The inspection was carried out by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors and three Additional Inspectors.
Description of the school
Dormers Wells High School serves an ethnically diverse urban community. It is a community in which many do not have experience of higher education and many are unemployed or in unskilled and semi skilled work. Around one third of students are from Asian families and a further quarter have African or Caribbean heritage. Over 70% of students speak English as an additional language with over forty different community languages spoken. Many students join the school at times other than the beginning of Year 7 and at a very early stage of English acquisition. A few have experienced significant upset in their lives and over half have learning difficulties and/or disabilities, of which many have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Overall effectiveness of the school
Dormers Wells High School is an outstanding school where students make exceptionally good progress because the school makes sure that each is well supported and challenged according to their particular need. The headteacher is determined that every student will achieve their best and is well supported by staff who are equally passionate and committed to this ideal.
At this school it is cool to work hard and cool to do well; everyone's achievements are celebrated. Students value the safety of the school and the support offered by teachers and other staff at the school. They are friendly, courteous, and exceptionally well behaved. They reflect on their experiences well and are able to share their different views openly and without prejudice. Different groups work and socialise together easily. The school makes sure that everyone's heritage is valued but at the same time students are well inducted into different aspects of English language and white culture as in an English lesson when the teacher explained the social significance of reference to a 'goldfish' and a 'budgie' in a poem. Recently the school has begun to focus on making sure that high attaining students are stretched and challenged and this, together with strong support and intervention for those who find learning difficult, means that students make exceptionally good progress. The students, who arrive at the school with standards that are well below average, thus leave having attained academic standards in line with national averages. The outstanding care, guidance and support given to students, plays an important part in enabling them to make such excellent progress.
Teaching in the school is good. Teachers have very good subject knowledge and deliver interesting and well-structured lessons. In class, the learning of those at an early stage of learning English and those who have difficulties with their learning is extremely well supported by teachers and teaching assistants who play an active role in the planning and delivery of teaching. Teachers however are not consistently giving students clear feedback about what they need to do to improve their work and meet their targets.
The curriculum is broad and enables all students to follow courses that meet their abilities, interests and aspirations. The school has used its specialist college status extremely effectively to drive up standards. It has worked in local primary schools to support pupils' independent learning, information technology skills and problem solving in order to help its students even before they arrive at the school. The use of information technology is being well developed across the school and teaching and learning in mathematics is now excellent. Workshops for students and their families and for members of different communities, master classes and links with local industries have ensured that students' learning is rich in mathematics and computing. In addition, the school has developed a reciprocal arrangement with a local specialist sports college to enhance the physical education offered to its students.
The headteacher has a clear vision for the future. Excellent systems and procedures underpin the working of the school and middle leaders are empowered to lead change. Together with the governors, senior leaders are engaged in strategic and proactive planning to ensure good results. The school's self-evaluation processes are effective, but cumbersome. Plans for improvement of current practice are appropriate but the school is not setting itself clear and measurable targets and measuring its progress against these.
What the school should do to improve further
- Enhance improvement planning by including measurable targets and monitoring the progress that the school makes towards these.
- Ensure that all staff identify for students what it is they need to do to improve their work and meet their targets.
Achievement and standards
Students arrive at the school with standards that are well below the national average. By the time they leave, standards are in line with national averages and this year are on course to be above average. This is because students at all levels of prior attainment are making outstanding progress. This is as true of progress in Key Stage 3, at the end of which standards are below average, as it is of Key Stage 4. Very few students slip through the net as almost all leave with some form of accreditation and very few make less than broadly average progress. Those that do are well known to teachers who are able to explain what exactly had been done to support them and why it failed to work.
Progress in mathematics is particularly strong as a result of detailed analysis of what students can and cannot do, coupled with careful deployment of staff to ensure that each teaches to their strength. Equally, students do very well in English literature GCSE, a subject that nearly all enter. Very able students are able to take some GCSEs and GCEs early but overall, the school recognises that it must now seek to enable more students to attain A and A* grades.
The school is careful to analyse its results to establish whether any particular ethnic group does less well than any other and against its national cohort and puts in place measures to rectify any such occurrence.
