Rayner Stephens High School in Cheshire has achieved IQM Centre of Excellence status.
Rayner Stephens High School(RSHS) is an 11-16 below average sized comprehensive high school with 644 learners on roll located in Dukinfield within Tameside that is co-located with Cromwell High School, a special school for pupils of secondary age with severe or profound learning difficulties and pupils with intensive autism and complex learning difficulties and with whom they share parts of the building and work collaborate together as appropriate. 50% of students are from disadvantaged backgrounds and attendance at the time of the assessment stood at 94.3%. The proportion of learners from minority ethnic groups or who speak English as an additional language is below the national average but is continuing to grow. The proportion of disabled learners or those with Special Educational Needs has been below national average but has significantly increased as the school has improved the processes for identification and intervention. There is significant deprivation within the majority of the wards the school serves.
Building Aspiration and Raising Achievement
A key focus of the school’s mission has been on building greater aspiration and raising achievement – this is based on our clearly defined core values of ASPIRE to promote a culture of high expectations and quality provision to transform life chances and opportunities for their learners with uncompromising ambition for all we serve and especially for our disadvantaged learners. The foundation of the school culture is based on the core values of ASPIRE-Achievement, Success, Professionalism, Integrity, Respect and Endeavour an inclusive approach based on the whole child – designed to create a cohesive learning community through the promotion of learners’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Clearly planned opportunities to develop learners’ understanding of fundamental British values are actively sought and provided to all learners. The inclusive approach to education with the positive use of the ASPIRE centre at the heart of school has had a real impact on learners’ ability to access appropriate learning or timely intervention. The embedding of these values along with new robust systems in inclusion has led to a cultural shift across all aspects of the school which was recognised in the most recent Disadvantaged Learners Review April 2018 that stated; “The Headteacher and Senior Leadership Team continue to implement a clear strategic plan to improve the outcomes and life chances of disadvantaged learners at Rayner Stephens High School. It is evident that the provision for this key group has improved significantly over the last year with the transformational work on school culture providing a strong foundation for further improvement.”
Developing Positive Attitudes to Learning
The school, works, tirelessly to develop positive attitudes to learning and positive behaviour amongst its learners regardless of background or prior attainment profile. The evidence is clear that the vast majority of learners have embraced the ASPIRE culture and are increasingly proud to belong to Rayner Stephens and committed to play an active role in their community, a fact I can attest to from discussions, interactions and observation over the two-day assessment and was also evidenced by the Disadvantaged Learner Review in April 2018, who stated “Throughout the visit, learners were polite, well-mannered and engaged with their learning. No poor behaviour was observed, and staff and student voice confirmed that this was now the norm. This change has had a positive impact on all learners and is especially important for the disadvantaged cohort that were the focus of this visit. Learners could not speak more highly of the difference this has made to their experience of school and they genuinely appreciate the efforts of all school staff on their behalf.” RSHS actively seek to develop the potential of their learners and provide high quality leadership and extra-curricular opportunities to allow them to flourish. It is happy, friendly and inclusive – a school with high expectations of its staff and learners with an emphasis on exemplary standards in all that they do. They are justifiably proud of the rapid and sustained level of improvements and achievements made and are very clear about their priorities for the future. They are an outward-facing school and seek external support and collaboration to ensure they take every opportunity to learn from others and support others. As a whole school community and they are ambitious for their learners and their community and have high expectations of their relentless drive to become a truly great school.
In July 2017 Rayner Stephens became an Academy in the newly formed AspirePlus Educational Trust. The academisation and formation of the AspirePlus Educational Trust occurred due to a set of circumstances in January 2016 where the previous school, Astley Sports College found itself in considerable difficulties. The Headteacher and members of the leadership team supported the leadership of the school from January 2016 and in the space of six months completed a full ‘root and branch’ change to all systems except attendance. The rapid and sustained improvements within the school led to the Local Authority and the Governing Body brokering a long-term formal arrangement between the two schools that led to the formation of the AspirePlus Educational Trust in July 2017 with Longdendale High School and the newly converted Rayner Stephens High School becoming the two co-founding academies in the Trust. Rayner Stephens High School was officially opened in September 2017 by the Mayor of Greater Manchester Mr Andy Burnham. The AspirePlus Trust is based on the two school’s core values of Aspire and has the mission statement: “We support and collaborate in our endeavour to provide a world-class education that allows our whole community to flourish.” The three areas within the mission statement of support, challenge and collaboration have been key to the cultural transformation that has taken place at Rayner Stephens High School and has also significantly benefitted teaching and learning and inclusion practice at Longdendale High School.
