The inspection was carried out by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors and one Additional Inspector.
Description of the school
Saffron Walden County High School is a large comprehensive school located in the Saffron Walden Audley ward. The great majority of students come from socially and economically advantaged homes in the town and surrounding villages, have a white British heritage, and have English as their first language. The proportion of students eligible for free school meals is considerably below the national average and the proportion of students with a statement of special educational needs is much lower than the national figure.
Saffron Walden County High School has been a specialist technology college since 1994, a training school since 2001, and was awarded Leading Edge status in 2003.
Overall effectiveness of the school
Inspectors agree with the school's self-evaluation that Saffron Walden County High continues to be a good school with many outstanding features, including a sixth form that is exemplary in every respect.
A parent wrote to the inspection team, 'Both my daughters have enjoyed the benefit of a caring and supportive community in which to learn and grow'. Outstanding care, guidance, and support is provided for students, including an exceptionally strong support team for students with learning difficulties and disabilities, and a robust tutorial system that ensures that every student matters in this large school. This is matched, in return, by some exceptional personal qualities shown by students. They enjoy their education, appreciating their classroom lessons and extra-curricular activities in equal measure.
Standards of students' work are high. When they arrive in Year 7, they are well-disposed to learning and have achieved above average results at their primary schools. By the end of Year 11, they are achieving results that are well above average overall, representing good progress as they move through the school, although the school's challenging targets for GCSE have not been met for the past two years. Science does not perform as well as other subjects.
The school has built a strong reputation as a training school, evolving and sharing good practice by educating new teachers and existing members of staff through in-house professional development programmes, and this has helped a good number of teachers to progress in their careers. There is much good and sometimes excellent teaching to be seen in the school at present. However, there are also some areas where teachers would benefit from continued training and sharing of good practice to help them (and their students) achieve the standards of performance that the school rightly strives for. Marking is an area for improvement across the school.
The school is at the forefront of developing curriculum provision with the aim of challenging students to achieve at the highest levels possible and also meeting individual, personalised learning needs. Whilst curriculum provision in the main school is good, the school recognises that it needs to make a full evaluation of these innovations once there is firm evidence of the impact that they have on the personal development and achievements of all students. This would be welcomed by parents and students.
The headteacher and his deputies are an outstanding team with an inclusive style of leadership, where governors, staff and students all have a part to play and share in school improvement. This ensures that this large and busy school runs smoothly on a day-to-day basis, that there is reflective practice at all levels and that there is effective self-evaluation of the school's performance. Whilst the school is involved in many initiatives and partnerships, it is significant that the first and clearest priority in the school improvement plan is concerned with raising and maintaining levels of student achievement. All this gives great confidence in the school's capacity for further improvement.
Effectiveness and efficiency of the sixth form
The effectiveness and efficiency of this inclusive sixth form are outstanding. Standards are well above average and achievement is consistently high. This is because the environment for learning is extremely positive and much excellent teaching promotes rapid progress. Because students are keen to learn, they very quickly acquire the independent learning and other study skills they need to be successful.
Outstanding leadership and management ensure that students' progress is closely monitored and well-focused support provided where necessary. Students speak highly of the excellent care and guidance they receive both before entering and while in the sixth form. This guidance, together with a curriculum that is well matched to their needs and aspirations, helps to ensure that students are well suited to their courses, with the result that very few drop out early. Students' personal development is outstanding. They enjoy and appreciate their education, and make a significant contribution to the school and wider community. As one student said, 'We are encouraged to be well-rounded individuals and not just academically successful'.
What the school should do to improve further
- Continue using good practice and professional training programmes to ensure consistently good teaching throughout the school, leading to consistent student achievement across all subjects.
- Evaluate the impact of the school's curriculum innovations in Key Stages 3 and 4 to ensure that they have a positive impact on the personal development and achievement of all students.
- Review the effectiveness of marking throughout the school in order to help students understand what they can do to improve their work.
Achievement and standards
Grade for sixth form: 1
When students arrive in Year 7, the standard of their work is already above that expected nationally. At the end of Key Stage 3, their results, which are well above expectations, show that they have made good progress. Overall results at the end of Key Stage 4 are also well above average. Students' good progress is confirmed by contextual value-added measures, and students with learning difficulties and disabilities progress as well as all other students.
