New principal plots course to positive future for Academy

In charge - Dave Lancaster, the new principal at the Barnes Wallis Academy
In charge - Dave Lancaster, the new principal at the Barnes Wallis Academy

In terms of white knuckle rides, staff, students and parents at the Barnes Wallis Academy probably feel like they have been on ‘Stealth’, ‘The Big One’ and ‘Oblivion’ - all in the same afternoon.

Two years ago, Ofsted inspectors rated the then-Gartree Community School so poorly it was put in ‘special measures’, and a troubleshooting head was appointed.

Then, it was taken over by the David Ross Education Trust and given Academy status, as well as the new name.

There were exciting plans under principal Paul MacLeod, one of the longest serving staff members.

However, proposals for a sixth form were scrapped. Then, Mr McLeod decided to leave.

A new principal was appointed, Wendy Jackson. Just before the start of term last month, it was announced she was staying at one of the Trust’s other academies in Grimsby.

Enter Dave Lancaster who has transformed the fortunes of the Trust’s King Edward VI Academy (KEVI) in Spilsby.

Under his inspired leadership, everything at KEVI is up - from morale through to GSCE results and the number of pupils.

Now, he has set his sights on creating a similarly vibrant future for Barnes Wallis.

He will effectively combine two roles - spending four days a week at Barnes Wallis and two half days at Spilsby.

He admits he never wanted to be a principal but ‘just drifted into the job.’

He admits: “It was a bit of a surprise to be asked to come here.

“I’ve been at King Edward’s since November and I’ve been with the Trust since Easter of last year.

“They basically said - ‘Do you think you could go over and help?’

“I was more that happy to say yes.

Now I’m here, I’m delighted I said yes because of what I’ve found with the staff and students.”

In just a few days, Mr Lancaster has laid foundations that worked so well at King Edward.

He reveals there are no plans to ‘bus’ students from Tattershall to Spilsby but admits there are ‘opportunities’ between the two academies to collaborate.

He adds: “My vice-principal has been there for four years. It’s steady as she goes because a lot of the improvements we’ve made there are in place.

“I will spend most of my work time here because I think that’s right. This is my job.”

In an age when schools - and principals - are judged on exam results, Mr Lancaster knows how important the next few months are.

He explains: “The improved results at KEVI were the icing on the cake.

“But we also changed the culture...higher expectations in terms of behaviour and academic achievement.

“Last year’s results here were disappointing and my CEO would say that’s one of my priorities.

“I think the way to achieve that is to look at the whole school and not just year 11 in isolation.

“We have to try to build on the strengths. We can’t just focus on Year 11. If I abandoned years 7, 8, 9 and 10 to create one good set of results, what will happen in future?

“I’m not here for a year, take the plaudits and charge off into the future.

“Anyway, it’s not about me. There’s no trolley bag with my ego in it. It’s about the staff - and the children.”

He’s aware of the size of the task.

Mr Lancaster adds: “There are no magic answers. Teaching is about common sense and trying to empower every member of staff so they do their jobs well.

“With students, it’s not love, it’s tough love. It’s about giving them the qualities they need to thrive in the big wide world.”

Barnes Wallis has just 250 students but Mr Lancaster believes that is an asset - smaller class-sizes means more individual attention.

He says: “David Ross is from this part of the country. He wants to help. He wants Barnes Wallis to thrive.

“Education is complicated. The Government keeps changing the goalposts. My job? It’s like buying a house with a door that’s painted 10 different colours. If you strip it back, there’s a beautiful oak door underneath everything else.”