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INSPECTION REPORT OF DENOMINATIONAL CHARACTER AND RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
(Under Section 48 of the Education Act 2005)
ST BERNARD’S VOLUNTARY AIDED CATHOLIC GRAMMAR SCHOOL
DfES School No: 871/4700
Head Teacher: Mr J McAteer
Chair of Governors: Mr H McBrien
Reporting Inspector: Mrs K Edwards
Associate Inspector: Mrs B Grimley
Date of Inspection: 17 January 2006
Date of previous Inspection: 29 January 2001
The School is in the Trusteeship of the Bernardine order and
in partnership with Slough Local Education Authority
Description of the School
St Bernard’s Catholic School is a co-educational 11-18 selective school under the trusteeship of the Bernardine order and maintained by Slough Education Authority. There are 871 pupils on roll with slightly more girls than boys. About 90% of pupils are baptised Roman Catholic and the remainder belong to different Christian denominations and other faiths. St Bernard’s is one of two Catholic secondary schools in Slough.
Pupils’ attainment on entry is above the national average but lower than many selective schools. This is due to the denominational nature of the school and the fact that Slough offers grammar school places to 45% of secondary aged pupils. The school was granted Humanities specialist school status in 2004.
Key for inspection grades
Grade 1: Outstanding
Grade 2: Good
Grade 3: Satisfactory
Grade 4: Unsatisfactory
Overall effectiveness of the school
St Bernard’s is an outstanding school. It provides an excellent level of care where pupils feel valued for who they are coupled with opportunity for academic excellence. The distinctive and unique character of the school originates from the Bernardine community and this mission for faith development is shared and owned by staff, pupils and governors. The Headteacher provides an excellent role model in his leadership and the school is very well supported by governors, staff and parents. The school is imbued with generosity of spirit in its daily work and this is exemplified by the many acts of service and charity both within the school and beyond in the wider community. A particular strength of the school is the outstanding relationships evidenced in the value placed on each individual and consideration shown for others as well as the welcome given to visitors. Year 12 and 13 are given the opportunity to take on leadership roles in the school in service to other pupils and are outstanding role models in the community. Specialist school status has been used to promote further the mission of the school and to enrich ways in which pupils and staff can respond to their Christian vocation.
Improvement since the last inspection
Evidence from lesson observation, programmes of study and pupil work demonstrates that ICONS has now been introduced throughout key stage three. Resources for prayer have been developed further with the refurbishment of an additional prayer space – Bethany – and the production of a whole school prayer book. Both these resources are valued by staff and pupils. Results at key stage four have improved with significantly more pupils attaining grade A*-A. The ‘Education for Personal Relationships Policy’ has been reviewed by governors, parents, students and staff and all parents now have a copy. The curriculum time allocated to Religious Education for Years 8 and 9 is still below that recommended by the Bishops of England and Wales. However the curriculum is enhanced by the very successful ‘away day’ and retreat programme.
The capacity of the school community to improve and develop
Through the school’s self-evaluation areas for development have been clearly identified and are being addressed. The Headteacher and the Senior Management Team have the vision and commitment to ensure improvement and are very well supported by the governing body who are robust in their role as critical friends. The use of student voice and parental consultation are an outstanding feature of the school’s practice and an important part of the school’s self-evaluation, monitoring and planning cycle. Pupil and parent views are taken seriously and acted upon appropriately. The newly appointed school chaplain benefits from the excellent chaplaincy provision of previous years and has the support and guidance necessary from the Headteacher, Senior Management Team and governors to develop chaplaincy even further in the school. The Religious Education department has the necessary leadership, vision and expertise to continue to build on their excellent work.
What the school should do to improve further
· The governors and Senior Management Team should enable form tutors to build on and share the very good practice of tutor group prayer that exists in the school.
· The governors and Senior Management Team should encourage all departments in the school to articulate and make explicit the opportunities in the wider curriculum for spiritual and moral development of pupils. This would enable the sharing of good practice and provide opportunity to celebrate the whole school’s commitment to these important aspects of pupil development.
· The RE department should continue their very good work with tackling the underachievement of boys compared with girls in gaining A*-A at GCSE through a variety of teaching and learning methodologies and the use of ICT.
The Catholic Life of the School
Leadership and Management
The Headteacher provides strong and committed leadership and ensures that the mission statement is alive in school both through the value that individuals place on each other and the ethos of service that pervades the whole community. All policies in the school and expectations of staff and pupils are underpinned by the mission statement. It is a strength that the Head of Religious Education is on the Senior Management Team.
The appointment of a full time chaplain and the strategic support for liturgy and the retreat programme demonstrate the commitment of leaders to this important part of pupil and staff faith development. Staff new to the school benefit from an Induction Programme on the Catholic Nature of the School offered by members of the Bernardine community, form tutors and the Religious Education department. The governing body play a vital and highly effective role in the leadership and management of the school from strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation, links with departments, recruitment of staff and supporting liturgical celebration and chaplaincy. There is a link governor with responsibility for the Religious Education department and chaplaincy. Subject leaders have used the opportunities afforded by the school’s specialist status to make an outstanding contribution to pupils’ moral and spiritual development through service to the wider community such as the Slough Refugee Project and exchanges with partner schools in Africa. The inspectors would encourage all subject leaders to articulate and be more explicit about the ways in which their departments can and do contribute to these important aspects of pupil development.
