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Spotlight- Solihull Academy

This blog shines a light on Solihull Academy, an Alternative Provision school in the Midlands. 

It relates to their episode of ‘Spotlight’ on Teacher Hug Radio which can be listened to on the 4th September at 5 pm or Sunday 5th September at 1 p.m.

I talk to Stephen Stenhaus, Principle of Solihull Academy. 

I also talk to Karen Sims, who has been awarded a Silver Pearson Award for Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School and Becky Marie Williams who won the TES Classroom support assistant of the year.  I also enjoyed talking to some of the pupils from the school.  PreviousNext

Solihull Academy

Solihull Academy opened in April 2018 because Solihull needed an additional, alternative solution for a number of students for whom mainstream education was simply not working (for a range of reasons).  They have recruited committed, passionate and talented staff to ensure the full range of interventions to change the outcomes of our students for the better. Solihull Academy is a game changer for pupils in the borough who really need the game to change. With a balanced mix of academic and pastoral intervention and challenging and rigour, they have created a structured, therapeutic environment to give some of the students in the borough a chance to truly succeed. 

The Academy is not built as a short-stay provision to intervene and then send students back to mainstream schools. That type of intervention and respite is a very small part of their provision but, in the main, they are a destination school, not a stopping-off point. The vast majority of their students are registered with them as their home school and, regardless of their point and date of and academic level at entry to Solihull Academy, their job is to help their pupils gain ground, assist them to regain what may have been lost in their previous experiences of education, and take them as far as they can (and even further than they might think possible) academically, socially, emotionally and morally until they finish with them in the summer of their Year 11. Solihull Academy can be the difference for their students who have an urgent need for something different.

Class sizes are small (maximum of 10-12), the curriculum is innovative and bespoke and the core of what they offer students and parents/carers will be the innovative teaching, inclusive practice, therapeutic environment, positive relationships and unrelenting passion offered by their committed staff.

Since April 18, Solihull Academy have been on a journey to use the idea of “Alternative” in Alternative Provision as a driver to create a new school for the most vulnerable pupils in the local authority, and the impact and results show that they are making a real difference.  Prior to their opening, their local authority permanently excluded more secondary students than 90% of the rest of the country despite being the wealthiest borough in the West Midlands. So, in a unique partnership between the Local Authority, mainstream school and themselves, they built a school, provision and curriculum to combat that and ensure the best possible outcomes for highest tariff students in the local authority. They developed their school based on 4 specific targets:

Prevent Permanent Exclusions

-Fewer Fixed Term Exclusions

-Beat Baseline and/or KS2 Targets

-No NEETS – pupils progress to a suitable course, training scheme, apprenticeship or job to meet their future and career aspirations.

Every decision they make and every action they take is based on these four targets and absolutely child-focused and, from that simple premise, they have created their Academy.  The school’s mission is to change the educational futures and life chances for every student who comes to them and, thereby, change what education looks like in Solihull.

Two of their staff have been successful in achieving awards this year.  Karen Sims has won the Pearson award for Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School.  Karen is a highly effective English teacher who teaches with compassion and passion and her calm demeanour and inclusive practice enables the pupils to challenge themselves. She is well-organised and supportive of her team and understands almost instinctively which route and qualification is best for each student’s needs and aspirations. Her subject knowledge and passion for English is fantastic and she communicates this to colleagues and children alike.  

Becky Marie Williams has won the TES award for Classroom Assistant of the Year because she has worked tirelessly to help pupils feel secure in themselves at Solihull Academy. Becky Marie Williams attended an alternative provision setting as a teenager and has worked tirelessly over the past year as a classroom assistant at Solihull.  Her own experience has been a real strength in empathising with students, and she kept in touch with Year 9, and their parents and carers, through food drops and home visits, to maintain incredibly positive relationships with them during the lockdowns.

Through one-to-one work, corridor chats and mentoring, she has helped students to feel secure in themselves, and the individuals and groups she has supported have flourished as a result of her input. During this year, she also earned a promotion for her work. Williams has worked closely with teachers, attending TeachMeets and best-practice sessions as well as individual planning and prep meetings, modelling for newer teaching assistants the important partnership between classroom assistants and teachers.

She also set up individual parent and carer meetings for some of the key students she has supported, and has always taken the time to make calls and establish relationships with Year 9 families from the word go.  She volunteered for and completed the AP’s full restorative justice practitioner training and has led training for staff. Students have been highly complimentary about her work, while colleagues admire and respect her. The excellent relationships she has developed with students and the team is testimony to her efforts.

TES Judge Rob Webster said: “Having attended an AP as a teenager, Becky is an authentic role model for the young people at Solihull AP. She is clearly an inspiration to staff as well as students. The support she provided to students and families during lockdown exemplifies the valuable, though often hidden, contribution teaching assistants have made during pandemic.”

The pupils I spoke to feel that Solihull Academy makes them feel like they belong.  They find that the caring nature of the staff and the clear explanations and small class sizes enable them to concentrate and learn.  

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog about Solihull Academy. It is great to be able to shine a light on their good practice and learn from their experiences and ideas. If anything resonated with you please give me a call, email or.  Please tweet me on @teacherhugradio or @ArkinstallNikki or send an email to or call on our free phone number – 0800 246 1555 and leave me a message so that I can contact you.

There is a brilliant line up of shows every weekend for you to enjoy listening to on Teacher Hug Radio – the soundtrack to your teaching career.

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The author

Nikki is a Deputy Headteacher in a primary school in Birmingham and the Director of Staffordshire Research School. Her primary school is an English Hub and wrote the Little Wandle Phonics programme. She is Lead DSL and also Art, Music and DT lead. She is an experienced NQT mentor and is a visiting fellow for NPQS and ECF. When Nikki is not working she loves to spend time with her husband, children, friends and family. She is also a governor at her daughter’s primary school. She loves travelling, reading, listening to podcasts, watching Netflix series and swimming.

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