“Life in all its fullness”:
developing the whole person
St Laurence School, a comprehensive in Bradford-on-Avon,
has been described by one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors
from Ofsted as a school guided by “both head and heart”.
It has an intake from over 30 primary schools and pupils of
above-average attainment. St Laurence has been oversubscribed
for the last five years, and in the following article, headteacher
Fergus Stewart explains how a school can thrive even in a
competitive environment of other, highly successful schools,
both public and private.
Our Church of England school values are summarised in our strapline: “care,
inspire, succeed”. Doing what is right for our young people, irrespective of external
pressures, is what drives us. We have high expectations of all our students, as
they do of all our staff, but human flourishing is at the core of our mission and is
reflected in the cohesive and settled community we’ve created – something that
visitors often comment on. What does that mean in practice? Three things have
been vital ingredients in our success so far.
Keeping the main thing the main thing
Obvious as it sounds, we strive to keep teaching and learning at the heart of all we
do. That means valuing our staff and treating them with compassion. Teachers have
high expectations of themselves and the pressures have increased greatly over the
last decade, so we do all we can to be supportive. For example, we never question
attendance at funerals or family medical appointments. We also trust our teachers,
rather than expecting them to stay at school until a set time each evening.
»Headteacher: Fergus Stewart
»Founded in 1980
»Location: Bradford-on-Avon,
»Type of school:
»No. of pupils: 1400
»Commitment to developing
the whole person
»Strong links with Wiltshire
Music Centre
»Hugely successful in athletics
»Progress 8 +0.47
St Laurence School
Highlighting best practice
We are clear about what we don’t
expect, as well as what we do – strong
guidelines both ways have been
appreciated by staff. We are explicit
about the marking approaches specific
to each subject, so teachers know
exactly where they stand. I value my
regular meetings with union reps and
encourage staff to contribute to those
discussions. We invite staff feedback
each term on our development plan
priorities. Tailored, in-house professional
development for teachers is explicitly
linked to appraisal. This encompasses
regular, fortnightly “Tuesday training”
slots, often delivered by classroom
teachers; action research projects
being undertaken across the year by all
teachers; middle leader training; and
pedagogical coaching.
“Teach the class in front of you” is
our constant mantra. With our pupil
premium and SEN (special educational
needs) populations both relatively
low, nothing but a highly personalised
approach will do in securing good
progress for all. Teachers take pride
in tailoring their planning to the
developing needs of each class.
Analysis of regular assessment data
is used to challenge subject leaders
about individuals and student groups,
while our “Progress Mentor” team
works with individuals who are falling
behind to ensure that interventions are
successful and lasting.
At Key Stage 4, we have chosen to
maintain a vocational pathway for a
small group of students for whom
the full diet of GCSEs would not be
appropriate. For example, we have
developed a land-based programme
in partnership with Lackham College.
Students’ response to this has been
enthusiastic, and, crucially, this has
helped to maintain their attendance
and engagement with the rest of their
school programme. Although we are
still looking to improve Progress 8, this
measure has given them confidence,
enjoyment and progression, which
matters far more.
In addition to all this, we have maintained
a full, three-year Key Stage 3 programme
for all students. We do so because a
clear link between achievement at the
end of year 9 and exam success at GCSE
two years later has been demonstrated.
It allows us to provide the rich curriculum
that is essential for developing the whole
child – something that for us includes
our “Challenge” programme, which
builds from a short outdoor programme
in year 7 to extended residentials in years
8 and 9 for all students, throughout
which teamwork, self-management
and overcoming personal challenges
feature heavily. No short-term “sticking
plaster” intervention programmes in
later years can compensate for corners
cut in Key Stage 3.
St Laurence - a school
with “both head and
Students create rockets
during a visit from the
UK Space Agency
We are explicit
about the
specific to each
subject, so
teachers know
exactly where
they stand
Be courageous
We try always to remember that each
child only gets one chance at education,
so we avoid complacency and can’t let
the grass grow under our feet. When
things go wrong, as they have done for
us at GCSE and A level at various points
in our journey, we have developed a
clear approach. This starts with honest
analysis and discussion, which cannot be
allowed to take more than a few weeks.
Next comes a clear action plan, often
informed by scrutiny and advice that
we commission from senior leaders or
subject experts in other schools – and, in
such meetings, we do not varnish reality.
Each year we have “Raising Achievement
Plans” (RAPs) for any and all subjects or
areas of the school that require them,
and these plans are recognised as being
genuinely helpful. Senior leaders do not
shy away from getting fully involved in
these plans – it’s a team effort, after
all, not a blame culture.
Let students be leaders
Schools are about young people, so
we have developed an ethos where
their voice and leadership are valued.
Our vertical tutor group system has
sixth-formers fully integrated with
younger years, so leadership grows
naturally through informal coaching
as well as flourishing programmes like
“Literacy Leaders”. We empower and
prioritise our student councils, at both
house and school levels, as genuinely
consultative bodies; and it is through
them that we are developing our
approaches to, for example, mobile
devices, e-safety and anti-bullying.
End-of-term assemblies are completely
devised and led by our head girl and
head boy, and our student “Ethos
Group” plans the weekly themes for
collective worship. Moreover, our
many charitable events are all planned
and coordinated by student charity
leaders. This year, the new and widely
acclaimed online school magazine
has been launched by A level graphic
design students. It has been a joy
to watch young people rise, with
appropriate, light-touch guidance,
to these challenges and demonstrate
amazing leadership skills.
This rich curriculum, ever evolving and
enabling youngsters of all abilities
and backgrounds to thrive, is what
we so much want to maintain and
take further. We are so fortunate
in our staff and our students. The
ever-growing, threatening cloud of
school budgets is a major anxiety. We
benchmark regularly and watch every
penny. My plea to politicians? Please
invest in our amazing young people –
they deserve every opportunity we can
give them.
Schools are
about young
people, so we
have developed
an ethos where
their voice and
leadership are
The Challenge
Programme inspires
courage, confidence and
Our Houses in fierce