The inspection was carried out by one Additional Inspector. The inspector evaluated the overall effectiveness of the school and investigated the following issues: the extent of good progress and achievement for pupils of all age and ability groups, the quality of the curriculum in meeting the needs of all pupils and the impact of leaders and managers on improving the unit. Evidence was gathered from discussions with pupils, parents, staff and managers, visiting a lesson and looking at documents and pupils’ work. Other aspects of the school’s work were not investigated in detail, but no evidence was found to suggest that the school’s own assessments, as given in its self-evaluation, were not justified, and these have been included where appropriate in this report.
Description of the school
Whitmore Park is a small unit for pregnant schoolgirls and young mothers who are dual registered with their original mainstream schools. Pupils attend for an average of one year, usually in Year 11, although attendance varies from one term to two years. Most pupils are in Years 10 and 11. Pupils from Year 9 attend very occasionally but there were none at the time of inspection. There is a crèche on site for the babies of the pupils. Whitmore Park shares the same leadership team, teachers and management committee with the Coventry Hospital Education Services, which includes the local authority home tuition service, which is an outreach service for teenage mothers and hospital education.
Overall effectiveness of the school
Whitmore Park is a good and effective unit which helps pupils to make good progress in their academic studies and in their personal development. Many pupils who enter the unit have been out of school for some considerable time and so attainment on entry is below average. By the time they leave, pupils' standards are broadly in line with national averages and the majority go on to successful placements in further education or training. This good achievement is largely due to the good quality specialist subject teaching by staff. They are experienced in motivating and supporting their pupils and in helping them achieve and progress as well as they can. Well-structured, highly practical lessons foster very positive relationships between pupils and with staff, which in turn helps to boost pupils' confidence in their abilities. This good personal and academic achievement is also supported by a long-standing and highly experienced leadership team. They manage the unit well and foster beneficial links with a host of other organisations to ensure that pupils are well cared for. The proximity of the crèche, where the babies are well looked after, is a crucial factor in pupils' ability to continue in education.
Pupils of all age and ability groups usually meet or exceed their targets, which are based upon teachers' thorough and accurate assessments. The good care, guidance and support ensure that everyone's progress is checked regularly and extra support is given to anyone falling behind. Most pupils typically leave with an average of about seven GCSEs in addition to entry level qualifications, although some achieve more with many A* to C grades. Art and child development are the most successful subjects. Parents are very positive about the benefits to their children of attending the unit. A very small minority of pupils do not do as well as they should. This is mainly because their progress is affected by poor attendance. However, the majority of pupils enjoy their time at the unit and many improve their attendance from when they were in mainstream schools. Pupils comment on just how much they have gained from the small groups and high level of personal attention with their studies. As a result, pupils' behaviour is good, with improved attitudes to learning and evident pride in their achievements. It was a pleasure to watch a group of pupils prepare food for a fundraising morning and so gain considerable confidence in their own skills. It is through growing and cooking food that many of them increase their understanding of how to lead healthy lives. For many, time spent at the unit is transformational and helps them re-engage with education, considerably improving the prospects for their future economic well-being.
The curriculum includes an outstanding array of GCSE options and entry-level courses, as well as good opportunities for learning about personal, social and health education. There is, however, little opportunity for regular exercise, which means that support for healthy living is no better than satisfactory. In addition, work-related learning and vocational education are at an early stage of development and there is little work experience for those who need it. The trips and rich variety of activities organised ensure that pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural awareness is well developed. The curriculum places a good emphasis on how to act safely and keep safe. The unit is seeking to provide an extended day to provide more opportunities for exercise and other extension activities to help broaden pupils' experiences further. Pupils contribute well to the unit and wider community. They are very supportive to one another, regularly raise charitable funds and represent the unit at events such as the local Lone Parent forum. They express their views regularly, but they do not have a formal voice in shaping the way the unit is run and do not always feel that their views are considered sufficiently. Unit staff act on pupils' suggestions, but recognise that a more regular forum is desirable.
The leadership team have a realistic view of the strengths and weaknesses of the unit. As a result, they set the right priorities for improvement and this has enabled them to sustain the good progress being achieved by pupils over many years. There was, for example, a good improvement in the percentage of pupils reaching or exceeding their targets between 2006 and 2007, when challenging targets were set for the first time. The capacity to improve is therefore good. Senior leadership recognise that further improvement needs to be underpinned by more robust systems for improving attendance and the curriculum.
The steering group has a limited remit; it is committed and provides satisfactory support, but it has not done enough to hold the unit to account for outcomes. This is recognised and the role of this group in supporting improvement more thoroughly is being revised.
What the school should do to improve further
- develop more robust systems for securing further improvement in attendance so that even more pupils meet and exceed their targets each year
- increase opportunities for work-related learning and physical education.