'Non-traditional' new Blue Coat headteacher looks for way to resolve strikes at crisis-hit school

The new headteacher of Liverpool's crisis-hit Blue Coat School says he hopes his new approach to the job can address staff concerns and end strike action at the crisis-hit school.

Staff at the prestigious Wavertree grammar school are continuing with strike action as they protest against recent issues, which have seen two headteachers resign amid investigations.

The National Education Union says strikes will continue until widescale change is made to the manner in which the school is run and the culture that has created so much chaos and division in recent years.

MORE: 'No more lies' say Blue Coat staff as they take their fight to the picket line

MORE: Strikes, fights and sackings: Five years of chaos at Liverpool's most prestigious school

Following the sudden departure of headteacher Scilla Yates, the school has moved to appoint Kevin Sexton as interim principal. Mr Sexton, who is the current head of Chesterfield High School, said he hopes he can bring a fresh perspective to the famous school in order to heal some of the wounds that have opened up between senior leaders and staff.

Mr Sexton told the ECHO: "I was asked to see if I could support the school. I looked at the issues and thought that through my experience in schools and through my previous work as a trade union rep that I could help to resolve this and hopefully get children back into school every day, which is what we do as teachers.

"I am not working on any aspect of the previous headteachers' work, but what I am doing is looking at how we open communication between leaders and staff. At the present time, post-covid, that has become more important in schools and I think that's where we have lost a lot of things in translation as things have moved forward.

He added: "I think what I can offer Blue Coat is five different mainstream school experiences. We want to be the number one school not just in performance but in terms of well being. My job isn't to tinker around the edges and cheer a few people up, it is to fundamentally change how the trust, the leaders and staff work together to really promote well being. The happiest staff create the happiest classrooms where children learn the most.

"Maybe in the drive to improve we lost some of the balance of things. I want to bring the people who deliver really fantastic lessons back into that communication channel."

As well as a new principal, the Blue Coat also has a new chair of trustees in the form of former pupil Sean Fitzsimmons, who is a primary school leader.

He said: "I was a pupil at the Blue Coat. I was a free school meals pupil and going to The Blue Coat changed my life. I was given an opportunity by a place where young minds can thrive. I was nurtured there by adults who were skilled and cared about the children, those adults are still in the school now and I absolutely back Kevin in his mission to support those staff to feel fulfilled, because they do a great job - and that's why Blue Coat is such an amazing place and one of the best schools in the country.

"It changes children's lives. I can see the power and potential of this school and I don't want that to be lost or diluted by this current landscape."

Mr Sexton and Mr Fitzsimmons have now written to staff and parents to outline how they intend to address the various concerns raised by teachers at the school.

This includes reviewing senior leadership and trustee board structures, bringing staff representation onto the trustee board, signing up to the Liverpool Trade Union Recognition Agreement and looking to address issues around working conditions.

Mr Sexton added: "Schools like Blue Coat thrive on their traditions, but traditions are only good if they set the foundations for progressive future working practices. We are trying to take the best of what Blue Coat stands for but maybe be more understanding that the workplace has massively changed.

"Would I be a traditional candidate to be headteacher of Blue Coat in the past? No I wouldn't have been, but do I bring something dynamic because of my experience? Yes probably. When you work in the non-selective sector, it is highly competitive to get staff, so staff well-being is really important.

"We are reviewing absolutely everything from Senior Leadership Team to governors. In our 400 year history, we want this to be one small event. Maybe this is what was needed as a turning point to set us up for the future."

The new headteacher said his dialogue with the unions has been "really constructive" and the union appears to agree.

National Education Union regional officer Bora Oktas said: "Our members have found the change of tone positive and we welcome Mr Sexton's approach. We have not had answers to all the concerns of our members but we are happy to sit down with Mr Sexton and work on these areas.

"This is the first time since February 22 that the employer has listened to our members' concerns. We appreciate it."

As things stand, Blue Coat staff are due to walk out again on June 12 and 13 but members could suspend this action at a meeting next week if they feel enough progress is being made.

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