'It is a lovely event which enables us to showcase some of the best practice in the schools that we've got.' These words from Tim Warren, director of schools and colleges for Liverpool Archdiocese, are a concise description of the event that took place at the Royal Liver Building last month, bringing together representatives from almost 30 schools across the diocese in a celebration of their endeavours over the past academic year.
The Archdiocese of Liverpool School Awards 2018 comprises 12 categories of achievement – a broad range including prizes for best teacher and school alongside other areas of achievement such as inclusion, spirituality and sport.
As Mr Warren added: 'The awards are very special because they celebrate the full life of Catholic schools and the winners' lunch, where all the shortlisted schools had three people each, featured a fantastic mix of pupils, teachers, teaching assistants and governors. It was all about mutual celebration. It describes how the school is a) contributing to its local community, but b) enabling its pupils to do some fantastic things.'
One pupil who has certainly done the latter is George Mathias from De La Salle, St Helens, who was recognised as Inspirational Young Entrepreneur of the Year for having raised £60,000 for Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool. His fund-raising drive was inspired by the treatment his younger brother James received following his premature birth six years ago. He set up his own website (RunwithGeorge.com) and committed to running a mile for every month his brother has lived – an effort which won him the 2017 prize for Young Fundraiser of the Year in the Pride of Britain awards. Of this latest accolade, George joked: 'I got Friday afternoon off school and missed a Spanish exam, which was a bonus!'
Growing appeal of awards
This is the second year of the awards and the number of nominations doubled to 160 from 12 months ago, underlining the appeal of the event which was held on 4 May, hosted by Radio City breakfast show presenter Leanne Campbell.
The 2018 School of the Year was Our Lady and St Philomena's Primary School in Walton, which had been shortlisted alongside All Hallows High School in Penwortham and St Finbar's Primary School in Liverpool's Dingle district.
The winning school had been put in 'special measures' by Ofsted in 2014 but head teacher Anne Radford subsequently arrived to oversee an impressive turnaround in its fortunes. In July last year Ofsted deemed the school to be 'good' in all areas with 'outstanding' personal development, welfare and behaviour. 'We’re absolutely thrilled, delighted and privileged with the award, which has had a very positive impact on the school staff, in recognition of their hard work, and has given the children a new lease of life – they now go to a "good" school,' said Mrs Radford.
'We put the children first. I'm not saying that wasn't the case beforehand but what we wanted to do was give them a quality education,' she added. 'We have come through some hard times, there were lots of inconsistencies in the school, so we built a team that was stronger and had a lot of support from School Improvement Liverpool and the Archdiocese. It's been a very steep curve, with lots of hard work, but it's been worth it.
'When we submitted our nomination we submitted three children's pieces of work and also a video that showed how the school had been transformed – physically, socially, emotionally – and that everything we do puts children first. There's a real buzz about the place now. The curriculum has been enriched, we have parents more on board, and attendance has gone up.'
The Primary Headteacher of the Year award went to Kate Peaston from St Clare's Primary School in Wavertree after she succeeded in steering it out of special measures in a time scale of under two years. 'The inspirational leadership from the present headteacher has brought about a new energy among leaders and staff,' said Ofsted's report in November 2017 after inspectors encountered a wholly different environment under Mrs Peaston.
Peter McGhee from St John Rigby Sixth Form College in Wigan received the Secondary Headteacher of the Year accolade. In 2017 the college was judged outstanding in every Ofsted category, making it one of only four sixth-form colleges in the country to have received this judgement since the 2015 introduction of the Ofsted framework. In addition, Mr Rigby gives support to colleagues further afield in his function as a National Leader of Further Education.
As Tim Warren underlined, the diverse categories featured are a laudable aspect of the Archdiosesan awards – 'the majority of the categories wouldn't get any recognition from Ofsted,' he suggested – and the other prize winners included St Mary's Primary School from Blackbrook in St Helens for Spirituality in Our School. The school follows closely its mission statement of 'Love of learning, love of one another, love of God and love of life itself'.
