Havelock Academy's new principal believes every child can succeed
Havelock Academy has a far from impressive academic record. However, 2011 GCSE exam results were a massive improvement on the previous year. And new principal Nigel Whittle hopes to change the reputation of the school by changing pupils' expectations of themselves. He talked to reporter James Dunn about his views, background and football in the first of a series of features profiling head teachers and principals of secondary schools in the area.
THE school is somewhat of a diamond in the rough – a brand new building serving the East Marsh estate, parts of which are among the most deprived in the country.
Deeply affected by the collapse of the fishing industry that once employed many on the estate, it is now Humberside Police's most troublesome ward on the south bank.
However, the school is on the up.
Havelock Academy has been rebuilt on the same site as the old school, off Carr Lane. The £18 million building opened its doors in September 2011.
Earlier this month, it revealed that the number of pupils who achieved five A*-C grades including English and maths – a Government benchmark for success – had risen by 12 per cent on the previous year to 48 per cent. It was the highest rise of any school in North East Lincolnshire.
And new principal Nigel Whittle believes last year's results are "the building blocks of success", adding that he is "certain" that the school will improve again this year.
Mr Whittle literally moved from coast to coast to take up the post in November, relocating from Blackpool with his wife and twin daughters – who are nearly one year old – in the summer.
At just 30 years old, he is the youngest head teacher in the area, but he has plenty of experience in dealing with the sort of challenges that face the East Marsh area. His last school, where he was deputy head teacher, was in a deprived area of Blackpool. In 2011, it was nominated by the Specialist Schools And Academies Trust for a national award after the number of pupils getting five or more A*-C GCSE grades improved by 14 per cent in a single academic year.
Mr Whittle said: "My motto is that every child can succeed and I believe in that passionately.
"If we provide the right environment, pathways and opportunities for them, they will do well. To do this, we must raise our pupils' aspirations and their expectations of themselves.
"When they leave, they may want to study law at one of the top universities or they may want to go to Grimsby Institute and train to be a plumber. Both of these paths could lead them to success. What I want is for them to leave with the best possible qualifications so that they have choices when they walk out of Havelock's doors.
"I was well aware of the challenges that face the area before I came, but I always tell children to think about where they want to go, not where they come from. It doesn't matter where you live, what your parents do or what you might think your ability is – I am proof of that."
Mr Whittle was brought up in Blackpool, the son of an electrician. He went to a state school, did A levels at sixth form and went to Lancashire University to study for his teaching qualification.
After learning his trade teaching English, he was selected for a four-year leadership programme with Future Leaders, which aims to put talented individuals at the head of schools in underprivileged areas.
"It's a rigorous selection process and involves a lot of extra training, but provides a network of expertise on how to deal with the sorts of problems that heads face," he said.
"I know I can do more for individual pupils at the head of a school than a teacher of 28. Every area has its challenges – I talked to the head of one of the highest-achieving schools in the country which costs parents £30,000 a year and even his pupils have their own problems.
"However, I think young people on the East Marsh are most in need of guidance and that is the sort of area I want to teach in."
Unlike many principals, Mr Whittle still teaches pupils, in English literature. Currently he is teaching John Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men – his favourite book – to a Year 11 class.
He said: "I actually always preferred the term 'head teacher' to principal as I am still a teacher – that is what I do and I love it.
"I always wanted to teach and think it is important to continue to teach children. It's not something I ever want to give it up."
As well as English literature, and teaching it, Mr Whittle has one other passion – sport. He comes from a specialist sports college, loves running and is an avid Blackpool Football Club fan.
He added: "I don't think I would have got the job if I hadn't loved sport.
"It's very important in education as sometimes you need a hook to help engage with pupils.
"I'm a big Blackpool fan because that is where I grew up, but I hope to go and see some Grimsby Town games. Everyone should show their local team a bit of support.
"I still like to go running. It's a great outlet to release energy and relax.
"Although currently I'm keeping busy with my two daughters – they're going through a period of waking up in the middle of the night – which is lovely!"
Mr Whittle also loves the area, describing the people as "warm and friendly".
He added: "I had nearly the whole of Year 11 in on a Sunday for maths revision before their GCSE exam and a few people still said hello and waved when I went for a walk on the beach later that day. They must be good people.
"Growing up in Blackpool, I love the coast. With young daughters, I wouldn't have considered moving to an inner city area while they are growing up so this is perfect for me.
"The fish and chips are good, too – I took my senior management team to Steel's Cornerhouse in my first week."