St Helens’ top education boss today pledged to bring the town’s faltering secondary schools in line with its high-flying primaries.
In an exclusive interview, Andy Dempsey, the council’s director of children and young people’s services, told the Reporter it was “not unreasonable” to expect schools like Rainford High and De La Salle to achieve “good” or “outstanding” Ofsted ratings.
Watchdogs recently graded De La Salle as “inadequate” despite the school enjoying demographic advantages compared to many other St Helens schools.
Mr Dempsey said: “Clearly the De La Salle inspection was an outcome to be concerned about - and we do not contest the judgement. It’s a wake up call and it’s unacceptable. We will work with the school, the board and the trustees to take robust action to deal with it.
“We could even have considered installing an interim executive board but agreed to bring people like Mike Hoban - the ex-deputy director of Ofsted - and Phil Jamieson OBE on board instead. We are committed to a programme of improvement.”
Mr Dempsey praised the performance of St Helens’ primary schools, which remains among the best in the country, but said work needed to be done to ensure pupils continue to progress at the same rate at secondary school.
However, he pointed out that, far from being in the doldrums, the performance of GCSE pupils in St Helens is still above the national average.
“While we are nowhere near where we need to be, we are making progress,” he said.
“We’re already outperforming Knowsley, Liverpool and Sefton.”
The discrepancy between the performance of the borough’s primary schools and secondary schools remains stark, however.
A staggering 89 per cent of St Helens primary schools are rated “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted, but the same measure applies to just three of the borough’s nine secondary schools.
In a bid to close the gap, another “outstanding” practitioner, Phil Fitzpatrick, has been brought in to chair the local school improvement board.
Mr Dempsey said: “Some ground is lost, undoubtedly, in the transition from primary to secondary. We know that because it’s the same learners.
“We expect the proportion of our secondary schools judged good or outstanding to improve markedly in the coming months. I’m confident that will occur - two or three schools could achieve that. I expect the two academies to improve too.
“I think we will also see an improvement in GCSE grades because some of our notionally better schools have been underperforming.
“The key for schools like Rainford and De La Salle is that attainment is viewed through the lens of progress. They can’t just rely on a decent aggregate score.”
Greater scrutiny is also providing Mr Dempsey with plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
Schools like Rainford High have improved markedly since their last Ofsted inspection, he said. He also highlighted St Augustine’s and Haydock High as schools that are getting things right.
He said: “St Augustine’s is doing really well. Pupils there are achieving at roughly the same level as De La Salle but from a radically different starting point. Schools like Haydock have got the essentials right too. Some of our schools with the greatest challenges are delivering the best results.
“We’ve focused on improving leadership at our schools. But that leadership needs to translate into improved teaching and learning and better outcomes for children.”