The official records may say that Skerton High is “inadequate” – but to its pupils and their parents that’s far from the full picture.
Ofsted’s recent damning report into the Lancaster school, which said it has “serious weaknesses”, doesn’t match up with how well many of the school’s pupils progress during their time there, pupils, parents and teachers this week said.
The report said teaching was below standard at the Owen Road school and results in English and Maths needed improvement.
Under a new inspections framework, which the government introduced last year, it is no longer acceptable for schools assessed as ‘satisfactory’ in their last inspection – as Skerton was – to carry on being satisfactory.
Head Chris Snell said: “We know that Skerton High has had a poor reputation in the past, which is difficult for the school to shake off.
“We’ll use this report to focus on those areas in need of urgent improvement.
“On the positive side, most people know that we have a growing reputation for working well with more vulnerable pupils and that we have significant success with pupils who have failed at other schools in the district.”
Indeed, 25 per cent of pupils at the school have joined Skerton from another school part-way through their education.
The school now faces a demanding 18 months where it will receive regular monitoring visits and must be seen to be making the necessary progress.
Deputy head Lyndon Day said: “We know the results weren’t good enough and that we have to get better GCSE results for our pupils.
“We want to use this as a positive and use it to move forward.”
Lyn Tait, head of one of the school houses and a teacher at Skerton for 15 years, said outsiders don’t see the whole picture at Skerton.
“I have had two children go through the school and I came here as a pupil myself,” she said.
“If the children want to learn they will get all the support they want from us.
“For some of the children we can be their only constant.
“People outside get to see the Ofsted result but they don’t get to see the individual things that go on inside the school, and all the success stories.”
Val Manwaring, special educational needs co-ordinator and inclusion leader, who has taught at Skerton for 13 years, added: “For such a long time people have had this negative view of Skerton and we work so hard to try to change that,” she said.
“But people are surprised when they come here. Once they come in the door they realise it’s not what they thought it was.”
Parents of children at the school are so keen to see it succeed, they recently set up their own Parents’ Forum, which will act as an intermediary between the school, other parents and pupils.
Robyn Holtham, one of the parents behind the idea, said: “I think the strength of feeling of parents surprised the school.
“We all have very positive things to say about the school.
“My son Tom is severely dyslexic, and he hated school until he moved to Skerton.
“Now he wants to go to school every day and he is very happy.
“It’s a unique school and it doesn’t fit the framework that Ofsted has, and that’s not the school or Ofsted’s fault.”
Fellow parent Kath Speight said: “My son’s confidence has grown in the few months he has been at Skerton.
“The school is paying the price of being a very inclusive school and it’s to everyone’s credit that they have not abandoned that. It doesn’t matter what the children have or haven’t got at Skerton; they are all treated the same.
“It’s wrong to label the kids and the staff are absolutely brilliant.”
Cathy Ward home-taught her son Paddy, 14, for a few months after failing to find him a suitable school.
“Parents tend to look at Ofsted reports and achievement and that’s not what Skerton is about,” she said.
“There seems to be a bit of a stigma attached to the school and Ofsted has a rigorous criteria which is really unfortunate.
“But Skerton has been a fantastic school for my son.”
“We were advised against Skerton but when we looked into it, it was far more nurturing than the other schools that were suggested to us,” said Priscilla King.
“Skerton offered the care that our daughter needs and she is thriving.
“They provide well above the call of duty time and time again.”
John Roberts said: “We moved to Lancaster in 2010 and the only designated school at the time was Skerton.
“We had a look online at Ofsted reports and then we visited the school and we liked what we saw.
“The things that attracted us were the small classes and personal nature of the school.
“Our daughter really flourished and we think it’s a wonderful school.”
Pupils say the school’s size – it has less than 200 pupils – helps them to settle quickly.
Year 11 pupil Alison Barnsley joined Skerton in Year 9 after leaving another local school due to bullying.
The 15-year-old now hopes to study music at Lancaster & Morecambe College.
“Coming to Skerton gave me so much confidence,” Alison said. “Because it’s a small school everyone knows each other and everyone is really friendly and supportive.”
Fellow Year 11 student and head girl Nicole Edgar agrees.
“Everyone cares about each other, whatever their age,” the 16-year-old said.
“The teachers are really supportive too. As long as you try your best they are proud of you.”
“It’s a shame that Ofsted gave us such a bad review because it’s a brilliant school,” Alison added. “People just need to give it a chance.”