Transformed school earns Ofsted praise

The new frontage of St Mary's Catholic High School in Leyland
The new frontage of St Mary's Catholic High School in Leyland
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A once-troubled school has turned over a remarkable new leaf following its very latest Ofsted report.

Leyland’s St Mary’s Catholic High suffered a catastrophic arson-attack, a teachers’ strike and the resignation of its headteacher in less than two years between 2013-15.

And just 18 months ago, it received another blow when it was placed into special measures by Ofsted inspectors.

But the celebrations are already well under way at the Royal Avenue school, which has now not only been released from those special measures following an Ofsted inspection last month – but also judged a “good” school. Inspectors said it was “unrecognisable” from the school of two years ago.

Its delighted head teacher Phil Mooney said: “It is a remarkable achievement that St Mary’s has moved from special measures to good in such a short period of time.

“This is testimony to the hard work of the staff, governors and local authority and archdiocese advisory team but most of all to the pupils who have most to gain from this judgement.

“Many parents showed great faith in St Mary’s when it was understandable and justified that others had great concerns about the ability of the school to deliver a good education to their children.

“I must pay tribute to those parents who have supported us through thick and thin. I am very happy for you and your children.”

He added: “We have seen improvements happen rapidly and this has happened because of an unflinching focus on the quality of teaching. We have listened to our pupils who have displayed a wonderful attitude and are ready to carry on aiming for even higher standards.

“As the report says, St Mary’s is unrecognisable from the school that was inspected in October 2014 and the description of the school as a “pupil centred, harmonious, equitable haven for learning” is accurate and ingrained into staff and pupils.

“We recognise that there are still areas in which we can improve and it is our continued aim to ensure all aspects of school are excellent as we move into 2017.”

He has written to parents and carers at the school, attaching the Oftsed report of which he says: “I am certain you will agree, makes for very good reading after many months of hard work and difficult times for pupils, parents, teachers and governors.”

He also told them: “It has been an absolute pleasure to be able to share this information with my colleagues who have worked so hard over the last year in particular.

“It is especially so with the pupils, who have shown an incredible resilience, commitment to improvement and pride in their school which is fully recognised in the report.

“I must also thank all parents and carers for showing your faith in St Mary’s, for pointing out our flaws when it was necessary, and for the genuine and heartfelt support which has come in a multitude of ways.

“It is also fitting for me to acknowledge the support of the governing body, the archdiocese, the local authority and notably several other schools who have all shown rock solid support for St Mary’s and for me personally since January 2015.”

Inspectors said:

* The culture of the school has shifted to a pupil-centred, harmonious, equitable haven for learning.

* Pupils are proud of their school. They are smart, polite and well -behaved.

* There is very good capacity for further improvement; self-evaluation is searingly honest, school improvement planning is sharp and succinct. Every aspect of school life has improved.

* The headteacher and his deputies have brought about rapid and sustained change.

* The school is unrecognisable from the previous inspection report. In the past two years there have been unprecedented challenges. Leaders and governors have rebuilt the school while robustly tackling a great deal of teaching that was not good enough.

When placing St Mary’s into special measures, inspectors found that the leadership and management, quality of teaching and achievement of pupils were all judged to be inadequate, whilst the behaviour and safety of pupils required improvement.

A report compiled by four inspectors also pointed out that there was a “culture of mistrust and fear” between senior leaders and staff, and that “the school did not promote equality of opportunity or tackle discrimination well enough.”

Head teacher Kathy McNicholas, who had been credited with raising the school from the ashes of the fire in 2013, quit, just six weeks before the end of the school year last June.