Dramatic Transformation for Melcombe Primary School

New staff, uniforms, playground equipment and no detentions credited for turnaround

Students playing the drums. Picture: Melcombe Primary School
The school was previously assessed as failing. Picture: Melcombe Primary School

May 1, 2023

A primary school on Fulham Palace Road has gone from ‘requiring improvement’ to being praised for its pupils’ ‘outstanding’ behaviour in less than two years and its head teacher says one of the key reasons is they don’t give pupils detentions.

Melcombe Primary School, which is opposite Charing Cross Hospital, went from underperforming to receiving the top rating from Ofsted after introducing new staff, changing the school uniform, overhauling the teaching and even building a better playground.

The school was taken over by Hammersmith and Fulham Council and Thames Federation in early 2020 after inspectors raised concerns over Melcombe’s teaching standards during a visit two years earlier. They installed a new head teacher in April 2021, alongside new staff and a new vision for the school.

Head teacher Anne-Marie Strachan said the school’s transformation is built on “having a clear vision of what we want for the children and school community, and being able to communicate that widely and having a clear plan on how to do that”.

Students received uniforms with a new logo and money was ploughed into refurbishing classrooms and getting more equipment in the playground, which had been left “bare”, according to Ms Strachan.

She said, “The kids could visibly see the transformation in front of their eyes.”

The school got new climbing equipment and a new library and will unveil a garden to coincide with the King’s Coronation. But it is the school’s approach to student behaviour that sets it apart, the head says.

Melcombe Primary no longer hands out detentions. Instead, kids memorise the “5 golden rules” which include being polite, putting in your best effort, being honest, taking care of yours and other’s belongings and “keeping your hands and feet and your unkind words to yourself”.

Ms Strachan said, “It’s enforced right across the school, from reception up to Year 6 and we find it really works for us.”

Though sanctioning still exists, it’s not “over-the-top” and naughtier students are given more time and support to correct their behaviour, Ms Strachan explained.

She said, “We’re about positive reinforcement. We believe in telling the child ‘right, why was that wrong and now think about what you could have done’ and again reference back to the 5 golden rules.”

The changes haven’t gone unnoticed. Ofsted rated Melcombe Primary as ‘good’ with an ‘outstanding’ approach to behaviour during a visit in February.

Students playing the drums. Picture: Melcombe Primary School
Students playing the drums. Picture: Melcombe Primary School

Inspectors wrote, “Pupils are happy, safe and immensely proud of their school. Leaders and staff expect pupils to achieve well.

“Staff create an environment where everyone is supported to succeed. As a result, pupils thrive under their care and value their education.”

They said pupils’ behaviour was “exemplary” and hailed the partnership with Kensington Wade School to teach pupils Mandarin as well as Spanish.

The report said: “Pupils share their learning experiences with another school that shares the same building. Pupils from both schools enjoyed learning together about the cultural significance of Chinese New Year and watching a live ‘lion dance’.

“Leaders arrange for older pupils to visit local secondary schools in preparation for the next stage of their education.”

It added, “Pupils love reading. Leaders set specific reading challenges for each year group and every pupil’s success is celebrated in the classroom.”

However, inspectors said the curriculum in some areas still needed work. They said: “Staff expertise is not consistently strong. Although leaders have established what pupils need to learn, they have not considered how they will check that pupils are remembering the essential knowledge taught.

“As a result, pupils’ errors and misconceptions are not consistently identified and addressed. This limits some pupils from deepening their understanding and tackling more difficult ideas in these subjects.”

This is in stark contrast to 2019 though, when Ofsted reported staff were not teaching phonics properly, with some even lacking the expertise. At times, teachers were also unaware of their students’ reading skills, according to the report at the time. Ofsted also criticised teachers for not checking their students’ homework often enough in 2019.

Ms Strachan said the impressive turnaround was down to her staff and governors. She said, “To be honest, it was a collective effort… it was about rewriting the vision, about discussing with the governors, and again with the children and what they want from the school.”

Jolie Collett, Co-Chair of Governors, said, “The transformation of Melcombe in not even two years from a position where it was failing pupils and parents, to the energised and dynamic school it is today, is nothing short of extraordinary.

“The vision, energy and attention to detail demonstrated by the senior leadership team, in particular, is remarkable and it is their passion and desire to enrich the lives of local children which has led to today’s positive outcome.”

Peter Haylock, Director of Education at Hammersmith & Fulham Council, said, “The local authority is delighted with the inspection result at Melcombe. It now proudly offers local families and the wider community a strong educational experience which is highlighted by the outstanding grade for behaviour and attitude.

“I would like to congratulate everyone that has been involved in the transformation, particularly Anne-Marie Strachan of the Thames Federation.”

Adrian Zorzut - Local Democracy Reporter