The inspection was carried out by four Additional Inspectors
Description of the school
The school is much larger than most other primary schools and is popular and over-subscribed. Pupils come from a diverse range of economic and social backgrounds. Overall, pupils' attainment on entry is lower than that expected for their age, although it often covers a wide range of abilities. The percentage of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds and the percentage who speak English as an additional language are above average and have risen significantly in recent years. The percentage of pupils who have additional learning needs or disabilities is broadly average. The school has been awarded the Basic Skills Quality Mark.
Overall effectiveness of the school
The school rightly evaluates its own performance as good. It is a school in which pupils feel safe, cared for well and enabled to do their best. Pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is outstanding. As one pupil said, 'People here are friendly and kind'. The Reception classes provide children with a good start to their education. Pupils in Years 1 to 6 continue to make good progress and, by the time they leave, standards are broadly average. However, progress in English is very good and standards are above average. This is because teaching and learning are good. Teachers are particularly effective at promoting improvements in pupils' speaking and listening and in their reading. Standards in mathematics lag behind those in English and fewer pupils attain the higher levels in this subject. This is because some essential mathematical strategies are not consolidated at an early enough stage.
The curriculum is good. It provides pupils with an interesting range of learning opportunities and is part of the reason why their enjoyment of their learning is outstanding. Pupils' personal development and well-being are good, as is the care, guidance and support that they receive. As one pupil commented, 'If you don't understand, you ask and the teachers do something about it'. Pupils know it is important to eat healthily and to take regular exercise. Their behaviour is good and they are caring and supportive towards one another. Even so, in lessons some younger pupils are easily distracted and do not always concentrate as well as they should.
Leadership and management are good. The outstanding work of the headteacher sets the tone for the school and is the key feature in bringing about improvements, including the good improvement evident since the last inspection. The work of the school also benefits greatly from the leadership and skills of senior managers and of those who have subject responsibilities. Governors are very supportive. They manage the school's finances well, ensuring that the available resources are used wisely. However, while the school's self-evaluation systems are good overall, the governors' role in evaluating the quality of provision and holding the school to account is not developed fully. The school's capacity for further improvement is good and it provides good value for money. Whilst some parents and carers are concerned about pupils' behaviour, the vast majority hold the school in high regard and feel it provides a good education. One parent wrote, 'We are very fortunate that both our daughters have had a high quality education at St Thomas that has drawn the best out of them'.
What the school should do to improve further
- Increase the focus on mental skills and on problem solving activities in mathematics at an earlier stage in order to increase the number of pupils attaining at higher levels.
- Find ways of ensuring that younger pupils who are easily distracted maintain their concentration and become fully focused on their work.
- Fully develop the part played by governors in evaluating the quality of provision and in holding the school to account.
Achievement and standards
Pupils achieve well and standards have improved steadily over the last three years. On starting school, children show a wide range of abilities, but overall attainment is below that expected for this age group, particularly in their emotional and social development and in language and communication. During their time in the Reception classes they make good progress and they join Year 1 with standards that are close to those expected for their age. In Years 1 and 2, pupils continue to achieve well and make good progress. By the end of Year 2, standards in reading and writing are broadly average, although standards in mathematics are slightly below average. At the end of Year 6, standards in mathematics and science are broadly average. However, standards in English are above average. Pupils' very good progress in English is due to the good teaching of reading and the good development of pupils' speaking and listening. Fewer pupils attain the higher levels in mathematics than in English, mainly because problem solving skills in the subject are not consolidated at an early enough stage.
Pupils who have additional learning needs, the rising number who come from minority ethnic backgrounds and those who speak English as an additional language all achieve well. The school is usually successful in meeting the targets that it sets for pupils' attainment.
Personal development and well-being
Pupils' personal development is good. They enjoy school, as shown by their good attendance, and parents are especially pleased with their children's love of their school. Relationships at every level are positive and pupils behave very well. They are sensible and show respect and consideration for others. Some younger children occasionally become a little restless and lose concentration. However, the majority show outstanding enthusiasm for their work. There is a strong focus on keeping healthy, with good opportunities for physical education. Older pupils are good role models and carry out a range of duties with pride and care. Pupils have a sincere sense of responsibility and very good involvement in their school community, as shown by the work of the school council. They have a good understanding of their own culture and enjoy learning about other cultures around the world. A strong Catholic ethos unites the school and flows through all aspects of pupils' spiritual, social and moral development, which are outstanding. These strengths combine with pupils' academic skills to equip them well for the future.
Quality of provision
Teaching and learning
Teaching and learning are good. Pupils make good progress because lessons are well taught and managed effectively. Common strengths of the teaching are clearly planned lessons and good subject knowledge. Where teaching is outstanding this is because pupils have a very clear idea of what they should learn and are highly motivated by exciting lessons that use a wide range of learning styles. In the majority of lessons, effective use of well trained teaching assistants means that pupils are well supported. Relationships in class are very positive and school routines are clear. Information and communication technology (ICT) is used well to support the learning. However, there is insufficient focus on the teaching of mental skills and problem solving in mathematics. Teachers are very good at encouraging children to think about how well they are doing and about what they could do better.
Curriculum and other activities
The curriculum provides pupils with a good range of activities and additional learning experiences. It is well planned and organised so that there is good coverage of all subjects, although sometimes links between subjects are not made clear to pupils. The provision for French, music and sport is especially good. Visitors to the school support the curriculum in a wide range of areas including drama, health education and science. Pupils talk enthusiastically about the programme of after school clubs and really value them, though the current programme is focused predominantly on sports and music. Personal, social and health education has a high profile within the school. This can be seen through the children's' developing confidence, and the improvement in their speaking and listening skills.
Care, guidance and support
Care, guidance and support are good. Teachers and other staff know the pupils well. Thorough induction systems ensure that pupils settle quickly when they join. Much is also done to prepare older pupils for their move to secondary school, so they look forward with confidence.
Procedures to protect pupils and care for the vulnerable are very good. The health, safety and welfare of pupils are considered paramount. Adults are checked and the school is a safe place. Pupils know what to do if they ever feel bullied and are confident staff will resolve issues. There is good support for pupils who have learning difficulties and disabilities and their individual learning needs are accurately identified. Pupils for whom English is an additional language are equally well supported.
Procedures for monitoring academic progress are good, but recent, and are becoming embedded throughout the school. Thorough and systematic assessment is used well to identify the next steps in pupils' learning and enable tasks to be better matched to the needs of each pupil. Targets to measure progress and achievement are shared beneficially with parents and pupils. Homework is good and pupils are set relevant tasks to do.
Leadership and management
This outstanding headteacher shares responsibilities with a highly effective deputy and dedicated senior management team. They have established a clear direction for the school and are committed to raising standards. The school seeks parents' views on a regular basis and values their opinions. Practical support is given to families as well as pupils themselves, ensuring pupils are happy and ready to learn. There is a strong and effective commitment to including all pupils in the school's activities. Teachers' professional development is successfully linked to their roles and responsibilities. Teaching is closely monitored. New members of staff and graduate trainees are well supported. Effective use is now being made of assessment data, particularly, in Years 5 and 6, as a tool to raise standards and improve achievement. This is having a positive impact on pupils' learning especially in English and science but has not yet had a significant impact in mathematics where progress is not as rapid. The governors are committed to do their best for the school and its pupils. They ensure effective financial planning and oversight. The secure committee structure ensures efficient and speedy decision making and resources are well managed. Governors are clear about the areas of the school's work which require improvement but are still developing the skills and expertise to question and probe. Their monitoring role too is still evolving. However, during a period of change for the school they have successfully maintained a focus on raising standards.