New headteacher of Warwickshire Catholic school is looking for an outstanding journey
THERE’s a sense of positivity at St Benedict’s School. The Alcester Catholic school has a new headteacher, a refreshed senior leadership team and, from September, will be part of a larger multi-academy group.
The policies and strategies that keep all schools running are being put into place to make the improvements identified last year by Ofsted, which concluded that St Benedict’s requires improvement. This was in all areas apart from the sixth-form, which was rated as “good”.
Jon Shires looks to have his work cut out, but he’s already talking about the next Ofsted inspection, getting a “good” rating, pushing on to “outstanding” and helping other schools on their journey. He has joined St Benedict’s after three lively years at the helm of Trinity School in Leamington where, with an executive board of former and current heads, a business manager and finance expert, he prevented the school from being overwhelmed by debt.
“It was heading towards a massive financial debt of £1.3m,” Jon explained. Further restructuring work, a review of contracts and the suspension of the sixth-form (it’s now open again) were just some of the measures that saved the school.
“Finance is a big thing as when you’re always worrying about the finances, you don’t have the time to look at the really important stuff, which is the kids, the classroom and the teaching,” Jon added.
Joining St Benedict’s ended Jon’s 14-year stay at Trinity, but he said he was won over by the feeling and the potential of his new school.
“It’s a really nice school, despite what the Ofsted judgement was. I can see loads of potential and I think they’re already making massive strides towards [tackling the areas raised in the report].
“When I came to visit and had a look round and saw the potential of the school and saw the way the students interact, it was basically a no-brainer. This is a lovely school – it has a similar feel to Trinity and maybe that’s the Catholic ethos coming through. Having worked in non-faith and faith schools, there is that something special that people always notice when they come into a faith-based school. There just seems to be something between the students and the staff – the relationships are so positive.”
Jon, who lives in Bromsgrove, moved to the Midlands 25 years ago and has worked in Birmingham and Warwick – business studies is his speciality and he plans to still teach at St Benedict’s. He has in place a new deputy head, while a new assistant headteacher has just been appointed and another senior leadership team member starts in September.
“There had been, I suppose, a lack of stability in the senior team at St Benedict’s and that’s what it needed so that staff know who to go to, that decisions are being made and that there are actually people there.”
September will also see St Benedict’s join the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Multi-Academy which, Jon said, will bring support, experience and opportunities for him and his staff.
“Being part of the multi-academy means we can have joint training days and put departments together. One thing I found with Trinity was that, with it being a very small school, you would have a lot of one- or two-people departments. With much larger schools you have more staff to share ideas and distribute the workload. I think, going forward and being part of the multi-academy, we will be having joint teacher-training days, which means we can pair up departments from the three secondary schools.”
The other two schools are Trinity and St Augustine’s in Redditch, an outstanding-rated school. The experience at these schools, Jon said, will help with further improvements to the curriculum, tackling the low attendance identified by Ofsted and sharing best practice.
Covid has also played a part in help schools work together.
“It has pushed education forward in terms of the use of remote learning and technology, which means we can have face-to-face meetings, whereas previously a member of staff would be out for a day or half a day and there would be cost implications.
“There was a reluctance to that, but now we can have those joint planning meetings and bring in all that experience, shared ideas and good practice.”
Being positive seems to be key to Jon’s ethos. Instead of talking about students catching up on education post-lockdown, he stresses the need for teachers and students to recap and review.
“It’s not that children have missed out on education, it’s just that we’re clarifying and making sure that they have understood, rather than talking about gaps,” he said.
Jon is also determined that St Benedict’s will not just be about exam results: “It’s not just about academic success. In a Catholic school we’re here to develop the whole person. Yes, that includes academic success as that is about helping them reach their full potential, but it’s also as people and that we’ve got them to think about society and how they can have an influence about making a fairer society. If students leave St Benedict’s having enjoyed their education, succeeded academically and leave as well-rounded citizens, then I think we – the staff obviously play a major role – have done our jobs.”