St Joseph’s school is one of the top 6 most improved schools.
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School Inspection Performance
Government Initiatives IQ
St Joseph’s Catholic High School, Slough, Berkshire
By: Head Teacher: Ciran Stapleton
In October 2013 St Joseph’s Catholic High School narrowly avoided being placed into Special Measures, scrapping a Requires Improvement judgment from Ofsted. Teaching was 50% Requires Improvement and/or Inadequate. Since then the school has improved from the 78 percentile Family Fischer Trust ranking for progress, to the top 4 percentile with a Progress8 of 0.44. Despite continuous examination year groups having an entry level significantly below national average on entry, the school now achieves above national average and received a ‘Good Judgment’ in January 2016. Now oversubscribed the student cohort grew from 683 to 767 where it serves the local community where 97% of its pupils live within a 3-4 mile radius. Our Sixth Form had a falling cohort of 42 in 2013, but has grown to 102. All students who applied for University in 2015 achieved their first choice and all bar one were the first of their families to gain access to a University placement.
The school suffered a financial crisis in 2011 leaving the school without a Head Teacher for almost 2 years when a new interim Head teacher, Ciran Stapleton arrived at the school. He became permanent in November 2013 identifying a number of issues to be urgently addressed but the most significant lay in believing its own myth that it was already Good and didn’t need to progress. With 484 days of staff absence the previous year there was a general feel that the school served the needs of the staff rather than that of children. The number of exclusions (both permanent and fixed term) was significantly high with a corresponding trend of children from lower income level families. In short, standards were poor, ownership of any areas of responsibility were lacking and the school was failing to live out its own vision. Of all the issues to address- the first nettle to grasp was that the culture needed to change.
In 2013 the leadership team lacked the skills or experience needed to make a strong contribution to leadership across the school. Children made insufficient progress and achievement. Low expectations of the students’ abilities and aspirations started at the top and consequently the proportion of students attaining the highest GCSE grades was lower than it should have been. Teaching was characterized by low challenge, a curriculum that didn’t meeting the needs of the learners in the present or for the future and a timetable that simply didn’t work. An open door policy to classrooms and learning walks with feedback (if required) was introduced. ‘First in, last out’ and visible presence were the new standards by which the Leadership team were to set the standards. Learning Objectives were introduced, made clearly visible and emphasized independent learning.
Within a year all bar one of the leadership team had left the school. Over the next 6 months a new Leadership Team was established who knew what Outstanding practice looked like. More importantly they had all been on successful journeys of school improvement in previous schools. The Head Teacher also positioned the school to 2 Outstanding Teaching Alliances (Salesian School, Chertsey and St John the Baptist, Woking) who played important collaborative roles in supporting St Joseph’s in terms of mentoring, training and recruitment of key Leaders in the school. The Governing Body re-organized itself, reduced its members from 24 to 14 with only 3 governors remaining post inspection and proved dedicated to putting in the hours to get up to speed in holding us to account.
The new Leadership Team consisted of Louise Baker, Ellie Clark, Jon Sindall, Annemarie Fenn and Rhian Morgans. What was characteristic of all of these leaders was an embodied sense of moral purpose, integrity, flexibility around roles, a sense of urgency and united vision. All possessed a stubborn belief that the students deserved better. That message was clear to anyone who visited the school. An uncompromising drive around accountability and ownership resonated from the team with the phrase ‘no excuses’ on everyone’s lips. Over the next 2 years 80% of the staff left and made way for a new generation of teachers chosen for their energy, willingness to learn, resilience and a recklessness to ‘buy into’ what the new team were about. They came prepared to work harder and with greater focus than they could be paid. We took all the advice we could and drew up a focused action plan centered singularly on Teaching and Learning. With a clear direction peppered with milestones to evaluate our progress over the next 18 months we simply needed to stick to it without distraction.
Louise Baker joined the school with Ciran Stapleton from the start and quickly gained a reputation of being a ‘fixer’. In her first year she tackled the most urgent areas around student performance. She then concentrated on the deeper issue of overhauling the school’s target setting process, reportage and the validity of the internal data which had been patchy, unaccountable and unreliable. She went on to lead in selectively drawing from and enacting advice from organizations such as PiXL and ensured that every penny of pupil premium money went to the right pupil’s identified learning needs no matter how diverse.
Ellie Clark joined as Deputy Head Teacher and took on Annemarie’s kick start to centering Teaching and Learning at the heart of what we do. They successfully introduced rigorous, accurate lesson monitoring and evaluation systems for the immediate and long term. After a sharp analysis of the school’s state of teaching, Ellie drew up a strong Continuing Professional Development plan aimed to deliver us to at least Good. High quality inset was delivered without fail every week without any administrative distractions with an emphasis on impact in the classroom. We made a commitment to the staff that in return for 2 years of hard work we would prepare them for their next professional move even if that meant elsewhere. In reality, and with a meaningful Performance Management system, it meant many staff took on leadership roles quickly. In fact many staff were in the right school, but simply in the wrong place.
Rhian Morgans joined us to move the Sixth form forward and insisted that Sixth Form lessons became a priority to those that taught it. As with the whole school, the quality of Careers Information, Advice and Guidance needed re-starting to ensure the right students were on the right course post 16, that the right courses were offered rather than what staff liked to teach, that teachers were able to teach the courses and that they knew what the courses entailed. As with the whole school, tangible links were forged with universities, businesses, and neighboring schools (including Eton College) which raised aspirations.
Jon Sindall joined as Deputy Head Teacher. He overhauled the curriculum offer so it was fit for purpose within a year and ensured the timetable reflected the teaching loads befitting a professional staff. He also tackled the issue of higher challenge in the classrooms. Hitherto the school had not previously planned for the large number of Eastern European students’ abilities. This meant that many children had been set in lower ability groups as they couldn’t initially access the language but had remained there after they could. The impact was they continued to be taught at a level well below their ability. Jon re-organized groupings reflecting the ability of the children rather than the perceived behaviour of the child. He also tackled the issue of higher challenge in the classroom as a matter of the utmost concern. Jon added Bloom’s taxonomy tasks to all Learning Objectives ensuring clear differentiated pathways in schemes of work for all pupils whether their prior attainment was high, medium or low. Consequently behaviour improved.
What stands us out from other schools is our upfront commitment to live out the imperative to ‘love the students’. However, we add that ‘the students have to know that you love them’. We’ve amazing students who are proud to be here. If you ask our students, what they will tell you is the strength of our school lays in the quality of the care in the relationships between staff and students. Get the ethos right, and the results will come – not the other way around.