The inspection was carried out by two Additional Inspectors.
Description of the school
This slightly smaller than average sized school lies in Kearsley, a suburb of Bolton, but draws its pupils from a wider area. Almost half of its pupils live in an area of social and economic disadvantage. The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals is slightly below average. The percentage of pupils with learning difficulties and/or disabilities is similar to that found in most schools. There is a below average number of pupils from minority ethnic heritages and no pupils speak English as an additional language. St Stephen's Primary gained the Activemark award for its work with sport in 2006.
Overall effectiveness of the school
This is a good school in which pupils achieve well in their academic work and also make enormous strides in their personal development. It is held in high esteem by parents and its community. Typical views expressed by parents are, 'St Stephen's School is a well disciplined, happy place to learn; everyone wants the best for the children, helping them to succeed; teachers are dedicated, enthusiastic and caring and we are delighted with the progress our children make.'
Children receive the best possible start in the Foundation Stage. The outstanding provision ensures they make very good progress from their below average starting points. This prepares them exceptionally well for what awaits them in Year 1 and beyond. Pupils make good progress in Years 1 to 6 and reach above average standards in English, mathematics and science by the end of Key Stage 2. Their achievement in the arts, music and drama is impressive because of the importance the school gives to these subjects. They benefit from a wide range of extra-curricular activities, which do much to raise their confidence and self-esteem.
Pupils are very proud of their school and of what it does to help them understand healthy living, care for the community and conservation issues of which they have a good knowledge. They attend regularly, behave exceptionally well and treat their classmates and others with great dignity and respect. The school and class councils represent the views of all pupils very well. Their suggestions about changes in the curriculum have already borne fruit.
The quality of teaching and learning is good and teachers deliver their lessons taking account of the different ways pupils learn. Excellent relationships bind pupils and teachers together in their learning experience. The curriculum encourages pupils to be imaginative in their work and gives them maximum opportunity to reach their potential in all subjects. Irrespective of their levels of ability, pupils receive important guidance on how they can improve their performance in all areas of school life. However, teachers are inconsistent in the way they use pupils' individual targets to help pupils know how to improve.
The well-being of each and every pupil is central to the work of the school. Teachers, and all other adults care deeply for their pupils and support them to the utmost. Rigorous assessment and tracking of pupils' progress in Key Stage 2 is central to raising expectations and achievement and has contributed to the improving trends in standards. The school has accurately identified the need to bring more rigour to Key Stage 1 procedures, so that any pupils not progressing as well as they should are quickly spotted and given extra support to boost their achievement.
Together, the headteacher and deputy exude a determination to succeed and provide a clear direction for improvements. They are supported enthusiastically by staff whose role in taking on responsibility is developing well. A knowledgeable governing body involves itself passionately with school life and is not afraid to challenge the leadership when it feels the need to do so. The school's record of good improvement since the last inspection, together with its ability to realistically appraise its current position, places it in a good position to improve further. It provides good value for money.
Effectiveness of the Foundation Stage
The Reception room buzzes and is a hive of activity with sounds of excitement echoing around as children play and learn. Children get a flying start and quickly become engrossed in a busy school life. 'They won't be off even when they're ill,' was a comment made by several parents. The concept that every child matters is uppermost in everyone's mind. It is evidenced in the wide range of interesting activities available to children. Strong leadership by the Reception teacher results in very good teaching, and in a warm, caring, supportive atmosphere in which children thrive and achieve very well both personally and academically.
What the school should do to improve further
- Ensure there is consistency in the use teachers make of targets so that all pupils know how they can improve.
- Ensure the procedures for checking pupils' progress in Key Stage 1 are more rigorous so that any pupils not doing well enough can be quickly identified.
Achievement and standards
On entry to Reception, children's skills and knowledge are below what is typical for four-year-olds. Their language and communication skills are particularly low. They make very good progress and the majority reach the levels expected for their age as they enter Year 1. A significant number do not reach expected levels in communication and language because they have so much ground to make up from their starting point. In Key Stage 1, pupils achieve well, particularly in reading and writing and reach average standards. For a number of years, achievement through Key Stage 2 has been improving and is good. This resulted in a rise in standards to the above average levels in the Year 6 national test in English and mathematics in 2006. The school's own data shows a fall in standards in 2007. This is linked to a lower ability level overall for this group and staffing difficulties. However, standards in the current Year 6 are above average. Boys achieve as well as girls. Pupils with learning difficulties and/or disabilities also make good progress due to effective support from staff.
