Case Studies

Don't take our word for it. Hear about leadership at United Learning from those who know best: our leaders.

Frank McCarron

Executive Principal    South Manchester Cluster

Frank McCarron

In 1991, I decided to leave my role in the Midlands as a Senior Pastoral Leader to work as a Deputy Head at St Bonaventure’s, an 11-18 all-boys’ school in the East End of London, with responsibility for what was then the new local management of schools and the new national curriculum.  I suppose what was very unique about this post is that I was travelling 120 miles one way from Nuneaton to Newham and back every day.

During this time, I used to go to the University of Warwick on a Tuesday and Thursday to complete my master’s degree in Education.  It was an exciting time, not least because my headteacher was Sir Michael Wilshaw, the recently retired Chief Inspector of Schools.  This was a steep learning curve on the importance of holding people accountable and putting students first.  I was proud to have worked in this partnership, as it went from being one of the worst schools in the country to being heralded as one of the best in the years to come.

At the age of 37, I was appointed to my first headship in Bradford at St Joseph, an 11-18 all-girls’ school – quite a difference.  I was the first male head in a hundred years – quite daunting.  At that time, my commute was a 100-mile round trip from Altrincham to Bradford.  This was an incredibly difficult job because I had to oversee the reorganisation of a 14-19 system to an 11-19 system without any finances.  At the same time, the school was under threat of closure.  I was delighted that four years later, the school had received a great Ofsted, was full to capacity and one of the top schools in Bradford. 

Working in both of these schools helped me realise that what the most vulnerable students in society need is a good education if they are going to take their place successfully in this global economy.

In 1998, I was appointed to an 11-16 co-educational school, St Monica’s.  This was a reasonably successful school, but by today’s present standards could be described as coasting.  Fourteen years later, this school received its fourth ‘outstanding’ Ofsted just after I left.  It had been held up as a beacon of exceptional practice, and had been in the top 5% of schools in the country over the previous 10 years.  It was in this school that I developed that sense of relentless drive for improvement with no limit to students’ aspirations, irrespective of their social background, gender, sexual orientation or race. This is a philosophy that I pursue continuously to this day, and hope that I have successfully conveyed this message to others that have worked for me.

During my time at St Monica’s, I also became Executive Principal of a school called St Damian’s, who in 2011 were put into special measures.  We came out of special measures in 2012, and recently the school has been graded ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. At this time I also became a National Leader of Education.

In 2012, I joined Stockport Academy as Principal and I am proud to say I was Jon Coles’ first appointment.  Stockport Academy was the greatest challenge in my career.  It was a school that really should have been in special measures, and was only admitting half the numbers in Year 7.  Its reputation in the community was very poor, particularly around the issue of behaviour and attainment.

What attracted me to Stockport Academy and the role of principal was the fact that the children in that community needed to have a better education.  When I joined Stockport Academy, the school was a failing school: it was failing the students in its care and failing the parents who had put their trust in the academy to educate their children.  The academy had serious weaknesses, poor attendance and a poor reputation in the local community.

It has now become the academy of choice for local parents and is well oversubscribed.  Stockport Academy was named the most improved school in Stockport in 2015 by the DfE; attainment and progress has gone up significantly and improved year on year. The academy has gone from being the lowest attaining school in Stockport to being in the top three. We are so proud of the vast and sustainable improvements that we have achieved. I am most proud of the tangible culture and ethos of the school. The academy is a winner of many national awards including Anti-Bullying, Democracy, GOLD IAG, Red Card Against Racism and the academy was the first school in the country to achieve the GOLD National Young Carers Award. In 2016, the academy was shortlisted for the prestigious TES Secondary School of the Year Award. I was also proud to be named the Greater Manchester Headteacher of the Year.

What I am also very proud of is that I was greatly assisted in this task by Mrs Janine McCann, who is the present Principal.  I believe that all schools should grow their own leaders, and long-term sustainability for communities is built on this concept.  I have worked to embed systems and a culture that lasts well into the future, supporting generations of families to access opportunities and believe that they can!

The reason I left headship in Catholic schools after 18 years was that United Learning offered an amazing opportunity to work across a wide network of schools that would allow me to continue to develop. However, my principle reason for joining United Learning was that moral purpose to bring out the best in everyone, particularly in our deprived communities, and this was a vision that I could deeply buy into.

In my present role as Executive Principal, even in a short space of time, I have been excited and inspired by my three academies: Stockport, Manchester and William Hulme’s Grammar School. They all have a desire to work together to develop their pedagogy and share their experiences, but most of all to be developed in that common purpose of making every child’s life better.

What drives you on, after 24 years of headship, is that desire to change every child’s mindset to a positive one; to try and create that culture of aspiration and self-belief through a sheer passion for the job. To have a management style that is caring and thoughtful and considers all individuals, but yet must be uncompromising with regard to standards.  Every child deserves to be happy and succeed at school, and perhaps that is the simplest way to explain why we do the job.

I have no regrets about joining United Learning, even though at the time I was told it would be bad for my career.  However, as I always say, “Have a moral purpose, love your job and always be nice to the person who writes your reference”.


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