Inspection report on Larne Grammar ‘fails to reflect recent progress’

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THE chairman of governors and the outgoing principal at Larne Grammar School said this week they are disappointed that a “substantial amount of work” done since an inspection earlier this year was not acknowledged in the published report.

After leadership at the 741-pupil voluntary grammar was said to be “inadequate”, headmaster John Wilson and chairman, Rev Colin McClure, stated that pupils took priority, along with results which were “among the best in the Province”.

In April, 2010 the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI). carried out a standard inspection and found that the quality of provision was satisfactory. It also identified a need to improve the school’s leadership in a number of areas.

Two follow-up visits were carried out earlier this year to determine if improvements had been made. It was found that the quality of education remained satisfactory, with above-average A Level results, but it was concluded that progress had been “insufficient”.

The report’s key findings include:

- “Important aspects of strategic leadership and management, including governance, remain inadequate. There has been insufficient progress made by the school in most of the areas for improvement in the two-year period between the original inspection and the follow-up inspection”;

- “Significant areas for improvement remain to be addressed if the welfare and needs of all of the pupils and the whole school community are to be met effectively”;

- “The current careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) programme lacks coherence, and important pupil data is not being made available to the teachers of the discrete careers classes to help inform their planning”;

- “The school’s process of self-evaluation leading to improvement is not making a significant impact on improving the overall quality of education in the school”.

The report also highlighted a need to “improve significantly the poor working relationships that exist between and among a significant minority of the teaching staff, the senior leadership team (SLT) and the governors”.

The board of governors was urged to take “prompt and effective action” to address the findings set out in the report and closely monitor the progress being made. Inspectors will then report on the school’s progress in addressing areas for improvement – including the need to improve the quality of the provision for CEIAG – within 12 months.

Despite the criticism, the report stated that the quality of education at the school remained satisfactory and that the strengths outweighed areas for improvement.

The ETI found that the standards attained by the pupils at A level have improved from below the Northern Ireland average for similar schools to above the NI average.

And it was determined that the action plan produced by the school in response to the findings of the original inspection was of “a good quality”.

Other positives included better monitoring of pupil progress, an improved level of accountability for middle managers, and the quality of the music provision at the school improving from satisfactory to good.

In response to the report, Mr Wilson and Rev McClure issued a joint statement to the Larne Times. It reads: “The school is disappointed that the substantial amount of work done since the inspection, and which is ongoing, has not been acknowledged by the inspectors.

“A difficult environment currently exists in education, with schools facing financial constraints and reductions in staff. This inevitably causes conflict within any organisation and Larne Grammar School is no different. Staff are being asked to do more with less resources, it is natural that they feel aggrieved and under pressure.

“However, the board of governors and senior leadership team are committed to leaving no stone unturned in order to address the issues. External consultants, Worklife Support, will assist in improving working relationships within the school.

“However, our key priority is, and will continue to be, the pupils who remain happy in school. The results they achieve, which are among the best in the Province, particularly in terms of added value, should not be underestimated.”

Last week, the Times reported that the North East Education and Library Board had put forward a proposal that could see Larne Grammar School and Larne High School being amalgamated into a co-educational school of 1,200 pupils aged 11-19. The recommendation is part of a new draft area plan published by the board, which sets out proposals to tackle falling enrolment numbers throughout the Province.

East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson suggested major changes may need to take place in Larne’s education system.

“Larne Grammar School has a long and proud history, but it has to face the stark reality that radical steps may need to be taken to ensure the best possible system of education for all young people in our community,” Mr Dickson concluded.

As previously reported, Mr Wilson is to step down as principal before the start of the new term. The incoming headmaster is Jonathan Wylie, current vice-principal at Grosvenor Grammar School.

Copies of the full inspection report are available on the ETI website: www.etini.gov.uk