Head left to puzzle over Ofsted verdict after his school scoops coveted award for work with pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds

John Henry Newman head Clive Mathew has been left puzzled after the school received an award for its

John Henry Newman head Clive Mathew has been left puzzled after the school received an award for its work with pupils from disadvantaged background - Credit: Archant

Government inspectors who downgraded one of Stevenage’s top schools cited shortcomings in the way it provided for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But the same school has scooped a coveted award for its work in that area – and the puzzled head can only wait until the school is inspected again, in two years, to try to regain its ‘outstanding’ status.

Clive Mathew of the John Henry Newman School in Stevenage Road was disappointed but not surprised when the school was bumped down from ‘outstanding’ to ‘good’ after inspectors called in January last year.

It has been a common fate for schools which have seen their standing slip after changes in the criteria used by government agency Ofsted.

But something didn’t add up when JHN won a prestigious award for being one of the best schools in the UK in the very area Ofsted inspectors said it needed to improve on.

The Catholic secondary school, which draws students from a wide area, has been congratulated by the Department for Education for winning a Pupil Premium Award for Hertfordshire in recognition of recording the greatest improvement in achievement and attainment of its disadvantaged pupils since 2012.

The letter said: “It is clear that you and your staff have provided your disadvantaged pupils with a good start in life and prepared them well for further study, training and employment.”

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The school has even been invited to submit an application to be considered for the regional and national Pupil Premium Awards.

Yet the school’s inspection a year ago states: “Until recently, leaders of some subject areas have not been successful in narrowing the gaps between the progress and attainment of disadvantaged students and that of others.”

Mr Mathew told the Comet: “Our disadvantaged pupils got 79 per cent A to C grades last year including English and Maths – this compares to about a 56 per cent average across the UK.

“We are particularly pleased that our disadvantaged pupils have done so well, given that Ofsted failed to notice the work that we were doing to support them.

“We’re one of the best schools in the country for dealing with disadvantaged pupils, but Ofsted missed that.

“I would say we’re an oustanding school and our results bear that out, but unfortunately we won’t be inspected again for another two years.”

Overall the school received an ‘outstanding’ grade for just one of the five key areas considered by the inspection team and ‘good’ for the rest.

To rub salt in the wound, minister for schools Nick Gibb has also written to the school congratulating it for being in the top 100 of non-selective state schools in the UK for last year’s GCSE performance, and showing the ‘greatest sustained improvement’ in results between 2013 and 2015.

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