The inspection was carried out by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors and one Additional Inspector.
Inspectors evaluated the overall effectiveness of the school and investigated the following issues: achievement and standards, aspects of teaching and learning and the curriculum and of leadership and management. Inspectors collected evidence from lesson observations, assessment data, documentation and discussions with key staff, the vice-chair of governors, the school improvement partner and students. Other aspects of the school's work were not investigated in detail, but inspectors found no evidence to suggest that the school's own assessments, as given in its self-evaluation, were not justified and these have been included where appropriate in this report.
Description of the school
Formby High School is situated to the north of Liverpool. It is very popular within the community: there are more applications for places than the school can provide. The proportion of students entitled to free school meals is approximately half the national average and most students are of White British origin. The proportion of students who have learning difficulties and/or disabilities and of those who have a statement of special education need is below average. The school is located in an area of relative prosperity but a significant minority of learners come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Formby High School's designation as specialist college for performing arts is well established and attracts growing numbers of students from outside its immediate area with an interest and ability in the performing arts. As an Extended School, Formby High School offers services beyond the school day to students and the community. The school has achieved the Basic Skills Quality Mark, the new Sports Mark and Arts Mark Gold awards.
Overall effectiveness of the school
Formby High School is an outstanding school. It provides a happy learning community in which all students are helped to develop into exceptionally mature, confident and articulate young people, who achieve outstandingly well.
Students enter the school with standards that are above average. During their time in school, they reach exceptionally high standards and make outstanding progress, both in the Year 9 national tests in English, mathematics and science, and in GCSE examinations in Years 10 and 11. There is no significant underachievement at either Key Stage 3 or Key Stage 4 and those students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities and the few students who speak English as an additional language achieve as well as others.
Outstanding teaching contributes significantly to this excellent achievement. Lessons are characterised by very effective planning, with varied activities, high levels of challenge and excellent relationships. Students greatly enjoy the frequent opportunities to work independently of the teacher and discuss the quality of their own and other's work. No teaching observed was less than good, but the school has identified some inconsistency in the helpfulness of marking in some subjects. Systems for target setting and tracking students' progress are very sophisticated and have made a significant contribution to the rapid improvement in achievement over the past three years.
The impact of the school's performing arts status is pervasive, not only in the high performance in the specialist areas of music, drama and dance, but in all subjects. Students learn to express themselves confidently and reflect with great maturity on their feelings and experiences. This helps to equip them exceptionally well to play a very active part in genuine decision making, for example, as members of the very effective school and sports councils. Members have led successful campaigns for water fountains in school, safer travel to and from school and re-designed the sports kits. They take these responsibilities very seriously and are held to account by attendance at governors' meetings. Older students also appreciate opportunities to help younger ones, for example, as reading 'buddies' and sports coaches.
Parents are overwhelmingly delighted with the school. One parent's comment is typical of many received by inspectors during the inspection: 'Thank goodness for the care and interest the school has shown our son. We can't believe the difference in him since he joined the school.' The school works very closely with other agencies to offer students, and often their families, an exemplary level of ongoing care, guidance and support that convinces students that they can achieve well. Procedures for child protection and arrangements for the safeguarding of students are very robust.
The attention paid by the school to informing students about healthy and safe lifestyles is outstanding and contributes to students' great enjoyment of school, demonstrated by their good and improving attendance, excellent behaviour and enthusiastic participation in all that the school has to offer. This includes an outstanding curriculum that caters exceptionally well for the needs of all the students. As well as extensive and very popular opportunities to study music, drama and dance throughout the school, students can take up the challenge of studying separate sciences or two languages. There is also a growing range of vocational options in Years 10 and 11 for all students whose needs are better met by such courses. The rich variety of extra-curricular activities is a strength, including sports and many opportunities to participate in very high quality musical, drama and dance performances in the local community. Students' cultural awareness is enhanced by direct experience of other cultures, for example, through visits to schools in Kenya and China. The school's work on basic skills and the voluntary community work that many students take up as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, help to prepare learners very effectively for the next stages of their lives.
The leadership and management of the school are outstanding in the impact they have on students' achievement and personal development. The headteacher has a very clear sense of purpose, drive and energy that is shared and complemented by the closely knit senior leadership team. Senior leaders are highly respected by middle managers who feel valued and supported but also challenged. One middle manager reflected a typical point of view in saying, 'Everyone's opinion counts here.' All the staff positively seek continuous improvement. They embody the school's central message of, 'determination to achieve'.
The school's self-evaluation is incisive and has contributed much to its improvement. It involves students, parents, staff and all other partners. This gives the school a very clear understanding of its strengths and weaknesses and allows it to intervene swiftly on any underperformance. The process of setting targets is very rigorous. It results in well judged targets which are challenging but achievable and which drive the school forward. The school generally exceeds its targets, including those associated with its performing arts status. The specialist status is very well managed to support an excellent range of partnerships: for example, work with local partner schools and Creative Partnerships to fund, for instance, expert professionals working with subject departments to enhance teaching and learning.
Governance is very effective. The governing body uses the specialist expertise of individual governors to good effect to support and challenge the school management and it plays an active role in taking difficult decisions when necessary. The excellence of leadership and management and the significant improvements since the last inspection, especially in students' achievement, demonstrates its outstanding capacity to improve further and its outstanding value for money.
Effectiveness of the sixth form
Sixth form provision is good. Entry to the sixth form is very inclusive and a significant number of students begin their studies with attainment that is lower than average. The excellent and sensitive care and support that sixth form students receive maintains many in full-time education who would not otherwise engage in further study. During their time in the sixth form, students develop into very well balanced, articulate young people who are very aware of the needs of others in the school community and beyond. They give freely of their time to mentor younger students in mathematics, English and science as well as through sports coaching.
By the end of their sixth form studies, students reach standards that are broadly average. This reflects good progress from their starting points. However, the school has recognised that the demands made on students are not challenging enough. Recent changes to strengthen the management of the sixth form and improve teaching and learning have shown impact, so that teaching is now mostly good. It has some outstanding features but in a minority of lessons teachers do not check regularly enough on students' learning. Tracking and monitoring progress in the sixth form have recently been strengthened and are now better aligned with the main school. Inspection evidence shows that current students are making good progress and are very well prepared for further study and employment.
The curriculum offers a rich choice of subjects that meet the needs and aspirations of the full range of students. They enjoy an extensive menu of extra-curricular activities that is frequently reviewed and extended. Students particularly value the induction arrangements into Year 12 which include a two-day residential course at a local university that helps students settle quickly into sixth form life.
What the school should do to improve further
- Develop a wider range of strategies for the earlier identification of underperformance in the sixth form.