All Saints Catholic School in Barking and Dagenham has achieved Flagship School status.
Teamwork and Strong Leadership
I spoke to many members of the Senior Team during my virtual visit. Teamwork and strong determined leadership has been even more important than ever in this last year. The Headteacher told me that the whole staff had come together to ensure that the needs of students were at the forefront of their minds in every action taken. The school had anticipated the lockdown and were as ready as they could be when it actually happened. Google Classroom was used as the main platform for delivering online learning but there was a mixed economy used to ensure students were educated and cared for during the lockdown period. The Senior Team told me that they did not get everything right straight away and have learned many lessons as they have moved forward. They have reflected and gathered information from all stakeholders to inform their plans in the future.
Supporting During Lockdown
The Deputy Heads described what had happened since my last visit and particularly since the school closed for most pupils. At the start of lockdown students were sent home with paper packs of two weeks’ worth of emergency work. They had already surveyed students and families to establish who had access to devices and broadband and organised the online input accordingly. Pastoral care was a priority and systems were set up to ensure regular contact with students and their families was maintained. Vulnerable children and families were identified (150 of them) and their particular needs planned for. Safeguarding issues were clearly identified and key workers were tasked with setting up regular communication with these students, families and social workers etc. The safety of students was paramount. Food vouchers were given out as required and staff put a lot of effort into preparing food parcels and delivering these to families in need.
The needs of staff were also carefully considered and planned for and arrangements were put in place for vulnerable teachers and support staff. When the school opened for Year 10 and 12 students the Senior Team did most of the teaching and ensured other staff members could continue to work from home where possible. Risk assessments were completed for all members of staff with particular attention to BAME staff and pregnant staff.
I was able to meet with four Year 13 students who were clearly very happy to be back at school. They told me that their teachers had been very supportive during lockdown, which they found to be a very worrying time. They were familiar with Google Classroom and the school provided some additional training before they were sent off to work at home.
Identifying Knowledge Gaps
Currently the students are already anxious about the mock exams in December which will be even more important as the results would be used to help with Centre Agreed Grades if the public exams do not go ahead again this year. They told me that two weeks after they arrived back at school in September teachers in different subject assessed them, in a variety of ways including tests, in order to establish where the gaps in their knowledge and skills were. They said most of them did badly in these assessments but nobody was too worried as it was to be expected. They have confidence that their teachers will help them to catch up and go forward to achieve their expected grades.
Ensuring the School is Safe
I met with the Deputy Head who has many roles one being Health and Safety, he was responsible for ensuring the school was COVID-19 safe. He and the SLT carried out huge numbers of Risk Assessments and worked their way through an equally huge number of DFE Guideline documents to ensure the school was safe for students and staff. Planning for the whole school to return in September was a major task and many changes were introduced following discussions with the team. Some of the changes included introducing a very different school day involving three lessons rather than five (so less movement), a one-way system for moving around the school and a very thorough cleaning regiment. Cleaners are on site all day and are using new extra strength, long lasting cleaning products, and a fog machine that sanitises large spaces has been purchased. Sixty-five sanitising stations have been installed and new portable toilets (so that all year groups have their own toilets) have been hired. Hand washing stations have also been added around the school. In addition two new marquees have been installed, one for Year 7 and one for the Sixth Form to give them sufficient covered space to use in unstructured time. All other groups have dedicated spaces already. Perspex screens have been installed in places where social distancing is not possible.
Supporting Vulnerable Students
The support for SEN students in the current situation is carefully thought through and Teaching Assistants have been assigned to different bubbles where they can support individual pupils. All TAs are issued with PPE as they are likely to be working alongside students and are often in need of more intimate care. Lunch clubs for SEN students are now run within each bubble. No stone has been left unturned and every possible anticipated risk or barrier has been considered and plans put in place to address them.
