Outwood Academy Ripon in North Yorkshire has achieved Centre of Excellence status.
Outwood Academy Ripon is a smaller than average secondary school in Ripon, close to the Yorkshire Dales National Park with 724 pupils on roll. The school serves a predominantly rural catchment area which includes small pockets of socio-economic deprivation which can lead to social disadvantage. 16% of the school community are eligible for Free School Meals with 32% eligible for the Pupil Premium Grant. The school operates as an inclusive establishment setting within a selective system. Around 28% of Year 6 students in the catchment take the 11+ and access a Grammar School education. Outwood Academy Ripon welcomes all students and does not use selection criteria in admitting students to the Academy. The school community is predominantly White British with a small percentage of pupils with other mixed heritage; 3.6% of students have English as an Additional Language. 17% of students are identified as having additional needs with 2% (14 students) with an EHCP. 10% of students are Service Families.
Effective Challenge and Support
Outwood Academy Ripon is part of The Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT), a large Multi Academy Trust with over 30 primary, secondary and AP Academies across the North of England. Outwood Academy Ripon is well supported by the Trust, which provides effective challenge and support to the Academy. This is coordinated by the Executive Headteacher, who is supported by a number of Subject Directors in key areas, including SEND and Inclusion. The OGAT also has its own bespoke and targeted CPD offer within the “Outwood Institute of Education”, which all OGAT staff are able to access, ensuring the workforce has access to the highest standard of training to develop expertise.
An Ongoing Journey of Improvement
The Academy joined the OGAT in 2011 and has been on an ongoing journey of improvement since then. Competing with the local grammar school in a selective school system creates challenges for Outwood Academy Ripon, however, in recent years the school has seen a significant increase in numbers on roll, becoming a real school of choice within the community and now being oversubscribed. OA Ripon achieved an ‘Outstanding’ OFSTED judgement in 2016 and has maintained its high standards in performance and outcomes since then. The Progress 8 score in 2019 was +0.64, placing the Academy second out of 76 schools in North Yorkshire. In 2020, for CAG, the Progress 8 score was 0.67. Attainment 8 score was 49.17 in 2019 and in 2020, this was 48.18. 80.2% of students achieved grade 4+ in English and Maths in 2019 and 76.7% achieved this in 2020. All of these outcomes are significantly above national averages.
Focussed and Dedicated Leadership
Outwood’s vision statement is about “Students First, Raising Standards, Transforming Lives” and at OA Ripon this permeates throughout all that is done every day. The focussed and dedicated leadership of the Principal, together with the highly skilled and committed Senior Leadership Team and Governing Body, are instrumental in this. The Principal is “fiercely proud” of the inclusive culture of the school and is committed to ensuring every student gets the absolute best opportunities they can. Leaders talk about “never giving up on a student” and “going the extra mile” to make sure every child is included and able to reach their full potential.
Inclusion at its Heart
Senior Leaders, along with Learning Managers, have a real presence across school and are available every morning to meet and greet students and address any concerns. The Academy promotes a culture where it is OK to talk and open up about feelings and relationships have been developed where adults can support students as needed. The Inclusion and Pastoral Team, skilfully and passionately led by the Assistant Head for Deep Support and SENDCo, offers an extremely wide range of bespoke provision within school to include vulnerable learners. This group meets weekly to discuss any concerns with learners and to plan provision and support. All students with SEND have a ‘One-page profile’ describing them, their needs and strategies/resources used to support them and this is shared with all staff. Additionally, students have chronologies which are shared with relevant staff, as is the detailed Inclusion register. There is a real solution focussed approach from leaders, so that if a student needs something more than what is available, the Academy will develop provision to include that pupil. This school has inclusion at its heart.
Over the last two years leaders have promoted a shift in ethos around managing student behaviour, ensuring the ‘Praise Culture’ is really developed across school. This is a real emphasis on staff looking for positives, not negatives in behaviour. Leaders talk about staff “making celebrities” out of students who are getting in right. Staff are constantly on the lookout for those getting it right and students can be praised for engagement, standard of work, showing progress, resilience, positive relationships, extra-curricular work or just generally being a lesson star. This leads to weekly recognition with postcards home, awards and a student jam board and eventually this will lead to an award ceremony. As part of the culture of gratitude, praise and recognition, students also created thank you cards for staff recently, and all staff received at least one card, including the premises and catering staff.
Attendance Figures are Improving
A focus on attendance being “everyone’s responsibility” has had a positive impact with attendance figures improving. At the end of the autumn term 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the attendance figure for the school was 94.2%.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
The mental health and wellbeing of both staff and students is given a really high priority and there is currently a working party in place focussing on initiatives. Recent activities for students have included:
• Assemblies in tutor time on a range of issues such as wellbeing, grief and loss, mental health awareness, anxiety and depression, staying safe and healthy, anti-bullying, let’s talk and safer internet use.