Personal development and well-being
Pupils seize every opportunity to experience new things, to join in activities and to demonstrate their skills. They talk very excitedly about their many contributions to the school community. Pupils feel an important part of the school family, willingly taking responsibility for many aspects of the smooth day to day running of the school. They look after each other, act as prefects or councillors and follow a healthy lifestyle. Pupils are very enthusiastic about their school work and thoroughly enjoy all out-of-class clubs and residential visits, and welcome a range of visitors into the school. Pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is excellent. They develop into concerned citizens who clearly know right from wrong and have a keen sense of fair play. They respect their environment and have a very good knowledge of the values, beliefs and lifestyles of other cultures. Through fundraising, pupils learn the basics of economic life and democratic principles. Pupils have responded well to the school's successful efforts to improve attendance.
Quality of provision
Teaching and learning
Pupils achieve well because the quality of teaching and learning is consistently good. Teachers' very caring relationships with pupils generate very positive attitudes to learning. Their strong subject knowledge, conscientious planning and sensitive questioning ensure that pupils clearly understand their tasks. Teachers employ methods which suit the learning styles of the pupils. Lessons move at a good pace and pupils work hard because they enjoy the interesting range of activities. Less successful lessons result when the pace is too slow and tasks fail to fully challenge pupils so that learning is not as rapid. Teachers mark pupils' work very carefully and pupils respond well to the useful comments that make clear how they can improve their work. Academic targets are set for pupils but their effectiveness in informing pupils how they can improve is inconsistent. The use of specialist teaching in music contributes well to pupils' good achievements. The teaching and support for pupils with learning or behavioural difficulties is good. Teaching assistants not only promote their good achievement, but enhance their self-esteem.
Curriculum and other activities
The school provides a rich range of experiences for pupils, starting from the youngest age groups onwards. It meets the needs of pupils of all abilities, whether they have particular gifts or talents or have learning difficulties and/or disabilities. The 'Wonder Week' projects, for example, link science, dance, art and technology and give pupils the opportunity to work with pupils of all ages. The curriculum is enriched by a focus on environmental issues and makes a good contribution to the health and fitness of pupils. This happens not only through the physical education (PE) curriculum but also through a very wide range of extra clubs and coaching opportunities. In addition there is a good range of activities other than sports, for example a choir, cookery and art clubs as well as residential experiences. Opportunities for pupils to further enhance their basic skills in English and information and communication technology (ICT) across all subjects are good but less so in the use of mathematics.
Care, guidance and support
Good systems to support and care for pupils are key strengths of the school.
The warmth and support provided by a conscientious staff is excellent. A typical view - 'The school always goes the extra mile' - is a fine summary of the school's approach. For example, the school promotes health and safety of pupils, through several initiatives, such as 'Healthy Hustle', and their emotional development through teaching specific programmes. The tracking of pupils' academic progress is very good in Key Stage 2. Here it identifies quickly those pupils in need of additional support to boost their achievement. The checking of pupils' progress in Key Stage 1 is less rigorous and as a consequence those pupils not doing perhaps quite as well as they can are not identified as quickly. All aspects of child protection, safe recruitment of staff, risk assessment, and health and safety meet requirements.
Leadership and management
Good leadership from senior managers has been instrumental in securing above average standards for pupils by the time they leave the school. Regular monitoring of teaching and learning has enabled them to form a clear view of the quality of education provided and to identify where future improvements are needed. They have succeeded in building an enthusiastic team bonded by a need to help all pupils achieve their full potential. They demonstrate a clear sense of purpose and high expectations, both of themselves and the pupils. The setting of challenging targets has been central to the raising of standards. The leadership roles of the subject coordinators are developing with a greater focus on raising standards. The school evaluates its work effectively and has set important priorities for improvement. Resources are used well to enhance standards in teaching, learning and the curriculum. The school works very successfully to maintain close links with parents and the local community who in turn support the school very well. Governors carry out their responsibilities conscientiously and provide an appropriate level of challenge as 'critical friends'.