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St Bernard's is an outstandingly effective school. The percentage of parents and carers who responded to the inspection questionnaire was extremely high.
Almost all of them expressed overwhelming praise for the school. They quite rightly used adjectives such as 'fantastic', 'brilliant', 'inspirational' and 'exceptional'. Students and staff were equally effusive in their descriptions of the school.
Staff are proud to work at the school. Students enjoy all aspects of school and feel very safe; their behaviour is very mature and considerate. Every single student who completed the questionnaire feels that adults care about them.
This underpins their confidence to be enthusiastic and will...ing learners. Students learn extremely well because so much teaching is of a very high quality. They make excellent progress and attain outstanding percentages of A*/A grades at GCSE and A level.
Practically all sixth-formers proceed to university. At the same time, students' personal development is a top priority, supported by the school's thoughtful and effective balance between academic and non-academic needs. In all years, the care, guidance, and welfare and spiritual support students receive are outstanding.
As a parent observed: 'My children are all very successful in their lives, thanks to the school.' Students' understanding of moral and social standards is excellent and they, and their parents and carers, appreciate how the Catholic faith underpins this. One of the school's aims is to 'provide an opportunity for the balanced development of the student's intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual qualities'.
This is achieved and witnessed by students' racial and cultural harmony and respect for other religions. Coinciding with the inspection was Guardian Angels day, one of the highlights of the school's calendar. To show their appreciation of all staff, Year 13 students take over the running of the school, prepare lunch and buy presents for the staff, and organise sports and entertainment for the entire community.
The inspectors felt privileged to witness the outcome of the sixth-formers' energy and hours of preparation, and to share in the fun and enjoyment of all the activities, especially the sensitive, but hilarious, show parodying the staff. The day exemplified the headteacher's conviction that students know the high expectations of behaviour on this special day and respect the trust placed in them. The vast majority of parents and carers who completed the questionnaire feel that the headteacher and senior leaders 'do a good job'.
They are right, though they actually do an outstanding job. The headteacher has led the school astutely and generated steady improvements in academic standards over several years and he has gained the students' respect and affection. Senior and middle leaders and all staff continue to support him extremely well.
The governing body is reflective and challenging and, under its new Chair, keen to address its acknowledged lack of formal monitoring of the impact of some policies such as the equalities policy. At all levels of leadership, there is a very strong determination to keep moving forward. Initiatives are trialled and monitored very well.
The school's self-evaluation is thorough and accurate, generating a realistic development plan with ambitious targets. Combined with the leadership team's and staff's wealth of experience and expertise, the school's capacity to improve even further is outstanding.
Information about the school
The school is unique in being the only mixed, Catholic, state, voluntary-aided grammar school in the country.
Four out of five students are Roman Catholic, some of whom travel from outside the local authority. Close to 70% of students are from White British, Irish or other White backgrounds with small percentages from several minority ethnic groups. The proportion of students with special educational needs and/or disabilities is very low, as is the proportion of students known to be eligible for free school meals.
There are more girls than boys in the school, especially in Years 7 and 10. The school was awarded Artsmark Silver in 2010 and Fair Trade status was re-awarded in 2011. The school retains a focus on its humanities specialist subjects of English, history and religious education.