Personal development and well-being
The spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of students is excellent. Students respect and value their school and the staff within it. They are happy to be there and feel that they are well cared for and safe. As a result, nearly everyone is determined to do his or her best and make things work. The school reflects and celebrates the cultures of all who attend and everyone is extremely culturally aware. Students' behaviour is exemplary both in lessons and around the school. They care for the environment and look out for each other. They are not afraid to acknowledge weakness and seek help.
Through personal and social education, students are well informed about healthy and safe lifestyles; most eat very sensibly and exercise well. Year 11 students are very positive about the stress management course that they have attended and are sure that this is helping them through their exams. Students understand what it is to be a purposeful and good citizen. Many contribute well to the school community through participation in teams, drama, dance, the International Evening and also by being prefects and peer mentors. A school council serves the student body well but there is scope for developing their role in leading the school community as this would further develop students' leadership and initiative skills. Relationships between people from different backgrounds are excellent.
Quality of provision
Teaching and learning
Lessons are generally engaging and interesting with opportunities for students to think for themselves within carefully structured activities. Relationships in classrooms are excellent and lessons are enjoyable for most students most of the time. Teachers have exceptionally good subject knowledge and manage their classes well. Learning assistants are involved in the planning and delivery of lessons and are very effective in ensuring that their charges make good progress. In some lessons however, there is not enough opportunity for students to work at their own level, especially if they are good at that subject. Most students know their targets, but across the school, not enough teachers are giving clear feedback to students about what it is that they need to do to improve their work and achieve their target.
Curriculum and other activities
Students enjoy their education because the curriculum is very well matched to all their individual needs. This includes excellent provision for those who speak English as an additional language, excellent curricular and extra curricular opportunities for high attaining students and a wide range of options for those who wish to follow a vocational route.
Some students for example, take some subjects at GCSE early and go on to more advanced study. They are well supported with activities well suited to extending them such as mock trials and master classes, whilst visits to different universities are arranged. Students are encouraged to take a GCSE in their home language if it is not English, and Panjabi, Arabic and Urdu are offered as GCSE subjects for all. Vocational subjects are offered, whilst some students opt to attend college or do extended work experience with additional literacy, numeracy and IT courses at school.
There is an outstanding range of extra curricular opportunities that reflect the multi ethnic make up of the school with a very high level of take up. Students appreciate the opportunities that they have to go on trips with the school and to participate in extra-curricular physical education, music, dance and drama.
Care, guidance and support
The school offers outstanding care, guidance and support to all its students. Staff work closely with parents and with outside agencies to ensure that all the needs of students are met. Students value the fact that their parents are informed as much about their positive achievements and good behaviour as about issues of concern. Good systems are in place to ensure that the progress made by students is tracked and that staff can intervene to support individuals if they start to fall behind. In addition an excellent new system has been trialled and is now being rolled out across the school which enables staff to record and track any behavioural incidences or failure to complete homework. This has already helped year leaders identify students who need help at a very early stage and helps them ascertain when and where difficulties occur for individuals so that the support given can be closely targeted.
New arrivals to the school are carefully inducted and the support given for those who are learning English is excellent. In addition to teaching those at an early stage of learning English, the school identifies high achievers who are held back because, whilst good, their English is not good enough to pick up nuances, and ensures that they too are helped. Learning mentors provide excellent guidance to students and make a big difference to their personal development and their ability to learn. Partly as a result of their work the number of students that are excluded is dropping.
Students who find learning a challenge are very well supported both in lessons and through withdrawal sessions. Robust procedures are in place for safeguarding students.
Leadership and management
The headteacher is tireless in seeking to ensure that the school provides outstanding educational experiences for students. She knows what needs to happen to improve the school further. Her vision is shared and staff are empowered to contribute to the school's improvement. Together with governors, the headteacher is strategic and proactive in planning to ensure that the school provides exceptionally well for its students.
Leaders at all levels in the school evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their provision well and plan for improvement. Different solutions are trialled and adopted when effective. For example, leaders noted that a disproportionate number of African Caribbean students were being excluded. As a result, they undertook wide-ranging consultation and put in place a raft of additional measures that have successfully supported these students. School improvement planning is effective but could be sharper if clear improvement targets were identified and the progress towards these was monitored.