A Broad and Balanced Curriculum
Everyone involved with the school works very hard to provide the students with a broad and balanced curriculum that has been designed to ensure progress. It is a vibrant, motivating school where the warmth of the staff and students is obvious as one is welcomed through the door. A school that provides a safe and engaging environment for learners and staff. Inclusion is an integral part of school life. Inclusive practice permeates the school at all levels, led by the Headteacher, and her Senior Leadership Team, who are role models to staff and students alike. This was evident in the conversations and discussions held with parents, members of the Governing body, a wide variety of staff, students and student leaders, and external partners – The Virtual Headteacher for Tameside and the Head of Pupil Support Services for Tameside whose relationships are built upon trust and respect.
A Passionate Commitment to Learning
Alongside a number of learning walks with focus on Form Time, English, Numeracy, Behaviour for Learning and Attendance was attendance at the Inclusion Forum. All demonstrated a common ethos of caring for one another and are determined to make their school successful in every respect. All staff are committed to ensure that the school values and ethos and are reflected in their passionate commitment to learning and recognition of the uniqueness of individual learners, driven by their Teaching and Learning and Inclusion Visions that are displayed in all classrooms. They are T & L vision – ‘Everyone is a resilient and ambitious learner. Classrooms are inspiring, challenging and we embrace curiosity’ and the Inclusion Vision – ‘Mutual respect through relationships and consistency’. Driven by their desire to offer the best possible education for all their students in partnership with parents and the local community. The school is naturally, highly inclusive, outward facing and promotes equality of opportunity exceptionally well so that no-one is ever left out.
Partnership with Parents is Good
Classrooms and corridors are bright and cheerful. Partnership with parents is good and improving rapidly, parents I spoke to during the assessment were extremely positive about the school and that it is an open and honest place, where they feel comfortable, listened to and valued and where not only will their children be supported but they know they will be supported as a family. Parents said that they always felt welcomed and that staff willingly discuss any issues and support their children. School communication with them is excellent and the school is proactive in letting them know how well their child is doing. In fact one parent I was due to meet but due to unforeseen circumstances couldn’t attend emailed the school to give her views and ensure I knew the lengths the school had gone to and the inclusive plans they had put in place to ensure her child was fully supported and could access education fully.
Highly Effective School Governors
School governors are highly effective and visit the school as often as possible and are well informed about the work of the school and the progress that the students are making. Governors support the school effectively and are knowledgeable about the strategic plan for the school. They understand their role and use this to drive and hold staff accountable for the progression of the pupils at all levels and needs. They know that their contributions are valued by the school.
Improving Attainment and Wider Outcomes
The school is focused on improving the attainment and wider outcomes for all pupils. There is a rigorous monitoring process including observations, learning walks, scrutiny of student’s work and of teacher’s planning as the school continues its drive to provide the highest quality provision across the board. Within this framework there is also a commitment to staff well-being and nurture and a rigorous but supportive PM system. There are excellent relationships between the students, the staff and the Governors who are very much a part of the school. Every member of staff and adults who work in the school is a positive role model modelling the behaviour which they expect, which I clearly saw during the assessment and in conversations with staff, parents, students and Local Governor Advisors. There is very much a family feel to the school that continues to develop. Behaviour in classrooms, around the school building, outside was exemplary, students were courteous, mature and respectful to each other, to staff and to visitors.
Excellent Support Systems
There are excellent systems in place to support students and their families. It is very clear that the school ‘knows itself’ very well and has the highest expectations of all members of the school, including parents and families. The school has aspirational and inspirational leadership and is being devolved throughout the school through Senior and middle Leaders. This is coupled with highly professional, motivated and enthusiastic staff with a great passion for teaching and for supporting the development of all students, led by a Leadership team who are driving the school forward at a rapid yet sustainable pace to ensure the best teaching and learning for their students. Everyone is working towards the same aim with a team atmosphere and passion and determination that is evident across the school. There is excellent use of Pupil Premium funding and tracking to support students, alongside an excellent and developing level of support for staff and students at all levels. This is a school where students needs are to be at fore and where they are encouraged to do their best, irrespective of ability, disability, social background, ethnicity or gender, consequently they are beginning to achieve well or better than expected.
A Nurturing and Purposeful Learning Environment
There is a calm but vibrant, feel to the school within an enjoyable, happy, nurturing and purposeful learning environment that sets the tone for learning and enjoyment for the staff and students. In my opinion from the evidence of the assessment the emotional and educational support for all and that includes both students and the staff is an excellent feature of the school and is a key element to its continued and future success and why it is now valued not only by the local community, but by the staff and the students. Staff morale is now very high and excellent relationships were evident throughout the assessment between staff, students and parents. Staff felt that there was a highly effective support network not only for students but also for staff and families which ensured the school was a happy place to be. There is very much a family feel to the school where everyone works to support each other to achieve the best for themselves and the pupils in their care. There is a continuous and evolving outstanding level of inclusive practice in the school that provides fantastic care, nurture and support for all in a carefully considered and ever-changing environment. Everyone involved should be commended for the level of their relentless focus on inclusion, supporting the needs of individuals and groups of students and each other that was evident throughout the two-day assessment.
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