A NEW headteacher at one of Oxfordshire’s biggest secondary schools has set out his vision of where he wants to take the school.

Rick Holroyd, who began his headship at King Alfred’s Academy in Wantage this term, says he was ‘delighted’ to get the job and ‘excited’ to get going.

Speaking to the Oxford Mail at the school’s West Site, he said: “I’m absolutely delighted to take this post. I feel very proud and very privileged to have been given the opportunity.

“I am extremely excited about the years ahead.”

The school, which is run by the Vale Academy Trust, fell from ‘outstanding’ to ‘requires improvement’ in its latest Ofsted report in the summer.

But Mr Holroyd suggested that could be seen as a positive, since it sets a clear direction for the school’s future.

The Sheffield-born 58-year-old said: “Clearly, the recent Ofsted report has set a clear agenda and I’ve got no problem with that. I would say, arguably, the inspection came at a good time because it helped us as a school to set a really clear, strategic direction for improvement.

“I think it helped us to confirm the key objectives [and] to sharpen focus on those objectives.”

Mr Holroyd has also joined King Alfred's during its biggest-ever expansion: having sold of its East Site (one of three) to a housing developer last year, it has spent £17m building new classroom blocks, science labs and social areas at its Centre and West sites.

He continued: “We have already had a significant amount of change.

“The first stage now is about getting the post-Ofsted agenda right, getting the school back to ‘good’ as quickly as we can and then thinking about how we can move the school back to ‘outstanding’.

“We’ve got new uniform and new buildings and that’s part of it [but] most importantly, we have got new higher expectations and procedures and processes which the students are really buying into."

Previously an English teacher, Mr Holroyd was educated at a Yorkshire comprehensive before studying English Literature at Leeds University.

Asked about his interests outside of education, he quickly lists being a keen musician (he is a guitarist), and a big fan of Shakespeare and football (Sheffield Wednesday are his club).

This is his second headship after 13 years at Langtree School in Woodcote near Walling.

Judged ‘good’ in its last Ofsted inspection, the education watchdog also said he managed the school ‘well’, was ‘dedicated’ and was ‘raising the quality of teaching’.

In that role, where he said he ‘turned the school around’, he made outspoken comments about funding, claiming money was ‘extremely tight’ and that schools are being told ‘to do more with less’, in remarks that are likely to be interpreted as critical of national education policy.

His time at Langtree has made up more than a third of his 34 years in teaching - which also included assistant and deputy head roles.

But the married father-of-two says he ‘hasn’t forgotten’ the teaching part of his role, adding that it is extremely important to him to still teach a Year 8 English class, which he enjoys ‘immensely’.

He also praised the welcome he has received from staff ('I can’t fault them - they’ve worked fantastically hard'), students ('very warm - I’m already their biggest fan') and parents ('I hope to build really strong links with them'), before focussing on the local community.

“I would just like to develop the school as a true, thriving community school, at the heart of the Wantage community”, he said.

“I really hope that as we develop we can work really closely with the local community and meet their needs as well, that’s really important to me.

“That’s the bigger and longer-term vision.”

Among the school's strongest community links is the Sweatbox Youth club, which is formerly hosted on its East Site and which reopened last month in a new unit at Centre Site.

Though he started on September 1, Mr Holroyd says he has been in touch with the senior leadership team since May because changes ‘couldn’t wait’.

The school’s ‘core values’ have been revised, and changes in behaviour management have made classrooms ‘much calmer and more purposeful’, he says.

Planning and delivery of lessons has also been tweaked.

He explained: “Its not a whole raft of sweeping changes - its reform. I’ve turned a school around before and I don’t believe in gimmicks or one particular idea or strategy.

“You identify the things that make a real difference and do them consistently and well."

Mr Holroyd also addressed mental health, which has been a prominent issue at the school.

In the past three years, three teenage students at the school have taken their own lives: Dylan Edwards, 15, Ela Ozbayraktar, 16, and 13-year-old Conor Page.

Student welfare was one of the areas raised by Ofsted and one of the major challenges facing Mr Holroyd's predecessor Jo Halliday, who left in April after four years in the top job.

Mr Holroyd said: “Sadly, its an issue up and down the country. In 2018, young adolescents are being put under a huge amount of pressure and schools need to be mindful of that.

“I think we are really sensitive to that need in providing layers of help in the school through our tutors, our pastoral system and our student managers and, from our younger students, our sixth form peer mentors. We have got all of those people in place to support students and that’s resulted in the comments that Ofsted made, that in terms of pastoral care the school is doing an excellent job.

"I think their phrase was safe, happy and well cared for."