The official education watchdog Ofsted has praised the biggest school in Brighton and Hove for taking effective steps to improve since being told that it requires improvement.
Ofsted rated Cardinal Newman Catholic School, in The Upper Drive, Hove, as requiring improvement – the third out of four grades – after an inspection in December 2015.
On Monday 23 January Ofsted returned for a one-day visit. And on Monday 1 February, Theresa Phillips, an HMI (Her Majesty’s inspector), wrote to Cardinal Newman head James Kilmartin. The letter to Dr Kilmartin was uploaded to the Ofsted website a week later.
She said: “Senior leaders and governors are taking effective action to tackle the areas requiring improvement … in order to become a good school.
“The school should take further action to
• strengthen school improvement plans by adding measurable milestones which governors can use to evaluate the impact of actions taken by school leaders
• evaluate improvements to teaching, learning and assessment through their impact on pupils’ progress
“The attendance of disadvantaged pupils remains stubbornly low and this needs to be tackled effectively.
“Since the inspection in December 2015, you have restructured leadership roles and responsibilities in the senior team and created a new leadership post to focus on the progress of disadvantaged pupils.
“Staff have also been appointed to new non-teaching roles, including an anti-bullying co-ordinator, an additional pastoral manager to support the most vulnerable pupils and an attendance officer for the sixth form.
“There have been several changes to the membership of the governing body, including the appointment of a new chair and vice-chair.
“Although you were disappointed by the previous inspection findings, you had already identified that teaching and learning needed to be more consistent and that disadvantaged pupils were not making enough progress to catch up with their peers.
“You and your senior leadership team used the inspection outcome as an opportunity to increase the range and pace of improvement at the school.
“Shortly after the inspection, school leaders and governors set out to systematically and urgently address the identified areas for improvement.
“You quickly reorganised leadership responsibilities and the senior leaders I met had a clear understanding of the part they had to play in driving change.
“Staff have seized the opportunities for training and professional development offered since the inspection.
“Turnover of staff brought 30 new teachers with fresh ideas. Twenty-six existing and aspiring senior and middle leaders are participating in nationally accredited leadership training courses which include small research projects.
“The leaders I met during my tour described the strategies they were trying out to improve learning with enthusiasm. Leaders, governors and representatives from the local authority describe a change to a more open and innovative culture at the school.
“Changes to governance also took place swiftly following the inspection. Governor committees were streamlined and working parties set up to scrutinise school improvement priorities by working more closely with school leaders.
“An external review of governance was commissioned and most of its recommendations have been enacted.
“A new, experienced chair of governors was elected in September, supported by a new vice-chair. A number of governors stood down and have been replaced with new governors who bring helpful skills and expertise.
“Relevant training has taken place. Governors are now better informed and have the confidence to challenge school leaders more robustly, although there is scope to hold school leaders to account even more rigorously.
“It would help if school improvement plans had measurable milestones which governors could use to evaluate the impact of actions taken by school leaders during the school year.
“The school improvement plan is focused on addressing the areas for improvement identified at the previous inspection. Your priority was to improve the quality of teaching.
“Leaders and governors have shown determination to improve the progress of disadvantaged pupils.
“An external review of the use of pupil premium funding led to an overhaul of your processes so that the considerable expenditure can now be tracked.
“Your rapid response to the inspection had a positive impact on the 2016 outcomes for Year 11 pupils.
“Progress measures showed that, overall, pupils made strong progress compared with national levels.
“The proportion of disadvantaged pupils who achieved at least a GCSE grade C in both English and mathematics rose by 20 per cent.
“Progress made by disadvantaged pupils was not as high as other pupils but the gaps in achievement between disadvantaged and other pupils with the same starting points are diminishing.
“As head teacher, you are committed to reducing the level of exclusions. You have recently created a small teaching provision in school for about 20 pupils who are most vulnerable to exclusion, poor attendance and underachievement.
“Many of these pupils experience a range of difficulties, and you have increased the level of pastoral and academic support available for them. The school works closely with a range of other agencies.
“School leaders have introduced a range of steps to improve attendance. Overall attendance at the school is rising but the attendance of disadvantaged pupils remains stubbornly low and this needs to be tackled effectively.
“You appointed a new anti-bullying co-ordinator to respond to any concerns and communicate more effectively with parents. And pupils have also trained to be anti-bullying ambassadors.
“School leaders should now seek feedback from pupils and families to find out how successful these steps have been.
“Leaders and governors believe the school has made great progress since the previous inspection. They seek external verification from the local authority.
“They also participate in a national ‘challenge partners’ scheme in which school leaders from elsewhere visit the school to evaluate teaching and learning.
“Governors also invited the external reviewer of governance to return for a review of their progress.
“Feedback from all of these parties supports the school’s view that it is moving in the right direction.
“Next steps for school leaders are to conduct robust self-evaluation to determine which actions are making the greatest difference, identify your own priorities for improvement and make longer-term plans with suitably aspirational targets and measurable milestones.
“The school benefits from effective support and challenge by Brighton and Hove local authority.
“The head teacher has regular useful meetings with a school improvement partner, and school leaders are held to account at termly strategy board meetings. The local authority has also supported governor training and development.”
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