Headteacher of Hammersmith Academy explains how to blend old school character with a modern vision to create the perfect student for life. Interviewed by Jo Reynolds.
I was a rock'n'roll kid with long hair.
What brought you to the area?
I was born in St Mary's, Paddington, and grew up in Bayswater. During 25 years of teaching I've mostly taught in West London.
What do the pupils call you?
Mr Kynaston or sir. Respect is important.
What two words would they most use to describe you?
I have high expectations, but I think they'd say I'm friendly: firm but fair.
Do you know your nickname?
Not now but in my last school it was Kynie. They'd hear me clip-clopping down the corridor in my brogues and I'd hear them say, here comes Kynie.
How did you get involved with Hammersmith Academy?
Our sponsors, two Livery Companies, the Mercers and the Information Technologists needed someone to lead the design and build process and I'd had the experience of building Pimlico Academy, where I was Deputy Head. The Mercers sponsor schools in both the independent and the state sectors, St Paul's in Hammersmith and Thomas Telford school in the Midlands, the top performing state school in the country. We're inspired by both.
For the unschooled, what is an Academy?
A state school funded directly by central government rather than the local council. The advantage, apart from a new purpose-built facility, is we can choose how best to split the cake so we meet the curriculum set out in the sponsors' original vision. Most academies are sponsor-led.
Do academies get more funding than other state schools?
No, exactly the same, about £5,000 per pupil plus additional funding for special educational needs or the Pupil Premium for children who have free school meals.
What's distinct about your vision or curriculum?
We specialise in IT and creative media, which infuses all core subject areas because that's the modern way of working, with blogs and websites et cetera. Our model is designed around smaller class sizes, longer lessons and longer days. Most schools have classes of 30-31; ours are 24. Our lessons are 90 minutes where the norm is an hour. We expect pupils to be here till approximately 5.30, doing extra curricula activities.
Computer club or learning additional languages. Or art, which we display around the school. Or sport – we do three hours of PE a week whereas the guide is two. We develop the whole child, not just the academic side. We want to make sure they're well-rounded and grounded. The students end up learning for the equivalent of one extra year over the five.
Aren't they exhausted?
Some parents express that concern but there's some flexibility and we know it works because it's based on the best model. The important thing is that students get used to applying themselves, especially in the Sixth-Form, because that's what they'll have to do in the competitive world of work.
How do you measure your success?
With a detailed progress system that allows us to capture progress at nine different points in the year. I've tried to take the best of working in the state sector but also seeing what St Paul's has to offer, that sense of character development. We encourage our students to go to university because that develops independence. Over 85% go to university, but it's not the only route. There are apprenticeships. It's about finding an opportunity where you can be successful.
What's the secret of success?
Essentially, we aim for a highly-qualified aspirant young adult who gives 100% and learns resilience in the face of difficulties, that failure is part of the process. Their approach is key. We want active citizenship, doing things in a professional way with leadership qualities. It's about character. It shouldn’t matter whether you come from the state sector or not, these are the right characteristics.
Where did you learn these old-fashioned values?
My parents had high standards and believed in respect. And taking a lead, not waiting to be told. Working in inner city education, I saw that people respond to clear boundaries and a clear vision of what you want them to do. It upset me when people said some students can't learn. If you show you have belief in them and encourage them to have belief in themselves, their confidence grows. A couple of years ago, we had some visitors from Beijing and some students showed them around. Saying goodbye they said, thank you very much for giving us your best students. I said, they weren't our best students. They were surprised our policy was so transparent. We give all our students the chance to step forward. Teachers feed off that. Young people come back to see us to say thank you for the successful path they're on.
What drew you to teaching in the first place?
In my mid-teens I helped out at sports events in the local park my mother organised, and my friends said to me, you're great with kids, have you considered being a teacher?
Any teachers in the family?
No, I was the first one in my family to go to university. I was inspired by teachers.
Did you have a favourite teacher?
Mr Neale, my Geography teacher. He kept me on the straight and narrow. You can imagine how many distractions there were for boys growing up in West London in the 80s. I had a fantastic group of friends whose parents had been to university and they inspired me.
What were you like as a teenager in the 80s?
A rock'n'roll kid with long hair.
What posters were on your bedroom walls?
U2, Simple Minds and Andy Ripley, the England Rugby hero. Sport is very important to me. I was the captain of the school rugby team. I was also inspired by Nelson Mandela. The 80s was a very interesting time politically. As a young person, when you see injustice, it's important to feel you can change the world for the better.
What did you study at John Moore's University?
Education, English and PE. And I majored in Philosophy.
How did you do in your exams?
I suppose you'd say average but going to university taught me that the goal is lifelong learning. After a few years of teaching, I did a masters at King's College, and because I'd chosen to go back, I became really motivated. And I got a distinction.
Are today's children under more pressure than in your day?
It feels like there was more freedom growing up in the 70s, without the internet or mobile phones, but expectations are higher today. Children are more highly examined than before and they're under constant pressure to achieve. They are likely to have a number of careers in their lifetime so we try to teach drive and ambition. Examination results will open the door, but character will get you through. It's tradition with a modern slant, preparing people for the 21st century where technology is changing all the time.
Will teaching be different in the future?
I foresee a time when we just examine students at the end of their schooling, which would allow teachers to inject more creativity into the learning process. We need to embrace life-long learning. And we have to find pathways for students who may not be academic but have other skills that benefit them and the wider society.
What's the perfect educational model?
I have friends in Denmark and Sweden where there's a sense that all schooling does not have to be completed by 18 or 21. And German schools have strong links with the business world, which allows a vocational approach.
How do you relax?
I run a Saturday morning girls' football coaching group with some friends. We all have girls from six to 11. It's lots of fun.
Don't you ever need to be alone?
I do try to keep fit: run, jog, swim... And I enjoy reading. But teaching is a profession that grips you heart and soul. I find it difficult to switch off. You live and breathe education.
As Headteacher, are you conscious of being on show all the time?
You are on show, but with me what you see is what you get. I am very open.
Do you check your shoes before you leave home?
I do polish my shoes because I expect the students to look smart. We have a very clear professional code for our students and our staff. First impressions are important. We designed the girls' cut to be more flattering. If you give young people something they can be proud of, they really respond.
What do you wish someone had told you as a boy to prepare you better for adulthood?
Listen more because you'll learn more. And learn the difference between arrogance and confidence. Arrogance is saying you can do something and confidence is doing it. But, ultimately, they're children and they will make mistakes, but it's a learning journey.
If you weren't a teacher, what would be your dream job?
This is my dream job. I'm very passionate about learning. People say to me, I don't know how you can teach today. And I say, I don't know how you can't.
Thank you, Mr Kynaston. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.to top | home