St John Rigby Catholic Primary School in Bedford has achieved the award again.
An Inclusive, Multifaceted School
St John Rigby is an exceptionally inclusive, multifaceted school. Its distinctive nature is based primarily on its status as a Catholic primary school but within this context it has different identities. Situated within Bedford Borough it has changed its status from being a lower school to a two-form entry primary school for pupils from Reception to Year 6. It is also now part of the St Francis of Assisi Academy Trust which is made up of three other schools, a secondary school and a lower and middle school. Change has been the hallmark of St John Rigby Primary School which has also undergone a reorganisation of the senior leadership structure. Whilst the school has its own headteacher, there is an Executive Principal who oversees and coordinates the work of all the schools and governors within the Trust.
Change and Development
Despite this period of change and development the headteacher and staff have retained the key values of a Catholic primary school which places its trust in its own child friendly mission statement guiding all actions i.e. “God’s will be done through work and play as we follow Jesus day by day”. The Gospel values of faith, love, hope, trust and forgiveness underpin every message from the headteacher who strives to lead the most inclusive, caring and successful learning environment for pupils and staff.
The school has 415 pupils from a large catchment area serving several parishes in the Bedford Deanery. Children attending the school come from diverse backgrounds with 60% coming from minority ethnic groups and more than 30% having English as an additional language (EAL). Approximately 10% of pupils are allocated Pupil Premium funding and 5% receive SEND support. A small number of pupils have an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP). Vulnerable pupils are very well supported and their educational provision is overseen by a SENDCo who is also an Assistant Headteacher. The school has welcomed pupils with very little English and a skilful approach to teaching has assisted mastery of a new language.
Mutually Supportive Relationship
The University is situated very close to the school and there is a mutually supportive relationship between the two organisations. Students complete teaching placements at the school, bringing a fresh approach and innovative ideas. Pupils often visit the university for activities and particularly enjoy investigating the ‘forest school’ environment. The close links with the university also raises the aspirations of pupils who are very ‘at home’ within the university environment and will continue to grow up with this tremendous learning resource close by.
Inclusivity is Embedded
Inclusivity is so embedded that there was a risk during the assessment that some excellent practice was missed, as it is just the way the school ‘does things’. For example, a chance comment by the headteacher, led me to discover that the school had supported a severely visually impaired student as part of her teacher training. She and her guide dog were welcomed into the school and all adjustments necessary were made, including ‘comfort breaks’ for the dog. The children adored having the dog in school and everyone in the community learned a great deal more about disability and the importance of inclusion resulting from this student placement.
All Parents Were Invited
Another example was reflected during a meeting with a teacher who had organised a camping night for parents and pupils in Year 4. All parents were invited but the teacher noticed that a family might feel excluded because of the positioning of tents. He sensitively intervened to ensure that no family was marginalised.
The school is very aware of the challenges experienced by the vulnerable pupils within its community. Pupils in need of extra support and positive opportunities join the ‘out and about club’ to enjoy time out of school with members of staff. There is a high adult to child ratio so that children can enjoy one to one conversations during their walk to a local place of interest. The staff fed back that this is an incredibly effective way of really getting to know a child and the pressures they experience so that more support can be put in place.
Positive affirmation of pupils and staff is very evident and the school has a rewards policy that gives many opportunities for pupils to shine. Key Stage 2 pupils enjoy collecting ‘Dojos’ which are reward points recorded on a computer system. If, for example, a teacher wishes to reward a child for good learning behaviour during a lesson, he or she can click on the child’s name on the interactive whiteboard and the ‘dojo’ will be recorded. The program automatically adds up the number of ‘dojos’ achieved and pupils know the percentage they must achieve to participate in the half termly ‘Fun Friday’ celebration. Parents have access to this program at home so can follow the efforts of their child and have an instant window into what is happening at school. Pupils also spoke enthusiastically about ‘Golden Pupil’ assemblies and the ultimate praise of being invited to have tea (and cake) with the headteacher. Most importantly teachers record pupil awards given so they can ensure that praise recognises every child.
Families Made to Feel Very Welcome
Parents and grandparents feel very welcome at the school and spoke of many occasions when they are invited to enjoy school events. The presence of the headteacher and senior leaders at the school gate each morning gives parents with minor worries or concerns the chance to speak to staff ‘without causing a fuss’. The School Chaplain and Family Support Worker also reach out to parents and can give emotional and practical support, especially by directing parents to other professional agencies.
Staff Feel Highly Valued
Staff feel highly valued and during the assessment days it was very evident that they are part of a happy supportive team. They are regularly thanked for their hard work which happens formally at the Friday morning briefings. My visit was in the final week of term and the school was still buzzing with activity. Teachers could be seen working together on scenery and props for the Year 6 play, preparing for the end of year Reception assembly, and in classrooms where learning and pupil engagement was still very evident. The office team were very welcoming and gave me the support I needed during the visit.
Supportive Bond Between Schools in the Trust
My meeting with the Chair of Governors and the Executive Principal gave clear insight into the supportive bond between the schools within the Academy Trust. The Secondary school within the Trust is a designated ‘Learning School’ and is involved in sharing best practice and leading learning for pupils and staff. St John Rigby School is an important member of this vibrant ‘learning school’ community and has developed a ‘non-positional’ approach to sharing professional development. Every member of staff is encouraged to share outcomes of training and be a ‘leader of learning’. As a team, the Trust looks outward and staff from St John Rigby have been involved in leading training in schools across the Diocese as well as locally.
Working Closely with the Local Churches
The school works closely with the local churches especially the Holy Cross Parish Church. Worship is an integral part of school life and the local priests regularly visit and are part of the school’s identity as a faith school. Mass in school is offered each term and acts of worship and Christian celebrations such as Harvest and Ash Wednesday are carefully planned. The Hosanna Room is a special prayer area and is used by pupils, staff, parents, and friends of the school. Pupils also learn about other faiths and are very respectful of the faith diversity within Bedford and beyond. They visit other places of worship gaining understanding and knowledge about other traditions.
Sources of Evidence
The Headteacher had prepared meticulously for the assessment days and the portfolio of evidence and the Self-Evaluation Report gave detailed evidence of the inclusive ethos and practice within the school. The website was being updated during the time of the assessment but this work is now complete and provides a very attractive and accurate account of the school and its commitment to inclusion.
High Expectations of Achievement
During the assessment days, I met with a wide range of stakeholders including pupils, parents, teaching and support staff, and governors. The headteacher was always at hand to clarify information. The success of the school is built on high expectations of achievement, team work, and a commitment to serve all members of the school community, especially the most vulnerable. These qualities are underpinned by the strong Christian principles which govern the way pupils, staff, and parents respond to one another and reach out to the wider community. I would like to thank the headteacher, staff, pupils and parents for the warm welcome I received and for their openness during our meetings.
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