Ofsted places Leyland St Mary’s into special measures

Headteacher of Leyland St Mary's High School, Kathryn McNicholas
Headteacher of Leyland St Mary's High School, Kathryn McNicholas

Leyland St Mary’s High School has been placed into special measures after Ofsted inspectors found that staff unrest has contributed to the “significant decline in the school’s effectiveness”.

The leadership and management, quality of teaching and achievement of pupils are all judged to be inadequate, whilst the behaviour and safety of pupils requires improvement.

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

It reads: “Leyland St Mary’s has experienced a considerable amount of staff absence and unrest, low morale and little unity of purpose.

“This situation has not been resolved and has contributed to the significant decline in the school’s effectiveness, which is now inadequate.

“Senior leaders, subject leaders and governors are ineffective and are not doing enough to improve the quality of teaching and students’ achievement.”

They add that the quality of teaching is also inadequate, and found that the school does not communicate effectively with parents, who have “lost confidence in the school, particularly in its leadership and management, the quality of the teaching and students’ achievement.”

Thirty-one out of the school’s 54 teachers went on strike over management disputes in June this year, and despite ‘peace talks’ taking place soon after, Ofsted inspectors said that the ongoing problems are affecting staff and pupils.

The report adds that something ‘urgently’ needs to be done to “rebuild broken relationships so staff can work as a cohesive team”.

It also says the school must “respond to the letter received from the Department for Education in January 2014 requiring that an external review be carried out into the performance of disadvantaged students and ensuring that governors act swiftly on any recommendations of that review.”

It says: “There has been a lack of effective communication between senior leaders and staff and among senior leaders themselves, which has led to a culture of mistrust and fear.

“Staff do not pull together; many of the staff, including some leaders and governors, are frustrated at how long it is taking to resolve grievances.

“Ongoing staff absence is impacting negatively on students’ achievement.”

Inspectors recognised that Lancashire County Council has offered support since the large fire which devastated the school in September last year, but said that this has not yet “brought about sufficient improvements in the outcomes for students”.

The report says: “The local authority helped the school to minimise the disruption to the students’ education following the fire. It has also been delivering some hard messages, especially around achievement and leadership, for some time.

“It stepped up its support in the spring term of 2014, undertaking an audit of leadership and management.

“Following that review, an associate headteacher joined the school. However, the increased support from the local authority has not yet brought about sufficient improvements in the outcomes for students.”

Inspectors found students to be “polite and courteous” but said that the behaviour of pupils requires improvement because some students’ attitudes to learning are not as good as they should be, and some students choose not to behave for some teachers, but do behave for others.

In addition, the school’s work to keep students safe and secure requires improvement. Inspectors followed up issues around student safety in some depth, as a few parents had expressed concern to Ofsted before the inspection.

Headteacher Kathryn McNicholas says she accepts the findings, but said parents should be reassured that steps are already in place to make improvements.

She wrote a letter to parents today and also told the Guardian: “The past 18 months have been very difficult for our school and in particular for our pupils. We have had a catastrophic fire, a teachers’ dispute, and now, perhaps not surprisingly in the circumstances, the school is in special measures.

“However, we know that Lancashire schools have an excellent track record for getting back on their feet after reaching this point and we are confident we will do the same.

“Ofsted acknowledges that “a number of improvement initiatives have been put in place” already and by their next visit we hope that Ofsted can see the difference they are making.

“We had already recognised the need to improve and we welcome the Ofsted inspectors’ helpful suggestions.

“We all want the school to make rapid progress, and the rigorous monitoring we will receive from HMI inspectors over the next two years will help us move more quickly towards our targets.

“Ofsted has acknowledged that a number of appropriate improvement initiatives have already been put in place and by their next visit we hope that inspectors will see the difference they are making.

“We are also developing a new school improvement plan that will build on the Ofsted recommendations and ensure we make improvements in all areas.”

She added: “The Ofsted report recognises many good things about our school, particularly our “polite and courteous” pupils who “are positive about the school and their experiences there”, and who “are happy, feel safe” and “are well looked after”.

“In addition, the report notes that progress in subjects such as English “is good” as well as in modern foreign languages and physical education. However, although our school meets the government standards for attainment, we had already recognised that improvements could be made and this is reflected in the Ofsted assessment.”

She said initiatives being undertaken by Leyland St Mary’s include:

- Better communication with parents, including a new interactive school website which is currently under development,

- A specific programme of interventions for Key Stage 4 pupils,

- Improved literacy for school years 7-9, including ‘Pick up a Book’ lessons to instil a love of reading and improve literacy levels,

- The governing body has been strengthened and a programme of training and development for governors implemented which will enable governors to take a more active role in monitoring pupils’ progress and holding staff to account,

- New staff have been appointed to strengthen departments, particularly in English, maths, science and history.

The report recognises that “governors are very committed and passionate about the school, and they are determined for it to improve as quickly as possible.”

Chair of Governors, Kathleen Cooper, said on behalf of all governors: “As Ofsted has recognised, as governors we care deeply about our school and we will ensure that every child has the opportunity to achieve their full potential within the caring environment of our school.

“We want to reassure parents that we will continue to work closely with senior leaders within the school to deliver our ongoing school improvement plan and to build on the changes already taking place for the benefit of all students.”