Worst school in the country

Hartsholme Academy
UK (Lincoln)

As far as daunting projects go they don’t come much bigger than overhauling one of the worst performing schools in the whole of the United Kingdom. When Carl Jarvis took over as head teacher at Hartsholme Primary School in 2009, Hartsholme was deep in ‘special measures’, a term applied by British regulators to those public services who fall short of acceptable standards.

After months spent observing practices, speaking directly to children and researching on metacognitive development, Carl turned the school’s approach to teaching on its head by using the children as the starting point. What seems like an obvious concept was in reality something new to a school, and nationwide education system, that began with the curriculum’s requirements above all else. “What if we treat learning as being understanding rather than being about knowledge transfer” says Jarvis. His method of ‘reversed learning’ effectively handed the power over to the children themselves, giving them the opportunity to outline what it was that motivated them.

Before long, desks were reduced to a minimum, iPads were introduced and immersive spaces were created that stimulated the children’s senses – more akin to theatre stage sets than classrooms. Children were to be found sprawled across the floor, yet heavily engaged in project-based learning.

In just two years the school progressed from one of the worst in the country to performing in the top 5% and, according to OFSTED, ‘beyond outstanding’. Jarvis is now working together with various learning-experts to create a secondary free school so that the pupils can continue to achieve.

Hartsholme Academy was mapped by author and  futurologist Mark Stevenson in his AtlasChart Top 5 – coming soon. Read his full FutureHero interview here.

Written by

Laura Humphries (22 October 2015)


Laura Humphries is a Barcelona/London-based writer interested in matters of urbanism, international development, human rights and more

Project leader

Carl Jarvis, Executive Head, Hartsholme Academy

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