The inspection was carried out by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors and three Additional Inspectors.
Description of the school
St Michael's is an over-subscribed comprehensive school catering for students who come from a wide range of backgrounds; some from areas of significant social deprivation. There are significantly fewer girls than boys. About one third of students speak English as an additional language (EAL), although very few are at the early stages of acquisition. The numbers of students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities are similar to those found nationally. The school has been a Business and Enterprise College since 2003 and was awarded a second specialism in modern foreign languages (MFL) earlier this year. It has been a Training school since 2003, has Healthy Schools status and was awarded Investors in People status in 2007.
Overall effectiveness of the school
St Michael's is a satisfactory school with some good features. It is a very caring community founded on good relationships between both students and staff, and students themselves. The curriculum is also good as it offers a wide range of opportunities that students really value. It is not yet a good school because the academic achievement of students is not as secure as their personal development. This is because the quality of teaching is too variable, and the senior leadership team does not yet have a secure grasp of how to set targets for student progress that will lead to sustained improvement.
The school has suffered some turbulence due to significant changes in staffing during the past two years. This has been a difficult period, but the school is now beginning to recover. The school's capacity to make further improvements is satisfactory. This is demonstrated by the maintenance of a strong community, continued outstanding achievement in English, improving attendance and better provision for information and communication technology (ICT). The school acknowledges that it must now focus its energies on improving: the quality of teaching, the effectiveness of systems to track student progress, and standards in mathematics and science. The restructuring of the senior leadership team by the headteacher and the recent appointment of a deputy headteacher leave it well placed to undertake these challenges.
Specialist status has had a positive impact on both the provision for ICT and on broadening the type of courses on offer. However, it is yet to contribute to raising standards and achievement. A high number of comments were received from parents during the inspection, most of which were overwhelmingly positive. A significant number would like the school to take more account of both parents' and children's views. The school acknowledges this and has recently established a parents' forum.
What the school should do to improve further
- Monitor teaching more rigorously so that it focuses on improving the quality of students' learning.
- Use the target-setting process more robustly to secure improvement.
- Raise achievement and standards in mathematics and science, particularly at Key Stage 4.
A small proportion of the schools whose overall effectiveness is judged satisfactory but which have areas of underperformance will receive a monitoring visit by an Ofsted inspector before their next section 5 inspection.
Achievement and standards
Examination results in both Year 9 and Year 11 are broadly in line with standards nationally. As students start at St Michael's with standards that are broadly average, this is satisfactory achievement. Those students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities make similar progress to other students.
In 2006, standards in English, maths and science at the end of Year 9 were broadly in line with national results, but provisional data from the 2007 tests indicate a slight fall. This means that from their starting point in Year 7 students make satisfactory progress during Key Stage 3.
At the end of Year 11 in 2006 standards in GCSE examinations were above the national average. This was good achievement. However, the numbers of students achieving 5 A* to C grades fell in 2007 and both mathematics and science have shown a declining trend at GCSE over the past two years. The number of students achieving 5 A* - Cs including English and mathematics declined significantly in 2007 and is now below the national average. In 2007 standards were, therefore, broadly average and progress was satisfactory. The school was unable to provide convincing evidence that the progress of the current Year 11 would be any better.
Personal development and well-being
Students enjoy coming to school. They are keen to learn and, as a result, their behaviour both around the school and in most lessons is good. There is a very strong sense of community and students feel safe. They are adamant that the school is inclusive and that incidents of bullying and racism are very rare. When they do occur staff deal with them quickly and effectively. Attendance is good and improving due, in part, to the recent procedures put in place to chase up first day absences.
Students' spiritual, cultural and social understandings are very well developed. For example, a group of Year 9 students were able to talk with both understanding and empathy about rural poverty in Ghana, and other groups have taken the initiative to raise money for charities. Students have a good understanding of the importance of a healthy lifestyle and the school has recently received the Healthy Schools award. Many students are keen to accept responsibilities and make a good contribution to the school community. The School Council provides an effective forum for students to express their views, but students would welcome more opportunities to influence school policy. The development of student's workplace and other skills are satisfactory.
