To say Aubrey Cueto’s academic journey has been eventful is an understatement.
In five years the 16-year-old has witnessed the name switch from Hurlingham & Chelsea School to Hurlingham Academy, seen the school advance from being in special measures to one of the UK’s rising stars, and seen the staff room change from a temporary home for supply teachers to a centre of excellence filled with enthusiastic, inspirational tutors.
Aubrey, from South Ken, opened her GCSE results envelope with shaking hands to discover that her 12 grades were all A* or A… a phenomenal achievement.
“I did work hard, but I’m very pleased,” she said as she emerged from the school hall in Peterborough Road, Fulham. She now sails serenely into the Harris sixth form at Westminster, with the eventual target of studying maths or law and getting a job where she can work to improve life for people in developing countries.
“I’ve seen a lot of change here, especially in the past three years,” said Aubrey, referring back to the school’s lowest ebb, when Ofsted damned the place as ‘inadequate’.
New principal Leon Wilson has worked wonders in his first year in office, and is quick to praise the students, staff and parents for making change happen.
But it’s only by discussing the transformation with students such as Aubrey that you really appreciate the magnitude of the transformation.
“Three years ago there was little stability in the teachers,” she said. “I was studying history, and six months into the year we realised we’d been studying a topic that wasn’t even going to come up in the exams!
“The new teachers changed everything. We were coming in on Saturdays to catch up and make sure I got the grades that I did. This is such a great school now that I’m sad to be leaving. I even asked Mr Wilson if I could redo my last year, just to stay here.
“I was serious! I love it here so much! He said ‘Sorry, I’m afraid I can’t do that!’”
Beaming with pride, Mr Wilson ushered the students into the academy’s hall to collect their envelopes. “These are the best results in the history of the school,” he said. “The English pass rate is now 86 per cent, compared to 69 per cent last year. It’s all about expectation and believing; believing that every student who walks through the door here can achieve.
“The staff go the extra mile, giving up free lessons and working at weekends. Something really good is happening at the academy, but it’s a team effort. You have to have staff who really want to come to work, and in the year I’ve been here I haven’t used a single supply teacher.”
The academy – run by United Learning – attained 68% A*-C in maths and English at GCSE this year. “We’ll enjoy what we’ve achieved for a couple of days, then it’s back to work for next year,” said Mr Wilson, adding a special mention for the parents who have given his staff such all-round backing.
“They’re fantastic, they’ve supported me on every initiative. They’re behind me and behind the staff. I’m a very competitive person, and I want this to be the best school in London!”
In pride of place at the top of the academy’s staircase are the words of Maya Angelou: I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
One of those who will also never forget how she felt when she tore open her GCSE results envelope was Diana David, 16, of Earls Court. She described herself as being “pretty OK” with 12 grades between A* and B (nine of them either A* or A), more than enough to take her to Paddington Academy to study biology, chemistry, maths and psychology at A level.
“My years here at Hurlingham have been the best experience ever,” she enthused. “It’s like my second home; it’s become part of me.
“I love the teachers, and I can totally come up to any of them if I need anything. I love this school.”
Fellow student Yanisa Phattharawat, 16, who lives in Fulham, five minutes from the school, was also celebrating a dozen lofty grades including a starred distinction in IT and an A* in maths which will – she hopes – pave the way to a career in science.
“I started in Year 7, then the quality at the school decreased and we had a lot of supply teachers,” she recalled. “In Year 11 we finally got motivated, it became an academy and the teachers taught us the content and syllabus.
“The head is so energetic. His assemblies are full of energy, and it is inspiring. He stays best friends with his past students, and I know I can come back here to visit any time.”
For Marshall Opoku, 16, of Rumbold Road, Fulham, gaining nine GCSEs between A* and C mean he will be winging his way to Kingston College where he will study maths, physics and ICT before hopefully going to university to study computer science.
“When I came here in Year 7 the school was very bad, everyone was very noisy. Mr Wilson has changed it for the better, and it’s much easier to learn here now. It’s settled down, and it’s a good school now.”