The inspection was carried out by one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors and four Additional Inspectors.
Description of the school
St Anthony's, which has specialist technology status, is a Roman Catholic girls' school. This is an oversubscribed and larger than average sized secondary school with below average numbers of minority ethnic students and those eligible for free school meals. The number of students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, including those with a statement of special educational need, is below average. The school serves a broad catchment area, with some students coming from areas which suffer from significant levels of social deprivation.
Overall effectiveness of the school
St Anthony’s is a good school, providing a good quality of education for its students. The school’s sixth form provision for personal development and well-being, and the care, guidance and support provided for the students are outstanding.
The school has a very strong and caring ethos, based firmly on its spiritual inheritance and its success in bringing to life the values of the Roman Catholic faith. Students, their parents, and all those who work in the school share a common set of values, which contribute to its many successes. The school is a harmonious community, and values and appreciates all students, including those from different faiths, cultures and ethnic heritage. Students contribute very positively to a range of community activities, including fundraising for local and national charities.
The school consistently and successfully maintains high standards at the end of Key Stages 3, 4 and the sixth form, which ensures that the students make good overall progress throughout their time at the school. Parents, quite understandably, place a high value on the school’s academic achievements, and many took the opportunity in the pre-inspection questionnaire to praise the teachers for all the help and support that their children receive. Parents and students also recognise and value highly the many and varied out of lesson opportunities available, all of which further enhance the provision and reputation of the school. Students are very positive about the school, and those who spoke with inspectors were unanimous in their praise for teachers, the learning opportunities in and out of lessons, and the enjoyment that they experience from attending a successful and caring school.
The school is led well, with the headteacher providing the drive and enthusiasm for maintaining high standards in all aspects of school life. She is ably assisted by senior and middle managers, who work together effectively to support teachers in lessons, and support, guide and care for all students. Governors are knowledgeable and supportive of the school. The combined effectiveness of all leaders and managers gives the school good capacity to make further improvements.
Teaching is good overall, and contributes to the exemplary behaviour of students. However, although lesson plans are detailed and are used well, they currently place a greater emphasis on teaching activities rather than on the skills, knowledge and understanding that the students should acquire and develop. The school collects a good range of assessment data, which are used effectively to identify challenging targets for the students, especially at Key Stage 4 and in the sixth form. Separate subject departments analyse students’ performance well, including those who underachieve. However, the coordination of assessment data for all those formally identified as having learning difficulties and/disabilities is not undertaken centrally, which means that staff are only able to focus on those with identified difficulties in their own subject.
The school’s specialist status for technology makes a positive contribution to the curricular provision at all key stages, and is helping to create very effective links with a number of local and national partners.
Effectiveness of the sixth form
The overall quality of the sixth form provision is good. It is effective and well managed. The retention rate of students from the main school to the sixth form is very high, reflecting the very high regard within the local area for the quality of the post-16 provision at the school. The examination results for 2007 improved on previous years, continuing the trend of good standards. Students make good progress because their work is carefully monitored and their learning needs are met well. By the end of Year 13, students are sensitive, mature and articulate members of the school community, ready for life as adults. Students say they feel they are listened to and cherish the opportunities to take up responsibilities; for example, in work with local primary schools as part of the Community Sports Leader’s Award. Students enjoy being at school. ‘It’s a good school where you get lots of support’ is a typical comment. Their high levels of attendance confirm this. The curriculum is extensive and has been successfully enhanced to meet individual needs, for example, by sharing courses with a local boys’ school. The school has chosen to limit the number of vocational courses because of a lack of accommodation, and because school-based surveys reveal that a more traditional curriculum is currently wanted by the existing students. Teaching is good overall. In the best lessons, teaching is lively and engages the pupils’ interest, enabling them to accurately assess the quality of their work. Teachers’ excellent subject knowledge also contributes to the rapid pace of learning seen in the most effective lessons. Good use is made of the school’s resources for learning, including computers, to aid the presentation and production of work. However, although students may borrow school laptops, insufficient opportunity is provided for them to develop independent learning skills. Students receive excellent care, guidance and support and are well prepared for the next stage of their education, training or employment.
What the school should do to improve further
- Improve the focus on learning by identifying the key skills, knowledge and aspects of understanding that students should acquire in every lesson, and ensure that these are shared with students.
- Coordinate the collection of assessment data for students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities across all subjects, as an aid to them making even better progress.
Achievement and standards
Grade for sixth form: 2
The standards achieved by students in the main school and sixth form are good. Although there is some year-on-year variation in the standards of students who start at the school in Year 7, on the whole they are above average. By the time students reach the end of Key Stage 3, standards are above average in mathematics and science, and exceptionally high in English. Standards in information and communication technology (ICT) at the end of Key Stage 3 have risen by almost 20% since the previous inspection. By the end of Key Stage 4, standards are above average in all areas, with English and mathematics showing a year-on-year improvement since the previous inspection. The overall progress of students is good because the higher than average standards are maintained throughout the school. Students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities achieve standards in line with their abilities, making good overall progress.
Personal development and well-being
Grade for sixth form: 1
The personal development and well-being of students is good in the main school and outstanding in the sixth form. Provision for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is good overall, but outstanding in the spiritual element. The strong Christian ethos is reflected clearly in all aspects of life at the school, enabling the students to develop into well-rounded and fulfilled individuals who enjoy attending school and whose behaviour is exemplary. Students relate well to teachers and each other, with sixth form students, in particular, feeling that their very mature and sensitive personal skills are appreciated and actively encouraged by teachers. By the time the students leave school at the end of Year 13, they are very well prepared for adult life.
