Mark Moorhouse is as far from being a stern, stuffy headmaster as one could imagine. “I’m not good on uniform,” he says. “I couldn’t care less what colour your hair is. When did those things become important?” What he does care deeply about is the success and happiness of Matthew Moss High School’s 700 learners. And when he became headteacher of the secondary coed in Rochdale in 2013, Moorhouse made some bold moves.

In his quest for new ways of working, he took staff on residentials. “We go to a hotel on Friday nights, have dinner, have someone come and speak to us. It’s great team-building and gives us time to examine how we might do things differently.”


A company education

Five years ago, the progressive educationalist Maurice Holt was the guest of honour. “He recommended a book by Jim Collins called Built to Last, that looks at companies that have flourished.” That session led to a completely new approach at Matthew Moss. Having struggled to marry the education system’s focus on standardised tests with his vision of education for life, Moorhouse suddenly saw how some of the approaches of visionary companies could inform those of education. “One of the concepts is, ‘Avoid the Tyranny of the “Or” and Embrace the Genius of the “And”.’ If Boeing were running a school, they wouldn’t say ‘shall we educate for life or shall we do brilliantly in tests?’ – they’d do both!”

Moorhouse introduced his CHANGE system in 2014 – an acronym for Composure, High standards, Agency, Numeracy and literacy, Growth mindset and Empathy – and outcomes have improved year on year. “Schools often treat young people as the enemy,” says Moorhouse. “We get them in and give them a list of things to do. Well, what about giving them a value system they can apply to the world? CHANGE is an enabler. Nobody washes a hire car,” he says. “Why would you? It isn’t yours. But given ownership, 97 per cent of people want to do a great job. If you respect people’s intrinsic drive for quality, you get incredible outcomes.”


Learning on weekends

Then there’s D6, a Saturday school concept Moorhouse launched in 2014. “There’s no uniform, no timetable, no teachers, no bell, and no one has to come.” D6 is staffed by students from the local sixth-form college. “We benefit from their knowledge and enthusiasm while they consolidate their academic prowess and gain coaching experience – but it’s up to the kids what they do.”

Those anticipating chaos were proved wrong. Moorhouse recalls the very first session. “Twenty minutes in, I stumbled upon three learners listening to two coaches giving a physics lecture,” he says. “They were at it for over an hour! Then the learners went off to find someone to help them with English. It’s joyous!”

Within six months, 200 learners were turning up every Saturday for free tuition, a free breakfast and space to study. Those attending just seven sessions a year make progress significantly above the national average. For those attending 17 sessions or more in a year, progress was “off the chart!” And of the students on free school meals – of which the school has twice the national average – Moorhouse says they are outstripping their wealthier cohort.

Perhaps the greatest indicator of success, however, is his response when asked if he’s proud of his students. “They’re absolutely stunning!” Moorhouse enthuses. “It’s a proper community. It’s wonderful!”