BEFORE Barry Hersom even started his new post as principal of Colchester’s first academy, he was making headlines.

He is the bold headteacher who introduced compulsory after-school lessons in an attempt to help those pupils who were struggling with their grades.

A month into the job and he’s still making news, not that he’s bothered about that in the slightest.

He says: “I won’t allow pupils to fail and I will do all that I can to make sure they don’t.”

Whatever it takes!

The compulsory lessons are being extended to half term, although he does admit there is be a bit of a “carrot” in the form of free chocolate for pupils taking part.

The school is also putting on taxis for those who find it hard to get there without the normal bus service.

He adds: “The staff and students have been really good about it and I think most see it for the opportunity that it is.

“In fact, overall it has been a brilliant start. We know there will be difficult times ahead, but half a term in and we’re doing well.

“The new uniforms have made a real difference and one of my highlights has been meeting all of the Year 11s.”

That’s each of them, individually, in the school library to ask them about their school work and what their aspirations are when they leave.

When I spoke to him, he had got through 60, with 118 still to go.

It’s the kind of personal touch Mr Hersom has brought to all his schools in his long career.

Brought up in Newham in London’s Docklands when, as Mr Hersom says, ‘it wasn’t fashionable’, he puts his own success down to a change in the system which led to his school turning from a secondary modern to a comprehensive.

“With the change in the system, we had the opportunity to take exams,” he says proudly. “So few people went on to higher education then, but it was that comprehensive education which gave me my chance.”

Starting off at an all-boys school in Stratford, East London, Mr Hersom admits he deliberately applied for jobs where he could learn more.

His first senior teaching post was in Tower Hamlets, then he went back to Newham to become deputy head of the largest school in the country with more than 2,000 pupils.

“I enjoy a challenge,” he smiles.

Which is what he got at his first headship at a school in special measures in Waltham Forrest. “I took it on deliberately,” Mr Hersom adds.

“I was fortunate to have a profession, but most of my contemporaries were not. I don’t want any child or school to fail.”

He left eight years later with the school one of the highest performing in the area.

This kind of success story is littered through his CV and it’s those experiences and achievements which will almost certainly stand him in good stead for the challenges that lie ahead at Colchester Academy.

He says: “I thought I had one more job in me, to help another school, and I’d never been a part of starting up a new academy.”

Which is why he’s here.

With its new status, Colchester Academy has greater independence from Essex County Council, with the main responsibility for running the school lying with Colchester Institute.

Essex University is a co-sponsor and NHS North East Essex is a strategic partner.