The Skinners’ Kent Academy is celebrating its tenth birthday this year and a decade on it certainly has just cause to do so.
The school, which is located just off the Pembury Road in Tunbridge Wells, not only boasts a hugely impressive state-of-the-art building in which it houses its 700-plus students, it now has the ‘Outstanding’ grading from Ofsted in all four categories and is the first non-selective school in England to become an authorised International Baccalaureate World School.
Quite the success story then for a school that was once the town’s most underperforming and undersubscribed. And one of the people who has helped transform the former Tunbridge Wells High School is Sian Carr, Skinners’ Kent Academy’s (SKA) founding Principal.
In 2009 when the Skinners’ Company stepped in to take on the huge task of turning things around they appointed Ms Carr. Her brief not only included helping to create the design for a brand new school, but also to dramatically improve admission numbers, general teaching practice and, of course, exam results.
One of the first things her bosses at the Skinners’ Company, which also has Skinners’ and The Judd grammars, Tonbridge public school and the Skinners’ Kent Primary at Knights Wood under its umbrella, wanted was a change of name and status. So Tunbridge Wells High School became The Skinners’ Kent Academy.
‘I wanted to go back into headship and the challenge of this is what attracted me’
Ms Carr was an ideal candidate for the job not only because she had experience as a Headteacher but also due to her wealth of educational experience outside the classroom. She has previously worked for the National College of School Leadership and also sits on various academic boards including the University Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).
“I wanted to go back into headship and the challenge of this is what attracted me,” she says.
What were her key aims? “It was about being determined to achieve and seeing that through. It’s that relentless pursuit of excellence and not giving up. Being determined that every young person should succeed whatever their context and having at the heart of it all a high quality teaching and learning environment.”
Ms Carr believes introducing the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme – a globally accepted qualification for entry into higher level education which also teaches wraparound life skills – was another factor in SKA’s success. Especially as it is the first non-selective school in England to become an authorised IB World School. According to Ms Carr students following it ‘achieve very high standards academically’.
“The IB is aspirational, ambitious, challenging and demanding. I didn’t want to accept a low level curriculum but something that would really stretch pupils – and the teachers as you teach and learn in different ways.”
So why after putting all that in place and seeing the results improve year on year is it time for Ms Carr to leave?
“We’ve been on the most wonderful journey and it’s a legacy of a decade that we now have laid firm foundations for a fantastic next decade. We’ve done what we set out to achieve and probably a lot more and the next ten years are going to be more exciting as this place just grows and thrives. Ten years seems like a good time to hand over the baton.”
She is, however, adamant that she is ‘definitely not’ retiring. “I can’t leave education alone and I will miss the young people. They are the driving force and why we do the job, they’re really very special. Now my most important job is to ensure a seamless transition when I leave. Yes it’s the end of an era but also the beginning of a new one.”