Students are aware of the importance of their health and personal well-being, and large numbers enjoy a range of extra-curricular sporting activities, including the ‘Active Playgrounds’ initiative. However, smoking, which was identified as an issue by some parents in the pre-inspection questionnaire, is not addressed within personal, social, health and economic education until Year 9, which is later than should be. The students feel that their views are sought on a number of school matters. For example, the recent consultation about lunchtime menus in order to provide healthier eating options resulted in a change to the type of food on offer. The school council, which enjoys wide support from the students, is well represented at local and regional conferences and events.
Students make a positive contribution to the community, through projects with the elderly, fundraising events for local and national charities, and through links with a local special school, primary feeder schools and a school in Swaziland. Good links to local industry mean students’ future economic well-being is well addressed.
Quality of provision
Teaching and learning
Grade for sixth form: 2
Teaching is good throughout the school, and is characterised by thorough subject knowledge and well structured lessons. Parents are very positive about the quality of teaching in the school. The views of one student were typical of what inspectors were told: ‘Teachers always find a way to make learning understandable'. Relationships are very good and teachers are adept at managing students' behaviour. The students value the efforts of the teachers to offer them support, whenever it is needed; this results in motivated and confident learners. Teachers challenge students through effective questioning. They also encourage students to explain their answers, which contributes to them developing good speaking and listening skills and helps them make good overall progress across the school, including the few who are learning English as an additional language. The system for setting individual targets enables the progress of students to be tracked effectively. Although lesson planning is thorough, the emphasis is on learning activities rather than on learning outcomes. This means that some work is not always matched precisely to the range of student abilities in the lesson. Teachers consistently refer to learning objectives at the start of lessons, but too many of these are focused on teaching outcomes and not on the skills, knowledge and understanding that the students will develop. In some subjects, effective marking includes helpful comments that help students understand how to improve their work, and contributes to the good quality of teaching and learning across the school. Resources for learning, especially those which relate to the school’s technology specialism, support students’ learning well.
Curriculum and other activities
Grade for sixth form: 2
The curriculum is good in both the main school and sixth form, and contributes well to the good standards achieved. The school’s specialist status for technology makes a positive contribution to the curricular provision at all key stages, and is helping to create very effective links with a number of local and national partners. The use of these external partners to enhance technological and enterprise activities is extending the range of learning activities, and increasing the interest and motivation of the students to learn. There is good provision for literacy and numeracy across the school, in particular at Key Stage 4 where additional support strategies for lower achieving students are helping to raise standards.
Pupils make effective use of a range of ICT resources, especially computers, across the curriculum. There is sufficient flexibility within the curriculum to ensure that vocational and traditional academic courses are offered to students in the main school. However, the school has chosen to limit the number of vocational courses on offer in the sixth form because of a lack of suitable accommodation, and because existing students have expressed a preference for more traditional courses. The students are prepared effectively for future education, employment and training, and there is a good work-related programme for Key Stage 4 students. Out of lesson opportunities are good, especially in sport, music, drama, and external visits.
Care, guidance and support
Grade for sixth form: 1
The quality of care, guidance and support provided by the school is good in the main school and outstanding in the sixth form. The care for students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities is also good because of the focused support given by teachers and teaching assistants. However, there are some inconsistencies in the systems for self, peer and staff assessment across the school, including the evaluation methods used by different subject departments to assess the standards and progress made by the students. This means that although there is effective monitoring of students’ subject progress, the cohort of students on the special educational needs register is not yet analysed as a separate group. Accordingly, any trends or issues for this cohort across the subject range are not easy to identify.
The school takes its duty to safeguard the students very seriously, and all the required child protection procedures are in place. All those students who spoke with inspectors said they feel safe and well cared for as a result of the inclusion, equality and diversity policies in practice. Parents also value the support given by teachers. As one student said: ‘There are always teachers you can talk to for support and guidance’.
Excellent student behaviour and an ethos encouraging respect for all means that exclusions are extremely low and attendance good. Although a minority of students reported feeling nervous about moving to the school, a feeling typical for any new entrant, transition is well managed. The summer school for feeder primary schools, which allow the new students to meet teachers and other students, is working well.
Leadership and management
Grade for sixth form: 2
Leadership and management at all levels are good, and the response to specialist status initiatives excellent. The self-evaluation of the school is accurate. The headteacher has clearly communicated her vision and commitment to her senior team ensuring that all staff understand the drive to raise further the standards of all students. Subject leaders and other managers maintain a professional dialogue with each other, and readily embrace new initiatives and research findings to evaluate practice and try out new ideas. This critical approach leads to focused action to improve the quality of provision. The school improvement plan is well conceived and linked extensively to raising standards.
Assessment data are used extensively to provide students with closely monitored and challenging targets for each subject. Careful analysis within each department identifies any students that are at risk of underachieving and, as a result, equality of opportunity for students is good.
Performance management has concentrated recently on developing teaching quality, but is now moving, more appropriately, towards assessing the impact of teaching on improving students’ progress in lessons. Staff and resources are well deployed. The accommodation is in several different buildings that are well kept and ensure that students work in a stimulating environment.
Governance, under the knowledgeable leadership of the chair of the governing body, is a further strength of the leadership and management of the school. Governors understand their responsibilities and are involved fully in the life of the school. They fulfil their duties to oversee the quality of provision at the school very effectively.
The combined work of all leaders and managers, together with the high standards achieved and effective links with external partners mean that the school achieves good value for money and has a good capacity to improve further.