Marie has experience as both a primary and secondary school teacher and a longstanding involvement in teacher training. For several years she was a member of the RSA Council and the National Council for Educational Technology, and on the Board of the Teacher Training Agency.
In 1995 St George’s Roman Catholic Secondary School in Maida Vale became notorious when its Headmaster, Philip Lawrence, was murdered just outside the school gates. After the tragedy, standards plummeted as the school spiralled further into chaos and was placed on ‘Special Measures’ by Ofsted. In March 2000 it was facing permanent closure when Marie Stubbs was persuaded out of retirement to lead the task force given just four terms to turn the school around.
In her book AHEAD OF THE CLASS (£14.99 hardback, John Murray) Marie Stubbs’ absorbing day-to-day account of how the task force brought about dramatic change at St George’s. In little over a year, the combined effort of staff, students and parents transformed it, from a failing institution that had been written off, into a well-run, effective school that Ofsted praised as a national example of good practice.
The scale of the challenge ahead became evident to Marie on her very first day as Head. Only half the students spoke English as a first language, and the majority came from disadvantaged backgrounds. Pupil behaviour was out of control, classroom disruption rife and attendance the poorest of any school in the country. Unsurprisingly, staff morale was at rock bottom, the premises were drab and uninspiring, administration and financial managements systems were in disorder and teaching standards mixed.
In order to improve things, the task force had to revolutionise attitudes at the school. After shaking hands with every pupil personally, Marie Stubbs set out her expectations of courtesy, consideration and appearance. Children started to arrive on time and in school uniform. They walked rather than ran, and no longer chewed gum. Teachers and parents monitored the corridors showing zero tolerance of anyone infringing the new rules.
At the same time, Lady Stubbs worked quickly to create an environment in which the children felt valued. School buildings were rejuvenated, playground facilities improved, and breakfast and after-school clubs arranged. She introduced a grand Leaver’s Ball for Year 11 students at a top London hotel, persuaded Harrow Public School to let St George’s use their rugby pitches and invited influential role models such as Kevin Keegan, Ralph Fiennes, Cherie Booth QC, and Lenny Henry to come and talk to her students.
As all these measures started to take effect, standards at St George’s began to rise. But behind the scenes she encountered resistance from certain staff, and struggled to make her vision clear to the governing body and the Catholic Diocese of Westminster. Finally there were the rigours of the last Ofsted inspection and the relief of success when St George’s was removed from special measures and pronounced ‘a good school’.
At a time when education is at the forefront of political and public scrutiny, AHEAD OF THE CLASS offers a fly-on-the-wall view of life at the coalface of inner city comprehensives up and down the country. Its heartening story of success against the odds offers hope to parents and all those working in education that, with the right leadership, every school can be a good school. To politicians and business leaders it is an object lesson in how to motivate people and transform an ailing organisation into a healthy one.
Today Marie divides her time between London and Banbury. She has three grown-up daughters and four grandchildren. She has been married to Sir William Stubbs, formerly Head of the QCA, for 40 years.
You can visit Marie's own website at www.mariestubbs.net