These are awards that cover achievements across 12 different categories – from Spirituality and Sports to Young Entrepreneur and Inspirational Teacher – and for Tim Warren, the diocesan director of schools and colleges, this broad spread of categories explains the popularity of an event established in 2017.
‘The awards celebrate lots of wonderful things going on in our schools which aren’t celebrated through other things like Ofsted inspections,’ he said. ‘There’s a full range of awards and the event itself gives joy to all the participants – from primary school kids right through to governors who’ve been around for many years. As a family of schools, you want to celebrate those things together.’
The 2019 event took place at the Royal Liver Building on 21 May and featured 160 nominations, with 25 different schools included on the eventual shortlists. The winners in each category, as per previous years, were decided by a panel of judges – another positive, according to Warren, who said: ‘The unique thing is there isn’t a checklist against which they are judged.’
This year’s recipient of the School of the Year prize was St Gabriel’s Catholic Primary School, Wigan – a school which has overcome considerable challenges since the merger of St Gabriel’s and the Higher Folds Community Primary School into a combined school based on the Higher Folds site. “They’ve had to overcome some very big issues to become a really good school,’ said Warren. ‘That’s what came through to the judges – the work that’s gone into making it what it is today is phenomenal.’
Cathie Williams, head teacher of St Gabriel’s, explained: ‘We’re a Catholic school serving the community and everything we do is inclusive for all children irrespective of faith and background. We’re about 35 per cent Catholic and over the last seven years that I’ve been head, we’ve brought two schools from two separate sites on to one and established a really good positive ethos.
‘We weren’t expecting to win but it’s wonderful we’ve been recognised all over the archdiocese. First and foremost, it’s recognition of all the hard work and dedication of the staff and governors.’
St Gabriel’s has gone from ‘Requires Improvement’ to ‘Good’ in the eyes of Ofsted’s inspectors and there are manifold examples to illustrate the progress of a school now in the top 10 per cent for results nationally. One is the Gold School Games Mark award granted for its after-school clubs, with an increased number of children who have become volunteer coaches and recently established school sports council. Another is the Junior Languages award received for the provision of Spanish from Year 2 upwards.
Given its location in a deprived area, Williams also cites the support that the school buys in for its pupils in the form of counselling for emotional wellbeing and also speech therapy. ‘Our children are coming in 18 months to two years below where they should be in terms of understanding, communication, speaking and listening. We work in an area of significant deprivation, but we want to give children the best start and overcome barriers to learning.’
St Gabriel’s was far from the only school celebrating at the awards event on 21 May, which was hosted by Leanne Campbell, the Radio City breakfast show presenter, and featured music from the St John Rigby Concert Band.
‘It was an absolute privilege to be there to celebrate all that is good in Catholic schools without mention of such words as Ofsted,’ said Paul Loughran of St Michael’s Catholic Primary school, Halton, who left the Liver Building with the Primary Head Teacher prize. His school is noted for its community engagement work, including a ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ project begun this past year. ‘We’d take groups of children each week and drive them around in a car with gifts of flowers, chocolates and little calling cards form the school and they’d decide who they’d want to stop – whether it be an elderly person, somebody pushing a pram, a man in a wheelchair,’ he explained.
Loughran’s counterpart in the Secondary Head Teacher category was Tracey Greenough, rewarded for her work at the Academy of St Francis of Assisi, Liverpool, while the winner of the Inspirational Teacher prize was Teresa McCann, subject leader for Religious Education and Community Cohesion at St Bede’s Catholic Junior School, Halton – a school she once attended as a pupil.
The youngest award winner was 15-year-old Joshua Lowe from All Hallows Catholic High school in Penwortham, who collected the Young Entrepreneur prize. Aged 12 he developed a piece of software called Edublocks, a visual tool designed to help children learn computer coding and which is now used in more than 100 countries.
‘Josh is a remarkable young man,’ said his head teacher, Chris Horrocks. ‘Google flew him out earlier this year to Silicon Valley where he presented to a roomful of adults about the product. There’s no profit involved – he made the decision at 11 that he didn’t want it to be profit-making.’ If that were not enough, he voluntarily operates a monthly code club at the Harris Museum in Preston.
