Poor performing St Helens school showing 'real improvement'
De La Salle School is on course to see “significant improvement” by 2020, one of the council’s top education chiefs has said.
The Catholic high school, based in Eccleston, has seen a raft of changes in recent years after being placed in special measures by Ofsted in 2015.
Andrew Rannard was brought in as head teacher to help turn the school’s fortunes around in 2017, along with help from St Helens Council’s school effectiveness team.
Despite no longer being in special measures, the Department for Education revealed in January that De La Salle was among the worst performing schools in the country after failing to meet government performance standards at GCSE.
Since 2016, any school that has a Progress 8 score – a measure of the progress children makes between the end of primary school and the end of secondary school – below -0.5 is considered to be below the floor standard.
De La Salle, St Cuthbert’s Catholic High School and St Augustine of Canterbury Catholic High School were among 381 schools in England that failed to meet the floor standard for 2018.
In 2018, De La Salle’s Progress 8 score was -0.93, after falling from -0.48 and -0.17 in 2017 and 2016 respectively.
Jo Davies, the council’s senior assistant director, education and children’s health, was invited to the children and young people’s services overview and scrutiny panel on Monday to discuss the performance of secondary schools.
Ms Davies said that, under the new leadership of Mr Rannard, the council has seen examples of “real improvement” at De La Salle.
“Very often the start of that improvement comes about with that change – either a change in leadership or additional support with leadership capacity – which was the case with De La Salle,” she said.
“After a couple of years of weak leadership or no leadership in that school, we appointed a very strong head teacher.
“There was a reconstitution of the governing body, we’ve now got a strong chair and a strong governing body in place.”
Ms Davies said the first thing that is tackled when working with underperforming schools is its culture.
This then has a knock-on effect, she said, on the behaviour of the children, which in turn improves teaching and learning and then outcomes.
“All of our schools are on different stages of that journey,” Ms Davies said.
“The improvements we’ve seen in De La Salle, we’ve seen the improvement in senior leadership, we’ve seen the improvement in behaviour.
“We’re beginning to see an improvement and a more consistent approach to teaching and learning.
“We would expect to see an improvement in their Progress 8 score definitely this year.
“And I know the head has written to parents and nailed his colours to the mast by saying there will be an improvement in that school this year.
“I think significantly the improvement will take place in that school next year.”
Ms Davies said a recurring issue across all underperforming schools in St Helens is the progress of disadvantaged children.
Coun Teresa Sims, leader of the St Helens Liberal Democrat group, is a governor at De La Salle and said the council’s assistance has helped the school support disadvantaged pupils.
“The recommendations have been very robust,” Coun Sims said. “They’d be useless if they’re not.
“They’ve got to be totally honest and the school’s got to take them on board, which we have. And that’s helped us get now to where we are.
“Yes, we did have quite a few students who are disadvantaged but then you have to understand why. There is always a story behind it.
“And it’s only when you have your strategies which address the underlying problems for those children that you can actually see what you need to be doing to actually help them on the way. With your help, that’s happened.”
Work is being undertaken with a number of schools that, while not among the worst performing, still need to improve.
These include Haydock High School and St Cuthbert’s Catholic High School, which were among 294 schools in England deemed to be ‘coasting’ in 2018.
This is when a secondary school’s Progress 8 score was below -0.25 in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Following criticism from Ofsted that St Helens Council is too “insular” in its approach to improving outcomes, the local authority commissioned an ‘outstanding’ teaching school based in Trafford to work with schools.
Head teachers have responded well to this move, Ms Davies said, and are “committed” to improving outcomes for the borough’s children.
Ms Davies said: “The Progress 8 measure is still disappointing – we would say that as a local authority and our heads would say that – but we’re seeing real commitment from our schools to work with us as a school effectiveness team and to work with us as a council.
“And through strong partnership, we hope we will bring about improved outcomes, this year and next year significantly.”