Another St Helens school, Carmel College, collected the gong for Contribution to the Community for its efforts in designing and constructing a sensory garden made from recycled waste. This was a project driven by the college's Foundation Learning team, which provides for pupils with moderate learning difficulties. They secured an £8,000 grant from the Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority, in partnership with Veolia, the energy solutions company, and created a garden offering a safe space for students and community groups.
For their 'Refugees Welcome' initiative, meanwhile, St John Bosco Arts College in Croxteth won Creative Team Project of the Year. This was a week-long event during the school's Mission Week last July when pupils stopped to consider different problems affecting their local community and the world at large.
The Inclusion award, meanwhile, went to Carolyn Lawler from Our Lady Star of the Sea Primary School, Sefton, whose efforts meant that the school became the first mainstream setting in Sefton, Merseyside and England to achieve the ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) Friendly Schools quality mark. Joan Jenkins, head teacher, thanked Mrs Lawler, the school's special educational needs coordinator (SENCO), for acting as 'a huge driving force in making changes'.
That same billing would fit Ruth Partington, director of Maths at the Academy of St Nicholas in Garston, who picked up the Inspirational Teacher prize. The school's assistant head, Andrea St John, described her as a 'rare gem', adding: 'The students love Ruth's high standards and high expectations, mixed with her warmth and commitment to them. Ex-pupils regularly return to school to pick her brains.' The same school had the Inspirational School Support Staff winner in Linda Farrelly, who earned praise for her role as the bridge between the academy, its families and the wider community.
Last but certainly not least, Stuart Elsworth, cricket coach at St Christopher's Primary School in Speke – winners of 60 trophies since 2002 – took the Sports Achievement award while the strong leadership at Our Lady & St Swithin's Primary School in Croxteth gained recognition with the Governing Body of the Year accolade.
Winners and shortlisted
Spirituality in our School: St Mary’s Primary School, Blackbrook, St Helens
St Cecilia's Junior School; St Julie's High School
Contribution to the Community: Carmel College, St Helens
Holy Family Primary School; Blessed Sacrament Primary School
Creative Team Project of the Year (Secondary): St John Bosco Art College, Croxteth (Refugees Mission Week)
Academy of St Nicholas (Just Bee You; The Heroes Project)
Sports Achievement: Stuart Elsworth, St Christopher's Primary School, Liverpool
Craig Mason, Academy of St Nicholas; Andy Ehlen, Blessed Sacrament
Inspirational Young Entrepreneur of the Year: George Mathias, De La Salle, St Helens
Daniel Hinnegan, St Francis Xavier's College; Bethany Molyneux, St John Fisher High School
Inclusion: Carolyn Lawler, Our Lady Star of the Sea Primary School, Sefton
Stephanie Lloyd-Green, St Bede's Junior School; Alison Knight, Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Engineering College
Inspirational School Support Staff of the Year: Linda Farrelly, Academy of St Nicholas, Liverpool
Michelle Goodwin, Hope Academy; Ann Ganley, St Joseph's Primary School
Inspirational Teacher of the Year: Ruth Partington, Academy of St Nicholas, Liverpool
Rachel Chadwick, St Benedict's Primary School; Sophie Gosney, St Joseph the Worker Primary School
Governing Body of the Year: Our Lady & St Swithin's Primary School, Liverpool
St Catherine's Primary School; St John Rigby Sixth Form College
Primary Headteacher of the Year: Kate Peaston, St Clare;s Primary School, Liverpool
Pat Speed, Great Crosby Primary School; Janette Cook-Hannah, Holy Family Primary School
Secondary Headteacher of the Year: Peter McGhee, St John Rigby Sixth Form College, Wigan
Anne Pontifex, Academy of St Nicholas; Tony McGuinness, All Saints High School
School of the Year: Our Lady & St Philomena's Primary School, Liverpool
All Hallows High School; St Finbar's Primary School