Of the other winners, Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School, Wigan earned the Spirituality award for a push to put spirituality at the heart of its activities – meaning acknowledging non-material aspects of life, with a focus on personal insight, values, meaning and purpose. Jo Costello, inclusion manager at Faith Primary School, Liverpool collected the Inclusion award, having helped her school earn the IQM (Inclusion Quality Mark) Centre of Excellence Status awarded to only around 200 schools across the whole of the UK.
The Contribution to the Community award went to the Warrington Cluster of Primary Headteachers for a shared project offering support and networking opportunities in the areas of leadership and management activities in Catholic primary schools in Warrington. The art department at De La Salle High School, St Helens won the Creative team project for their work in helping pupils explore creative possibilities. As if to illustrate the point, eight pupils recently had their work selected for the St Helens Youth Open Art Exhibition at the World of Glass museum.
St Paschal Baylon Catholic Primary school, Liverpool earned the Sports Achievement award after a year where 179 children represented the school in a sporting capacity. Together they registered a variety of triumphs: Matball city champions; Inter-School Girls’ Cross Country champions; Merseyside Police Primary Football champions; Liverpool Catholic Schools’ Athletics champions; and Liverpool City Swimming champions for both boys and girls.
It was not just a celebration of teachers and pupils. The Inspirational School Support prize went to Mike Poole, premises officer at St Joseph the Worker Catholic Primary School, Knowsley. This was a fitting accolade ahead of his upcoming retirement from a school where – to quote a colleague – ‘he is a mentor, coach, guide, on occasion a dinner lady and sometimes Father Christmas!’
Long service was also recognised with the award of the Governing Body prize to St Monica’s Catholic Primary School, Sefton – a school where several governors have served more than 30 years, notably George Foster, chair of governors for the last 23 years.
2019 awards in full
School of the year
St Gabriel’s Catholic Primary School, Wigan
Also shortlisted: St Paschal Baylon, Catholic Primary School, Liverpool; Academy of St Francis of Assisi, Liverpool
Secondary head teacher
Winner: Tracey Greenough, Academy of St Francis of Assisi, Liverpool
Also shortlisted: Tim Alderman, St Julie’s Catholic High School, Liverpool; Chris Horrocks, St Bede’s Catholic High School, Lancashire/St Edmund Arrowsmith Catholic High School, Knowsley
Junior head teacher
Winner: Paul Loughran, St Michael’s Catholic Primary School, Halton
Also shortlisted: Matt White, Much Woolton Catholic Primary School, Liverpool; Simon Lawman, St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Withnell, Lancashire
Governing body of the year
Winner: St Monica’s Catholic Primary School, Sefton
Also shortlisted: Faith Primary School, Liverpool; St Gabriel’s Catholic Primary School, Wigan
Inspirational teacher of the year
Winner: Teresa McCann, St Bede’s Catholic Junior School, Halton
Also shortlisted: Claire Markey, St John Bosco Arts College, Liverpool; Elizabeth Connor, Carmel College, St Helens
Inspirational school support
Winner: Mike Poole, Premises Officer, St Joseph the Worker Catholic Primary School, Knowsley
Also shortlisted: Dot Cunningham, Finance Officer, Faith Primary School, Liverpool; Pauline Guthrun, Teaching Assistant, St William’s Catholic Primary School, Wigan
Winner: Jo Costello, Inclusion Manager, Faith Primary School, Liverpool
Also shortlisted: Jayne McCann and Claire Bullock, SENCOs, De La Salle High School, St Helens; Cathie Williams, Head teacher, St Gabriel’s Catholic Primary School, Wigan
Winner: Joshua Lowe, All Hallows Catholic High School, Penwortham, Lancashire
Also shortlisted: Jake Glennon, Maricourt Catholic High School, Sefton; Ava Wall, St Peter and St Paul Catholic Primary School, St Helens
Winner: St Paschal Baylon Catholic Primary School, Liverpool
Also shortlisted: St Peter’s Catholic High School, Wigan, Y11 Rugby Team; St Peter and St Paul Catholic Primary School, St Helens, Y4 Rugby Team
Creative team project (secondary)
Winner: De La Salle High School, St Helens
Also shortlisted: Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Engineering College, Lancashire; Sacred Heart Catholic College, Sefton
Winner: Warrington Cluster of Primary Headteachers
Also shortlisted: St Michael’s Catholic Primary School, Halton; St Benedict’s Catholic Primary School, Sefton
Winner: Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School, Wigan
Also shortlisted: Sacred Heart Catholic College, Sefton; St Anne’s Catholic Primary School, Liverpool