During a recent visit to Unity City Academy, president of the CBI Paul Drechsler, a high-profile champion of the region for many years since his days working at ICI, told The Gazette more Teesside businesses should help underprivileged students launch their careers here.
He said: “If there is a school in the North-east that needs or deserves more support than any other then it is this one.
“It has a principal totally committed and I met half a dozen of the teachers this morning who are all passionate about making that difference.
“A school does not exist as an island – it is a central part of the community that needs engagement and I want mayor Ben Houchen’s proudest achievement to be the transformation of education on Teesside.
“We need to have the greatest possible impact in classrooms filled with the most disadvantaged and poorest children. Wearing my CBI hat and in my role as chair of the trustees at Teach First – a charity which recruits and places brilliant young teachers in the most challenged schools in the country – what really strikes me is that the number one issue our membership has is skills.
“Coming out of schools and academies with academic skills alone is not enough – we need character, resilience and creativity.
“So we need our schools system to be able to deliver all that, and they can’t do that in isolation, particularly when there are still students who don’t believe I started my career in this region and are still telling me ‘there aren’t any opportunities on Teesside’.
“There is a great opportunity for business in the North-east to get children in all schools to understand what these businesses are about and what the careers here might be and what they need to achieve in schools to get these great outcomes.
“I know the business leaders on Teesside and none of them will say ‘no’ of they are asked to help make a difference for our young people because this is the best region in the UK in terms of business engagement, and that if you give a child four or five work experiences it transforms significantly their ambitions and aspirations.
“All the TeachFirst ambassadors want is more people to come in and work with the pupils at Unity City Academy to inspire them individually and in assembly.”
Accompanying Mr Drechsler on his visit to Teesside was Lil Collingham-Clark, Teach First’s North East Director. She said: “We are working with the LEP to see how we can collectively draw together all the things we have been talking about to give these children the best possible opportunity. If we have businesses crying out for the leaders of the future then we should be starting at primary schools.
“These children do not need their aspirations raising, they need them meeting.”
Unity City Academy timeline
Unity City Academy takes over and merges the former Keldholme and Langbaurgh Schools into one academy.
Then principal Eddie Brady defends the school’s stance on expelling pupils – after The Gazette revealed the number of permanent exclusions had trebled since the school was formed. The debate rumbled on for months.
The £21m Pallister Park site is opened – without a playground. The open plan building does not have a dedicated staff-room and open balconies create controversy.
The Gazette revealed Unity City Academy as a “school in crisis” in which low staff morale, unacceptable educational standards and poor finances were cited as major problems. Staff fear redundancies as a cash crisis is uncovered, with the academy running £500,000 a year over its £6.5m annual budget.
Ministers later wipe out £1.5m in debts to allow the academy a fresh start.
Ballots for teaching staff at UCA to strike are held, and Macmillan suspend talks on a federation between the two academies. Ofsted place the school into “special measures”. It’s lifted out a year later.
Further turmoil at the school, as four governors – including chair Joe McCarthy – quit amid stinging criticism about teaching standards.
The school undergoes a transformation under new chief executive David Triggs, with a playground and staff room built, controversial balconies ripped out, and structural changes made to create more traditional class-rooms in the open plan building.
School receives ‘inadequate’ rating from Ofsted.
Headteacher Pat Towey, who joined in 2009, and staff celebrate after a new Ofsted report says UCA has turned itself around, and is now ‘Good’.
New principal Neil Powell takes over as principal after Mrs Towey’s retirement.
Ofsted say the school has slipped back to being ‘inadequate’ and in a stinging report, finding significant weaknesses with basic literacy and numeracy skills, poor governance, bad teaching and worrying behaviour from pupils.
Gemma Simon is appointed principal.
Progress at the school is praised by Ofsted.
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