that she was always Mr Campbell's favourite pupil.

She also said she felt the small class sizes (which are often only around 12 pupils to one teacher) meant she was able to get all the support she needed from staff.

Erica is now studying at Hills Road Sixth Form College and is hoping to study Law at Harvard or Cambridge.

Attainment vs Progress

Ezster has become the face of the school since leaving (Image: Cambridgeshire Live)

One of the main elements Mr Campbell was keen to shine a light on was the difference between attainment and progress.

Pupils who leave primary school have a baseline assessment (a score out of 100). Statistically, the government can then predict from this score what grades an average child will attain at 16 (the end of year 11).

If the child meets their predicted score, the school has not made any progress, they have got what the child should have achieved.

In 2013 when the school was taken over, a cohort of 45 pupils joined in year 7 – many of these pupils had struggled at primary school and the predicted scores were very low.

When she first joined NCA in year 9, Eszter had limited English skills. The school had very little data about her previous levels of education because she had moved to the UK from abroad and so she started off with a low progress score.

However, she is now a fluent English speaker and is hoping to go on to study medicine at university.

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She said: "I am so happy I came to this school. I learnt so much, not only knowledge wise but about life, hard work and commitment and that you should never really give up on something you really want."

"These are the things that I'll take with me and these will take me where I want to go."

Mr Campbell said when Eszter left NCA her progress score was the highest of the year group – and says these are the types of successes which should be celebrated more.

Ofsted ruled NCA was making good progress.

Mr Campbell added: "The raw attainment of pupils does not tell the true story of the challenges faced both in and out of school that some of the 45 pupils had to overcome."

A brighter future

Chloe Langford, 17, Cambridge is another success story (Image: Cambridgeshire Live)

Along with sports and other extra-curricular activities, NCA takes part in the FXP (Future Experience Points) games design competition.

FXP is a competition which is run by CRC and North Cambridge Academy entered a team of students including Chloe Langford.

She said: "I went in June 2016, it was fun and made me realise I wanted to get into the computer business. It's made me more committed and inspired to do well."

FXP helps pupils hone their skills in a number of core areas including imagination, organisation, leadership and team skills.

It also enables young adults to experience and learn more about the technological world which is so prominent in their day-to-day lives.

Chloe went on to complete her work experience at ARM, where she was based on corporate responsibility.

Here, she built relationships and opened doors for other pupils to do the same thing.

Chloe is hoping to go on to study a degree/apprenticeship with ARM post sixth form.

What the stats say

According to most recent data, North Cambridge Academy ranks 1,566 out of 3,088 secondary schools in the UK.

It has improved in a number of areas, judged by local authorities in the league tables which include progress and attainment scores.

Ofsted has given North Cambridge Academy an overall rating of Good.

You can read more about how NCA stood up in our real schools guide by clicking here.

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