A Growing Sixth Form
The Deputy Head went on to talk to me about the Sixth Form, which is one of the areas he has oversight of. There are now over three hundred students on roll now and this is a big expansion on the last few years. Most Year 11 students go on to the Sixth Form in the school but they recruit 20% of the cohort from outside. The criteria for getting into the Sixth Form is very strict and this year was no different. They used Centre Agreed Grades as there were no exams but they believe that their own judgement was very accurate. The problems for Year 13 was more difficult as those who were predicted to achieve higher grades were marked down and even lost their place at prestigious universities. However, ninety-eight students applied to university this year and got a place and 20 got into Russell Group Universities. Results have continued to go from strength to strength and the school is confident that they will have enough hard data to use if the public exams do not take place this year.
Pathways for Sixth Formers
Both the Headteacher and Deputy Head were keen to tell me about the different pathways for Sixth Form students: Pathway 1 – An Excellence Group, Pathway 2 – A Levels & some vocational courses, Pathway 3 – Vocational, Pathway 4 – Level 2 courses and finally a new level 5 pathway is to be introduced for students who are unable to access the other pathways. This will involve foundation courses and work skills. This means the Sixth Form will be truly inclusive which is a very positive development. The school is working with the Local Authority to fund this new course and is another example of a positive partnership.
An Enthusiastic and Pragmatic Headteacher
My discussion with the Headteacher made clear her pride in the way the school had responded to the current crisis. She is as enthusiastic and pragmatic as ever and is confident that they will continue to move forward despite the current situation. She spoke proudly about her staff and the way they responded during lockdown and since students have come back to school. She is rightly proud of the fact that staff trust her and the team to make the right decisions. She said that SLT did a “cracking job” and rolled up their sleeves and got on with the job. They came up with creative solutions and supported each other and the rest of the staff. Collaboration, collegiality and working in partnership are cornerstones of the vision and values of the school and are testimony to her strong positive leadership.
Teaching and Learning Developments
The Deputy Head and I spoke about teaching and learning developments in the school and not surprisingly online teaching and learning is at the fore of their activity. He is very reflective and he says that perhaps “we were comfortable” in our approach to Teaching and Learning before lockdown and they have since re-evaluated their practice and have worked together to ensure that their current practice is serving the needs of all pupils. He spoke about teachers having a “collegiate” approach to ensuring that new skills and approaches are appropriate and this is an on-going development. We talked about all the different methods of blended teaching and learning used during lockdown and all the challenges they faced in making sure students had equal access. The school is currently developing this pedagogy even further and this will be the main thrust of their Flagship Project. Currently different departments are trialling live online lessons when teachers have been self-isolating (but are not sick) to whole classes of students who are supervised by another (not specialised) teacher. The school has been proactive in investigating how other schools have been using Google Classroom and learning from their practice and all stakeholders are receiving further training on how to use the platform.
Exciting Learning Opportunities
Teachers are now very excited about learning new ways to use the technology and blending these with old technology but it is clear that they are all trying to ensure that their students become lifelong learners and have the skills to become independent in their learning. One of the biggest challenges has been to find ways to support SEND students both in school at the moment with the COVID-19 restrictions but more particularly when they are at home and being taught virtually. A lot of time and effort is being put into making sure these students are not disadvantaged. The Teaching and Learning Team are working (with the SEN Team) to look at what works. For instance how can Quality First Teaching translate online? This is something the school is revisiting in a bid to find answers.
Blended Learning Environment
Feedback from staff and students on the new ways of teaching and learning has been very positive and parents have been supportive. Whatever happens next they will be ready but know that they will need to be open minded and prepared to try new things and to drop some things if they are not working in a blended learning environment. This is really the way the school has approached Teaching and Learning in the past, it is a developing process. I asked the Deputy Headteacher how the Catholic ethos can permeate the curriculum and pedagogy when teaching is online and this again is something that can be investigated as part of a Flagship Project.
Innovative and Creative
All Saints Catholic School is unique in that it never stands still and is always striving to be even better. Nothing holds them back and even in the current COVID-19 pandemic they are pushing forward and are learning as they go. The Head and her team are trusted by staff, students and parents and they deserve this trust. They always put the students first and have very high expectations. They are innovative and creative in their approach and there is a collective ‘can-do’ attitude that permeates the school at every level. They have much to be proud of.
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