The school provides outstanding opportunity for a variety of collective worship. The school calendar evidences the number of opportunities taken to celebrate Mass whether for the whole school, year groups, or with the wider community. There is also a well established assembly programme which allows the whole community to worship together once a week with opportunities for junior pupils, senior pupils and individual year groups at other times. When not in assembly pupils pray in tutor groups and a variety of resources are used to support this. Tutor group prayer is a well established part of daily worship but the inspectors would encourage staff to work together more on developing approaches to prayer and sharing good practice.
A particular strength of the school is the participation of pupils in collective worship, whether it be through music, Eucharistic ministry or leading others in prayer and reflection. The school chaplain plans to give pupils even more opportunity to take further responsibility for the prayer life of the school. The school is fortunate in having a beautiful chapel which reflects its monastic tradition, and this is well used by the school community for organised worship and private prayer.
The recently appointed and well qualified chaplain has a clear idea of how chaplaincy can be developed further in the school and has identified priorities with the very good support of both the Headteacher and his line manager, the Head of Religious Education. The school offers all pupils and staff the opportunity for retreat in tutor group and year groups and in addition to this there is an annual whole school retreat and biennial whole staff retreat. These opportunities are highly valued and appreciated by pupils and staff and it is a particular strength of the school that other departments, in addition to the Religious Education department, contribute to materials and resources for retreats. Two outstanding examples of parish liaison are the pupil contribution to catechetical preparation and the work of the SVP in parishes. The school plans to develop parish liaison further and is well supported in this by their local parish priest.
The school has a great commitment to charitable works and pupils demonstrate outstanding initiative and responsibility for fund raising and service to others.
Achievements and standards in Religious Education
The standards achieved in Religious Education are outstanding with excellent progress being made throughout all key stages. There has been a significant increase in the numbers of pupils achieving higher grades at GCSE and the department is committed to tackling boys’ underachievement relative to girls’ achievement at A*-A grades. Standards achieved at KS5 are outstanding and there has been a significant increase in the number of boys taking Religious Studies at AS and very good retention rates onto A2.
Teaching and Learning
Inspectors observed a number of outstanding lessons with high levels of pupil engagement and enthusiasm for learning. Pupils’ work evidenced the creative flair of teachers’ planning and the imaginative and varied teaching approaches that challenge and engage pupils. Lessons are well structured and planned to allow progression in learning and effective questioning challenges pupils to think. Assessment is used diagnostically to inform teaching and regular assessments, from which data is collected and analysed, means that pupil progress is tracked at each key stage enabling underachievement to be targeted. Lessons and pupil work showed evidence of the growing use of peer and self-assessment. Marking of pupil work was consistent, with formative and encouraging comments. Pupils know where they are in terms of attainment and know what they need to do in order to improve. The department is clear in its approach to develop the learning of boys and this was evident in pupil work, for example the use of bullet points and concrete ideas leading to opinions and concept development. There was evidence of independent learning at all key stages and particularly at KS5. ICT is an important tool for learning throughout all key stages and inspectors observed staff using interactive whiteboards with impressive expertise and very good impact on pupil learning.
The quality of the Religious Education curriculum
The programmes of study in the department are sufficiently challenging to meet the needs of the pupils and there is a clear sense of progression between key stages. The curriculum meets the requirements of ICONS and the Curriculum Directory whilst the opportunity to study for the Bishop’s Certificate as well as AS and A2 Religious Studies in the sixth-form ensures that all benefit from Religious Education throughout their time in the school. The Religious Education curriculum supports the ongoing subject and community work from the specialist school action plan which makes an excellent and enriching contribution to pupils’ moral and spiritual development. The curriculum also offers many opportunities for prayer and reflection and these are successfully balanced with the necessity for academic rigour. Many examples were evidenced in pupils’ work of ethical issues which had been discussed and explored in lessons. Year 11 have recently been encouraged to reflect on the concept of discipleship and in preparation for their retreat ‘Discipleship Day’ they were asked to assess what personal attributes they possessed for discipleship.
The Religious Education curriculum gives opportunities for all pupils to engage and achieve at the highest levels and allows for individual teachers’ strengths and creativity.
Leadership and management of Religious Education
The Head of the department provides outstanding leadership. She has a clear vision for the work of the department and the monitoring, evaluation, review and planning cycle are rigorous and have contributed to improvements in standards. Staff have clear responsibilities in the department. Performance management is sensitively and well managed and staff are supported and developed in their roles by a very good CPD programme. There is a collaborative working approach and recently the department has reviewed its progress as part of the preparation for next year’s departmental development plan. The Head of department ensures that assessment is consistent and rigorous and that the data on pupil progress informs teaching and learning. The department is well resourced and the recent addition of two purpose-built classrooms with interactive whiteboards has enhanced accommodation further.