Quality of provision
Teaching and learning
The effectiveness of teaching and learning is satisfactory with some notably good features. There are some good, and occasionally outstanding, lessons but students experience a wide range of teaching including some that is inadequate. The students themselves confirm this. Behaviour in lessons is very good and students relate very well to their teachers. This contributes positively to the quality of teaching and learning. However, there are insufficient opportunities for students to extend their speaking and listening skills or to work independently.
Some lessons observed had good pace and a wide range of teaching strategies were used to keep the students engaged. Many teachers make good use of new technology to enliven their lessons. In one very effective geography class, the teacher had created a dynamic electronic presentation, using photographs and video from a recent field trip, to recap key learning points.
Where teaching was weaker, lessons failed to challenge the more able and work was pitched at the middle ability with little consideration of either lower or higher ability students. This is because planning is not always related to students' particular needs or to their prior attainment. However, teaching assistants are deployed effectively to support students with learning difficulties and to help the more able. For example, in a Year 9 Spanish class, a Spanish speaking teaching assistant supported an individual student on an accelerated programme towards gaining a GCSE.
Curriculum and other activities
The curriculum is good and the majority of learners enjoy their education. The broad and balanced curriculum is enhanced by the additional opportunities relating to specialist status. For example, volunteers from a city law firm visit the school regularly to help Year 7 pupils with their reading.
The school provides opportunities for all learners. There are accelerated learning programmes for higher performing students in some subjects. Vocational options in, for example, Business Studies and ICT are offered to students for whom a more academic curriculum is less appropriate. There are opportunities for work related learning for a small group of students, supported through links with local colleges and local authority provision.
There is good provision for out-of-school clubs, for which the school reports a high uptake by students, who say that they enjoy the variety of things on offer. ICT provision has improved throughout the school since the last inspection, partly as a result of the additional resources provided through specialist status.
Care, guidance and support
Staff know their students very well and are committed to their well-being. There is a strong sense of caring for each other within the school. Support for vulnerable students is very good. Their progress is monitored regularly by an inclusion panel that calls upon a range of external agencies to provide expert support and care. The school uses its tracking data to identify those at risk of underachieving and then to target support in the form of booster sessions and the Saturday school. The guidance provided by teachers in the classroom, although variable, is satisfactory and is often based upon a good awareness of students' abilities. Appropriate procedures exist to safeguard children, but they are not reviewed regularly.
Teachers use target setting satisfactorily to help students move forward. Books are marked regularly but not all students understand the levels at which they are working or what they must do to improve. Students do not receive their target grades sufficiently early in the school year to enable them to improve rapidly. Parental participation in target setting for individual students is good and they are kept well informed about their children's progress. Students receive good guidance about future options and most go on to further education post-16.
Leadership and management
The quality of leadership and management is satisfactory. The school is an orderly, caring community founded on good relationships between students and staff. This is a tribute to the hard work of many staff and good leadership in aspects of the care of students. There is yet to be the same focus and rigour applied by senior leaders to ensuring clear direction for academic improvement. As a result, systems for analysing student performance data are underdeveloped and do not provide a clear strategic direction for the school. This leaves it vulnerable to some underachievement and the variability of performance by departments, which ranges from outstanding to inadequate. Senior leaders have yet to develop a consistently secure, shared understanding of how to accurately judge teaching. Too often they make judgements based on behaviour rather than the quality of learning.
There is good and some outstanding middle management, for example, in English where achievement is consistently good. The management of the learning support unit is also good as it supports behaviour across the school. As a result, exclusions are very low. However, there is still some variability in the quality of middle management which means that results at Key Stage 4 vary from year to year. This is particularly true in mathematics and science.
The governing body carries out its statutory responsibilities well. It does need to ensure that procedures for pre-employment checks are reviewed regularly. Governors are aware that they require further training to ensure that they are in a strong position to both support and challenge the senior leadership team on student performance. The recent appointment of a link governor to the mathematics department is a positive development in this regard.