• External speakers, dramas, agencies.
• Creative expression, conversation bingo, wellbeing competitions, for example, baking and drawing – things to get away from screen.
• Thank you cards and year group socials.
Staff Wellbeing and Support
With regards to staff wellbeing and support, staff report that there is a real network of support with staff linking up remotely and over podcasts. Staff talk about the openness and approachability of SLT, with informal drop-ins available, that there are no stupid questions and leaders work with honesty and transparency. Staff receive weekly wellbeing emails which signpost to wellbeing activities such as the action for happiness calendar and self-care ideas. There are also secret staff supporters where colleagues buy each other small gifts and carry out random acts of kindness and a gratitude ‘Jam Board’, where staff can post positive “thank you” messages to each other and is shared in weekly briefing.
Quality First Teaching
Leaders describe the quality of Teaching and Learning as a real strength of the Academy. Close monitoring from Senior Leaders shows that 97% of Teaching was good or better in the last academic year. Quality First Teaching is central to the inclusive practice at Outwood Academy Ripon. Regular CPD is offered to staff on QFT as well as on research-informed teaching methodology. For example, this year CPD has been offered on Closing the Vocabulary Gap, Dual Coding and how to make learning stick. All teaching staff are trained in methodologies associated with a knowledge-rich curriculum and the retention of key knowledge. These strategies benefit all students and lead to inclusive learning and teaching experiences. In addition, during the weekly staff CPD session, inclusion is high profile with a weekly slot on a SEND focus.
Commitment to Comprehensive Planning
Levels of planning for learning are clear, detailed and effective, considering student needs. Detailed schemes of work and shared resources on Google Drive reflect commitment to comprehensive planning, which supports the learning needs of all students. Staff are clear on the expectation that lessons must be differentiated to the needs of the learners within each class. The SENDCo has delivered comprehensive training around differentiation, including in remote learning platforms, to ensure all students are able to access learning. TAs are deployed effectively based on need and this is reviewed regularly by the Inclusion Team, based on monitoring via the Praising Stars system. As a result of the high quality Teaching and Learning, outcomes are very strong.
Improving Outcomes for All Pupils
It became clear throughout the IQM assessment, that staff are extremely passionate about and dedicated to the Academy. Their sense of drive and determination to improve the outcomes of all pupils came through strongly. The implementation of rigorous structures and processes supports the different teams to work strategically and collaboratively together. Strong teamwork amongst the staff is at the core of their relationships. In addition, the commitment to go above and beyond for students and families was evident. There were numerous examples of this, including delivering food hampers to disadvantaged families throughout lockdown periods, to supporting individual pupils with applications for Cambridge University, to providing a new pair of shoes if needed.
Robust transition arrangements are in place throughout Year 6, developing relationships from the outset with a range of visits, activities and events. The Academy website has a dedicated area focused on transition with a number of welcome videos, including an area specifically focussed on SEND and Inclusion. SEND students and those who are particularly vulnerable are invited to take part in additional transition, including extra visits to the Academy in small groups or 1:1, spending time in the Bridge provision and meeting key staff. The Inclusion Co-ordinator makes early contact with Primary Schools with a view to attending final SEND reviews for EHCP students and to gather information for a smooth transition. SLT members are looking to extend and develop the transition process by implementing a programme of shared activities throughout the year. The SEND Team will also be seeking to take part in the EHCP reviews of Year 6 students to further personalise the transition process.
Robust Challenge and Support
The Academy Council (AC) works closely with school leaders ensuring they offer robust challenge and support. The Chair is a National Leader of Governance and shares her expertise across other schools. The AC has undertaken in-depth training and complete regular skills audits to ensure they have the skills and expertise necessary to fulfil their roles. Governors describe how reports are received by the AC prior to meetings and that Governors carefully scrutinise these and prepare questions to confirm what is reported. Governors also carry out regular visits (in normal circumstances) ensuring a strong presence across the Academy with an absolute focus on students. Consequently, Governors have a robust understanding of current issues and priorities within the Academy.
A number of parents were spoken to during the assessment and their feedback was incredibly positive. Some of the strengths of the Academy noted by parents were:
“We chose this school for our daughter as we were really impressed by the Inclusion Manager and the information provided by the Academy. In particular we liked the zero-tolerance approach to bullying.”
“Everyone has just been so supportive since Day 1. We were so nervous about our son moving to secondary school but the transition plan OA Ripon put in was great.”
“The school always comes back to you if you contact them. They sort out any issues and never make us feel like we are bothering them.”
“It feels like we are all a unit, a team, working together to do the best for my child. The Academy really does have students’ best interests at heart.”
“Our daughter has absolutely blossomed at OA Ripon!”
“Students are recognised when they do something well.”
“The quality of online learning is great.”
