St John Fisher Catholic School

Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from St John Fisher Catholic School is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Dympna Lennon, head teacher
Year 13 history
St John Fisher Catholic Comprehensive School is a secondary
school based in Chatham, Kent. Following poor GCSE
results in 2016, Dympna Lennon was appointed as the
new head teacher, which has led to more successful results
and significant changes in the way the school is led. Dympna
explains how her restructuring has changed the school for the
better and enabled the community to be proud once again.
Following the disappointing GCSE results of 2016, I quickly identified what went
wrong. In response, I worked with my staff to put a robust and strategic plan in
place to address the issues, and systematically implemented that plan. Overall, we
have aimed to implement the systems and structures that create the environment
for effective teaching andlearning.
Staffing and curriculum
Significant staff turnover was a key issue at the school before my arrival. Twenty-
eight staff left at the end of the 2016 summer term, while 22 left during the year.
This had an enormous impact on students’ learning; for example, some students
had ten maths teachers during their five years at the school. There were also
significant numbers of inexperienced or unqualified staff.
To address our staff retention issues, I articulated my new vision for the school. As
a result, staff bought into the vision and decided to stay. There is a strong culture
of support and challenge at the school. Staff are held to account for their work and
they, in turn, hold others to account. This “no excuses” culture permeates the work
we do every day.
»Head teacher: DympnaLennon
»Founded in 1964
»Based in Chatham, Kent
»Type of school: Catholic
secondary school
»No. of students: 900
»93.2 per cent attendance in
2016, which increased to 95.1
per cent a year later
St John Fisher Catholic
Comprehensive School
Highlighting best practice
Secondly, we improved the quality
of teachers at the school. The school
largely stopped working with teacher
training organisations as I recognised
the need to improve the depth of
pedagogical and subject knowledge
among our own staff. We invested
time and resources in a personalised
and differentiated programme of
CPD to develop teachers’ subject
knowledge and their ability to
communicate this to students.
Thirdly, we have focused on
supporting staff health and wellbeing.
We have introduced staff Christmas
and summer parties, praise letters, and
personal birthday cards so that staff
feel valued and motivated to go the
extra mile.
My early analysis also indicated that
there were no clear curriculum plans
and we did not liaise with the primary
schools effectively, therefore wasting
time at Key Stage 3. In response, we
reviewed our curriculum from year 7 to
year 13. New schemes of learning with
dynamic resources were put in place,
while quality was assured through both
good practice visits to other schools
and experts coming in to visit us.
We trialled a new approach to
assessment with year 7, ensuring
that students got quality feedback
and then acted on it to improve the
standard of their work. Following an
extensive review, this new system
was adopted across the school. It has
resulted in us reducing the amount of
time staff spend on ineffective marking
while increasing the time spent on
differentiated planning of lessons,
leading to much improved teaching.
Attendance was 93.2 per cent at the
end of 2016, with poor attenders
being particularly concentrated in
the older year groups. Six different
members of staff had been responsible
for tracking attendance; I restructured
the system so that we had a single
accountable attendance officer.
We have also developed a far more
robust partnership with our external
attendance support partner, who takes
negligent parents to court when it
is necessary. As a result, our overall
attendance increased to 95.1 per cent
the following year.
Behaviour management and
There had been 642 days of exclusion
during the year prior to my arrival,
as well as 13 permanent exclusions.
In order to create the right climate
for learning, we introduced a
challenging behaviour system to
manage low level disruption, making
students immediately aware of the
consequences of their poor behaviour.
Year 7 having fun
learning in music
Year 12 private study
New schemes
oflearning with
resources were
put in place,
while quality
was assured
through both
good practice
visits and experts
coming in
Our behaviour interventions were
designed to be targeted, to deploy
external agencies where necessary, and
to be clear to all students and staff.
We worked to build relationships with
all parents and carers, especially those
who had been traditionally hard to
reach. Overall, we reduced the number
of permanent exclusions to just one
student, with an 80 per cent reduction
in the days of fixed-term exclusion
compared to the previous year.
The tracking and monitoring systems
were not fit for purpose as our data
was inaccurate and staff were not
intervening with the correct students.
We worked with external partners to
implement a new data system based on
sensible aspirational targets. Intervention
is now data led, so that staff use
accurate tracking to identify and further
support underachieving pupils.
Working with external partners
We have made considerable efforts to
build up our reputation, introducing
more community meetings as well
as a new parents’ association. The
governing body recruited new parent
governors and we have used our
pastoral care team proactively.
We started to build relationships with
other schools, establishing links with
our Catholic primary feeder schools
as well as developing a partnership
with St Paul’s Academy in Greenwich.
We work together on teaching and
learning, as well as developing middle
leadership. We are also part of a sixth
form consortium, and have, together
with two other providers, reaffirmed
our commitment to working together.
Leadership team
Prior to my arrival, the leadership
team was disparate and did not
have sufficient impact. In response,
a temporary AHT was appointed to
lead on behaviour and as designated
safeguarding lead. I shared the raising
standards leader responsibilities
between two senior colleagues. Finally,
I appointed an assistant head teacher
to be in charge of CPD as well as
teaching and learning. This ensured
that the team operatedeffectively.
We also restructured the school day; all
students line up in the playground with
their equipment, to show that they are
ready to start the day before moving
on to form time, with breakfast being
available to staff and students prior to
8.30am. Resources for each morning’s
registration session are accessible on
the school landing page, ensuring an
orderly start to the day.
Looking forward
It was a challenging year for staff
and students, but the systems
and structures implemented had a
significant impact, with our summer
2017 GCSE results being significantly
improved, resulting in an overall
Progress 8 score of -0.08. Having spent
my first year putting structures and
systems in place, I now look forward
to the future, when SJF will improve to
reach the potential that it promises.
We have begun
with other
links with our
Catholic primary
feeder schools
as well as
developing a
partnership with
St. Paul’s
Academy in
Year 9 design technology

This article was sponsored by St John Fisher Catholic School. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.