For an insight into the excellence being attained by Catholic schools across Liverpool Archdiocese, the place to be was the Liver Buildings on 3 March. This was the setting for the first Liverpool Archdiocese School Awards event and what it illustrated was the impressive breadth of educational possibilities and achievements found in our places of learning.
In the words of Rebecca Flynn, named primary head teacher of the year for her work at St Teresa's Catholic Primary School in St Helens, this was about something "more than league tables". She explained: "Catholic schools have their own vision and ethos, and it's lovely that this is recognised. During that ceremony, there wasn't one mention of Ofsted or SATS or results and league tables. It was about schools providing a spiritual education as well as an academic one."
This meant, for instance, that Megan Holmes from All Hallows Catholic High School in Penwortham received an award for the inspirational young entrepreneur of the year. It was her reward for having created the concept of 'Hope Bags' – sleeping bags for those living on the streets of Preston, which were sold to members of the public who, in turn, were encouraged to give them to the homeless.
The pupils and teachers of St Hugh's Catholic Primary School and Chatham Nursery were similarly rewarded with the contribution to the community prize for their efforts to support vulnerable families, including welcoming those new to the country. As Tim Warren, archdiocesan director of schools and colleges, put it: "This was an event which showcased the hearts and souls of our Catholic schools and those who work and learn in them."
A celebration of the outstanding work of students and staff from among the Archdiocese's 228 schools, it was an event sponsored by New Direction Education, an education recruitment and training agency, and attended by over 150 delegates. This number included head teachers, pupils, staff, governors and parents together with Archbishop Malcolm McMahon and Father Michael O'Dowd, the Episcopal Vicar for Schools and Colleges. There were also officers from the schools and Christian education departments of the Archdiocese.
The event, hosted by Radio City DJ Leanne Campbell, was opened by Archbishop Malcolm, who spoke of the ambition attached to Catholic education, and featured music from pupils of St Edmund Arrowsmith Catholic Centre for Learning in Whiston. The awards ceremony itself incorporated 11 different categories, recognising everything from spirituality to sporting achievements via the exceptional contributions made by school governing bodies and support staff.
The award for school of the year went to St Sebastian's Catholic Primary School in Liverpool which was described as "a beacon of inspiration for pupils, teachers, the local community and the family of schools". It was the second recent accolade for St Sebastian's whose executive head teacher Dennis Hardiman received an MBE in the New Year's Honours' List for his work in bringing together St Sebastian's with St Cuthbert's Primary School to form the first federation of schools in the city.
Jacqui Davies, head of school at St Sebastian's, said: "It was a huge honour, especially as it was the first of its kind. We feel it's a reflection of our hard work and determination to fulfil our school ethos through our parents, children and staff. We all join together so our children can be the best they can possibly be and aspire to achieve every potential they have.
"We see it as an honour for our federation with St Cuthbert's because together both schools have the same goals and initiatives and aspirations for the children, and our children and staff work together as one in many different ways."
The other schools shortlisted were St Patrick's Catholic Primary School and Hope Academy in Newton-le-Willows whose principal Patrick Ferguson was named secondary head teacher of the year. Chosen ahead of fellow nominees Paul Dickinson (Archbishop Beck Catholic Sports College, Liverpool) and Ivan Gaughan (Holy Cross Catholic High School, Chorley), Mr Ferguson was credited for his efforts in taking Hope Academy out of special measures and – in the words of host Leanne Campbell – developing "a happy, growing, and successful school that has delivered the best ever GCSE outcomes for its students".
The primary head teacher of the year prize, meanwhile, went to the aforementioned Mrs Flynn from St Teresa's, who was selected ahead of Marcella Armstrong (St Margaret Mary's Catholic Junior School, Knowsley) and Bernadette Wood (St Oswald's Catholic Primary School, Longton).
She has overseen a similar turnaround to that witnessed at Hope Academy, and was praised for "creating an exciting and vibrant school with the highest expectations for all". Explaining the school's change in fortunes since her appointment in 2014, Mrs Flynn said: "The first year I arrived we were 51st out of 53 schools in the league table and had a second RI [required improvement] inspection. We're now tenth in the authority and the school has been transformed. The children are now excited to learn and it's a lovely school to be in.
"The award is not due to me but the hard work and dedication of the staff and parents. Every single member of the school community – from lunchtime supervisors, cleaners and caretakers to the rest of the teaching staff – works tirelessly to ensure the children of St Teresa's have the best possible education. And it's not just an education in school, we are teaching the wider curriculum through hands-on experience – for example, we've acquired an allotment and the children will be growing things and giving them to the food bank in our church."
It is worth reiterating this was a celebration of all aspects of school life. So the inspirational teacher of the year prize went to Jay Stewart from the Academy of St Francis of Assisi (ASFA) in Kensington for fostering his pupils' love of music. And this was not the only nomination for ASFA. Ryan Dickens, a winner at the England National Schoolboy Boxing Championship who went on to compete for England on the international stage, was shortlisted for the sport achievement award taken home by the Year 11 rugby league team from St Peter's Catholic High School who won their national championship. Tara Welsh, meanwhile, received a nomination for the inspirational school support staff accolade won by Ann Murphy from St Michael's Catholic Primary School in Widnes.
The full list of award winners is:
Spirituality in our School – St Michael and All Angels’ Catholic Primary School, Knowsley
Contribution to the Community – St Hugh’s Catholic Primary School and Chatham Nursery, Liverpool
Creative Team Project of the Year – Sacred Heart Catholic College, Sefton
Sport Achievement – Year 11 Rugby Team, St Peter’s Catholic High School, Wigan
Inspirational Young Entrepreneur of the Year – Megan Holmes, All Hallows Catholic High School, Penwortham
Inspirational School Support Staff of the Year – Ann Murphy, St Michael’s Catholic Primary School Widnes
Inspirational Teacher of the Year – Jay Stewart, The Academy of St Francis of Assisi, Kensington, Liverpool
Governing Body of the Year – St Mary’s Catholic High School, Leyland
Primary Head teacher of the Year – Rebecca Flynn, St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School, St Helens
Secondary Head teacher of the Year – Patrick Ferguson, Hope Academy, Newton-le-Willows
School of the Year – St Sebastian's Catholic Primary School, Fairfield, Liverpool