GCSE subjects that performed very well last year included music, art, drama, and English language, reflecting areas where teaching is particularly strong and where there is some excellent extra-curricular provision. In comparison, 2006 science GCSE results showed relative underperformance. The school did not quite meet its overall targets for GCSE in 2005 or 2006 or its Key Stage 3 targets in 2006.
Personal development and well-being
Grade for sixth form: 1
Students' personal and social development and well-being are outstanding. The relationships that they have with each other and with adults are very good and they show equally good responses to spiritual and moral issues. They are well aware of cultural differences through their work in school, particularly in humanities, the arts, and English.
Students enjoy their education. This enjoyment is shown by the very good behaviour of the great majority and in their good attendance rates. The school has been particularly proactive in encouraging students' attendance and discouraging them from taking holidays in term-time. Only a relatively small number of students show inappropriate behaviour, and they are dealt with appropriately.
Students understand the importance of eating healthily and are complimentary about the new options that are offered to them in the school canteen. They really enjoy their sport. Students' preparation for later working life and their economic awareness is good because of their good core skills and the school's commitment to work-related learning.
Quality of provision
Teaching and learning
Grade for sixth form: 1
Teaching and learning are good and sometimes excellent. In this school the vast majority of lessons are characterised by mutual respect and the willingness of pupils to comply with the requests of teachers. The best lessons typically begin with lively questioning that forces students to think, and then sessions proceed at a good pace. There is a high level of challenge and teachers use their subject expertise well to extend pupils' knowledge and understanding. Students enjoy these lessons because they are actively involved.
In most lessons teachers tell students what they are expected to learn and consequently good progress is made because students understand the purpose of the lesson activities. The school has effective procedures for assessing students' attainment and this information is used well to track students' progress. However, there is too much variation in the quality of teachers' marking across the school, which does not always provide clear guidance on the standard of work and what students should do to improve.
Curriculum and other activities
Grade for sixth form: 1
The curriculum is good and enhanced by the school's specialist technology college status. The school provides a broad range of vocational subjects, in addition to a wide range of academic subjects. These are well suited to the needs and aspirations of pupils across the full attainment range. This is contributing to students' achievement and enjoyment and helping to foster positive attitudes to school in pupils less suited to more traditional GCSE courses. The school has also introduced an accelerated programme in Key Stage 3, early GCSE entries or three-year GCSE courses, and proposed additional enrichment courses in Year 11. The current Year 10 is the first group to experience this programme.
The curriculum is complemented by a comprehensive range of enrichment opportunities. Pupils of all abilities take advantage of the various music and sporting activities, clubs, educational and residential visits offered. These activities make an important contribution to pupils' personal development. Productive links with local businesses support work experience.
Care, guidance and support
Grade for sixth form: 1
The school provides outstanding care, guidance and support for students. All requirements for child protection and safeguarding procedures are met. The school assures students' safety through careful attention to risk assessments and maintains accurate records over the large school site. Students tell us that they feel safe at school, they show responsible and safe behaviour in lessons and in the corridors, and know how to keep themselves safe when they are out and about.
Support for students with learning difficulties and disabilities is outstanding. Led by the special needs coordinator, the highly effective team of learning support assistants provides security and assistance for students throughout every part of the school day. This is recognised as especially important in such a large school.
Leadership and management
Grade for sixth form: 1
The leadership and management of the school are good with some strong features. The outstanding leadership of the headteacher and his senior management team provide the school with a very clear sense of direction. The willingness to be innovative, as seen in the new curriculum structure for example, is an indication of the school's high ambitions for future development. The full impact of these innovations has yet to be seen in the school's performance. Systematic self-evaluation provides managers at all levels with an accurate view of the effectiveness of the school's provision. This leads to a focus on particular subjects or areas of the school where there is a need for improvement. Professional development is valued and used effectively to continually develop the quality of leadership and of teaching.
School governance is exemplary. Governors act as very strong 'critical friends' and work closely with the headteacher and senior leaders in driving school improvement. They fully understand the need to evaluate the impact of provision on performance. Financial management is secure. Links with local schools, colleges, businesses and the community are excellent and strengthened through the school's specialist activities.