St Monica's Roman Catholic High School Specialist Language College is an outstanding school that lives out, in a practical way, its mission statement of 'providing a caring, supportive environment where everyone is of equal worth.' The school has an excellent reputation in the local community. Parents are overwhelmingly delighted with its commitment to the academic, social and emotional needs of their children. One parent's comment is typical of many received by inspectors during the inspection: 'Pastoral care at St. Monica's is second to none; I am so grateful for the school's sensitive support and ability to meet my son's individual needs. He could not ask to go to a better school.'
The strong moral and spiritual ethos gives the school a sense of community that is shared by the whole staff and students. Students are rightly very proud of their school. One student's comment reflects the view of many: 'The teachers and students are a family. That's what makes the school so special.' In this happy learning environment, all students are helped to develop into exceptionally mature, confident and articulate young people. Their exemplary behaviour and attendance demonstrate their great enjoyment of all that the school offers.
Students' achievement is outstanding and standards are consistently and exceptionally high. They enter the school with standards that are above average. By the end of Year 9, students consistently reach high standards and make good overall progress. They make exceptionally good progress in mathematics. In Years 10 and 11, students consistently reach exceptionally high standards and make outstanding progress. All groups of students, including boys and girls, students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities and the few students who speak English as an additional language achieve as well as others.
The school is highly inclusive and a range of professionals, including learning mentors and outside agencies, provide students with outstanding care, guidance and support. This helps students to feel very safe and secure in school. Excellent transition arrangements between Years 6 and 7 ensure that vulnerable students are identified early in primary school, so that very effective strategies to meet their particular academic and emotional needs are quickly put in place. All child protection and safeguarding arrangements are in place and meet current requirements.
Students are very well informed about how to lead safe and healthy lives. One student remarked how her teachers' emphasis on safety had increased her confidence to work in laboratories and workshops and helped her to progress well in practical work.
Students' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is outstanding. They have many opportunities for reflection and particularly relish the many real responsibilities that the school provides for them to care for each other as prefects, peer mentors and members of the school council. In these ways they gain real influence on decisions about the school that affect them. Students have brought about improvements in the school's environment, healthier lunch menus and a new reward system. These opportunities contribute much to students' outstanding academic and personal development.
Students' cultural awareness is enhanced by links with a Chinese partner school and language assistant. Students also benefit from close links with a local school for Jewish students, from performances in school by African musicians and from links with a school in Gambia, which they support.
Teaching is good and has many outstanding features. This reflects the commitment of senior leaders and governors to its improvement since the last inspection, through key appointments to the teaching staff and high quality professional development. Most lessons seen during the inspection were well structured, with a rapid pace that encourages students' active participation in, and enjoyment of, their learning. The school's specialist language college status has enhanced the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in lessons. Relationships between teachers and students are excellent and contribute to the outstanding progress that students make. Outstanding lessons are characterised by the many opportunities for students to work independently of the teacher on stimulating activities that set a high level of challenge. Significant features of these outstanding lessons are the opportunity for students to discuss the quality of their own and other's work, and the very careful matching of tasks to students' specific learning needs. In the good lessons, work is not as precisely tailored to the needs of groups and individuals. The school's systems for setting targets and tracking students' progress are very sophisticated and well used by teachers. Students generally know their current levels and targets and how to improve their work. However, there is some inconsistency between subjects in the helpfulness of marking.
The curriculum is of outstanding quality and caters exceptionally well for the needs of all the students. It is enhanced by the school's specialist status in languages and applied learning. In addition to National Curriculum subjects, students in Years 7 to 9 have the chance to study an extra language and performing arts. They also have a weekly lesson in ICT.
The excellent guidance that students receive before making their choice of courses for Key Stage 4 ensures that the curriculum is particularly well tailored to their individual needs, interests and aspirations. They have a wide range of GCSE and other courses from which to choose and are free to combine vocational and more traditional subjects. New applied courses have been introduced in performing arts, ICT, physical education and science, and a health and social care course is provided in partnership with a local sixth form college.
Students' literacy, numeracy and ICT skills are well developed across a wide range of subjects. The school now also places great emphasis on work related learning across the curriculum. Students in Year 10 now have the opportunity for a period of work experience. This is an improvement since the last inspection. Students' excellent achievement, combined with very high standards, ensures that they are outstandingly well prepared for the next stage in their education or for employment.
The rich variety of extra-curricular activities is a strength greatly appreciated by students, who say that there is always something to do at lunchtimes and after school. There is a well attended morning breakfast club and also revision clubs and language classes after school. The take-up of sports and musical activities, including dance, is extensive. There are also art and ICT clubs and a wide range of visits. There are exchanges to Spain, France and China, including the chance for older students to undertake work experience in French primary schools.
The leadership and management of the school are outstanding in the impact they have on students' achievement and personal development. The headteacher and senior leaders have a very clear sense of purpose, together with drive and energy. They foster leadership throughout the school, including at student level, because students are at the centre of their vision for the school. This encourages the whole staff to seek continuous improvement. Middle managers express much respect for the way in which their leaders and managers listen to their views while being prepared to take difficult decisions when necessary.
The school's self-evaluation is incisive and has contributed much to its current outstanding effectiveness. It actively involves students, parents, staff and governors. This gives the school a very clear understanding of its strengths and weaknesses and allows it to intervene swiftly on any underperformance, so that there are no barriers to learning for any student. The process of setting targets is very rigorous and results in well judged, very challenging targets which drive the school forward. The specialist status in languages and applied learning is extremely well managed to support an excellent range of partnerships; for example, work with local partner primary schools on transition, and the teaching of languages. The school has International School status and has, through its languages specialism, developed many links with schools in Europe and Mexico, as well as in China. The school's involvement in its local 14-19 strategy group has forged important partnerships for further curriculum development.
Service to its immediate community is an integral part of the school's mission statement. Students engage in charity work for their local community, especially amongst the elderly. They also take part in local Holocaust Memorial events. They are well taught about the wider community, although there is scope for more work to ensure that what the students have learned has more impact on their daily lives.
Governance is outstanding. Governors are very fully involved in the life of the school and play an active role in supporting and challenging the school management. They have shown particular commitment to the recruitment of high quality staff and this has played an important part in the school's success. The school manages its finances very astutely to provide outstanding value for money. The excellence of leadership and management and the continued improvements since the last inspection demonstrate the school's outstanding capacity to improve still further.