Headteacher pledges to restore St Benedict’s Catholic School’s Ofsted rating

Hugh O'Neill
Hugh O'Neill

The head at St Benedict’s Catholic School which was judged as ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted in a controversial saga has pledged to win back a positive rating.

Hugh O’Neill says he is ‘disappointed’ at the overall judement which remains the same as in an initial report which was withdrawn by the education watchdog last month due to ‘quality concerns’.

Inspectors then revisited the top-performing school, in Bury St Edmunds, and made a number of changes - removing references to weaknesses in preparing students for ‘life in modern Britain’ including radicalism and extremism.

The sixth form has gone from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’ and the reason now given for the inspection is St Benedict’s change of age range when it took its first Year 7 students last September.

The reason originally given to Mr O’Neill for the inspection was a lack of information on its website about the new National Curriculum and the school’s citizenship programme.

In the revised report, inspectors noted that ‘disabled students, those with special educational needs and students with low prior attainment do not make as much progress as others’. The performance of students ‘fluctuates between different years and subjects’ and students’ progress in Key Stage 3 is ‘not good enough’. Inspectors noted that continuity in students’ learning is ‘weak’ particularly in Years 7 and 8.

However, they noted the school’s GCSE results ‘improved markedly’ this year. The school recorded a 100 per cent pass rate and 71 per cent of students achieving A*-C grades which was an 18 point rise on last year.

Mr O’Neill said: “We know that we do a lot of things well at St Benedict’s, and this report certainly refers to our excellent GCSE and A-level results.

“There are things which we did less well last year, and the Ofsted criteria are very strict when it comes to gaps in what schools achieve. I suspect we are one of the best-performing ‘requires improvement” schools in the country. We are absolutely determined to do everything we can to win back a rating that matches our performance and our reputation. In the meantime, we are pleased that some of the anomalies of the previous report have been corrected. The rating of the sixth form as outstanding should surely have always been the case.”

He felt that there was a ‘bit of a straitjacketing’ with inspectors working with criteria which doesn’t offer ‘very much room for flexibility’.

Mr O’Neill said there are still ‘anomalies’ and thought it was ‘slightly premature’ to judge the progress of the school’s first Year 8 students as they had only been in the year group for five days during the first inspection.

He added: “I’m confident that next year we won’t be caught out by those gaps that can sometimes occur.”

The school has prepared an action plan to improve assessment, look at some of the advice about teaching more effectively and address the performance of disabled students, those with special educational needs and low prior attainment.

It will be subject to a monitoring inspection at the end of this term or start of next term.

Asked about the revised report, an Ofsted spokesman said the school was initially visited in a no-notice inspection due to the website issue. He added: “While inspectors are paying greater attention to ensuring that schools provide a broad and balanced curriculum, they are also required to take account of the context of the school and the communities they serve. Ofsted’s regional director was concerned that in an earlier draft version of the report, insufficient account had been taken of the school’s context so he requested further quality assurance checks to be carried out including a follow-up visit.”