“Staff are very human… really honest… great communicators.”
“Communication has really improved and the website is great.”
“The pastoral care is amazing; it’s been life changing for our family. I want other parents to know how great it is at OA Ripon and how much they really do care.”
I also had the opportunity to meet with a number of students during the assessment who spoke very honestly about their experiences at school. Some of the positive comments made include:
“There are lots of facilities here like the ICT suites and Food Tech rooms.”
“The support is good, there is always someone there if you need them.”
“Lessons are great, they are set up well and well structured.”
“Our effort and work determine how well we do – we get lots of feedback and are prepared for things, we get enough time to do what we need.”
“The adults are supportive of everyone’s individual situation – if you’re struggling teachers listen.”
“The Teachers are really nice. They gave me a fresh start after I had a hard start to Y7.”
“Any bullying is addressed quickly.”
“The majority of people here are respectful and tolerant.”
“My TA really helps me – she’s the best.”
“The new Headteacher has changed things. The support and help has really improved.”
“There are some teachers who just don’t ever give up on you, no matter what.”
A Broad and Balanced Curriculum
Another real strength of the school is its opportunities offered to students. The curriculum offer is broad and balanced with a range of subject options such as B-Tech Performing Arts, Sport, Catering, Enterprise, Citizenship and Engineering as well as the usual core subjects. The Academy recently introduced the Duke of Edinburgh Award which has had a great uptake of students, including those with SEND and those entitled to the PPG. There are a wide range of after school enrichment opportunities including a huge array of sport with inter form competitions after school, use of the fitness suite and gym, music, (including performances), Eco committee, Dungeons and Dragons club, a book club for staff and students (which again builds relationships, making staff more available to students, relating in a different way), a gardening club, an honours’ programme where high ability students have the opportunity to participate in research topics, Bollywood dance, wellbeing champions for peer support, a fundraising group and recently, a range of virtual competitions such as cooking/sport – trying to keep students engaged. Enrichment activities are very much shaped by student voice. All students have the opportunity to access a residential trip in Y8, the Y8 graduation ceremony and Y11 proms are significant events, highly regarded and prioritised by both students and staff. Trips abroad form part of the curriculum. The MFL and History departments have run joint trips to the Battlefields and a trip to Geneva to visit CERN is planned for 2021, COVID-19 permitting. These trips are offered to all students studying the relevant subjects. Financial aid is available to Pupil Premium families who may struggle to attend these.
The Life Lessons curriculum is specifically designed to meet the needs of learners within OA Ripon, with a focus on becoming global citizens of the future. Its focus is RSE, PSHE and British Values and is taught intrinsically though assemblies, tutor time, specific life lessons and other lessons and links closely with the behaviour policy key values of being ‘Safe, Respectful and Responsible’. The Life Curriculum is delivered by 12 staff across the Academy with a range of different specialisms, therefore bringing real different skill sets. Life is specifically taught weekly, but there are also dedicated opportunities in form time with the “Share/discuss/respond” programme which focuses on relevant news articles and current affairs.
Leaders acknowledge that Outwood Academy Ripon is not a particularly diverse community and therefore staff aim to make it ok to open up conversations about difference in ethnicity, gender, disability, religion and sexuality. Students are encouraged to have discussions on the use of appropriate language and terminology, despite being a non-diverse society, students are very accepting and open and a number are openly gay and transgender. Leaders ensure the curriculum reflects different cultures in society and this also links in with the library and virtual library which now has a wellbeing section with books on a number of issues, for example, LGBTQ+, self-help, cultural diversity, sexual health, consent, eating disorders etc.
Effective Safeguarding Procedures
Safeguarding procedures are effective with rigorous and compulsory online training in place for all staff and robust safeguarding policies. The Academy uses an effective and secure online reporting system (CPOMS) monitored daily by Safeguarding Team. The highly experienced DSL engages well with colleagues in Early Help and Children’s Social Care.
Positive Community Links
The Academy enjoys positive links with the local community and encourages its students to think about giving back. The Christmas food bank collections are really well supported and the Academy is really proud of its links with the local care home, Lister House. The Academy supports residents regularly with events such as VE day, afternoon teas and Christmas concerts. In addition, the local Police come into school regularly to deliver assemblies on any relevant topics (for example a recent assembly was on a specific drug following a local incident), as well as to form relationships and support key students at risk of anti-social behaviour. Currently the Academy has linked with Ripon Cathedral in a scheme to refurbish donated laptops to ensure all local pupils have access to remote learning.
A Dynamic and Committed Staff
In summary, it was a privilege to spend time with such a dynamic and committed staff team who truly go above and beyond for all within their care. Leaders at this Academy are relentless in ensuring every student at OA Ripon is nurtured and supported to reach their full potential, proactively seeking creative solutions to even the most challenging situations.
Find out more about the IQM Inclusive School Award
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