St Mary’s School, Cambridge has become the first independent school in the country to achieve the ‘Excellence Through Employees’ award. The award, which complements and offers a refreshing alternative to the Ofsted agenda, is based on best-practice in organisational leadership. It evaluates the contributions made by employees towards the organisation’s core purpose and builds upon three characteristics inherent in most outstanding organisations: clear communication, high expectations and emotional intelligence.
The award’s founder, retired Cambridgeshire head teacher and a former National Leader in Education, Kevin Bullock said: “This clearly demonstrates that both St Mary’s Junior School and St Mary’s Senior School are great places to belong to, both as a student and an employee. The Excellence Through Employees award highlighted that St Mary’s School, Cambridge is a responsive, forward–thinking school with high expectations for both students and employees. The school encourages everyone, whatever their role, to contribute towards its continued success.”
St Mary’s School, Cambridge wished to explore a light touch process for reviewing our community and accrediting our practice. We did not want to go down the route of Investors in People which is necessarily questionnaire heavy and would not have got to the question of our core purpose. As a Christian school in the Catholic tradition, we were looking for a scheme which would allow us to explore how our ethos impacted positively – or had no impact – on our teachers and support staff. This is how we came to take part in the Excellence Through Employees award programme.
We have extremely good links with St Bede’s Interchurch School, an 11-16 local comprehensive, and the Head, Alistair Day, had taken his staff successfully through the process and we were very keen to be the first all-through girls’ school including an international boarding component as well as the first independent school to gain this award. As an independent school we are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), which is a peer-review system and consequently we were equally keen for our review of HR to be undertaken via a peer-review scheme. We were aware of the reputation of award co-founder Kevin Bullock, who achieved three “outstanding” Ofsted inspections as Head of Fordham Primary School, and were eager to be involved.
The school was introduced to the process of the Excellence Through Employees award during our January INSET day. Thereafter, every member of staff was invited to fill in a five question survey which focused on their understanding of the school’s core values and their role in living these out on a daily basis. They were also asked whether they felt there were additional ways in which their contribution could be more widely recognised and utilised. Extensive interviews were carried out by a team of three from Excellence Through Employees who then produced a report, which the Senior Leadership Team will be sharing both with the Governing Body and with staff through our active Staff Forum.
We were commended for consistency of excellent practice across both the Senior and Junior Schools including: open communication, high expectations and trust at all levels of the organisation between senior leaders and all staff and between line managers and those they support; and a generous budget and flexible and imaginative use of funds for CPD.As our Chair of Governors, Graeme Minto, reflecting on “a very pleasing and perceptive set of reports” wrote “please pass on to staff the tremendous appreciation of the governors for the wonderful team spirit and professional dedication of all staff which comes through in these reports.”
We continuously look for potential in our junior and senior colleagues and consider opportunities to develop them to become middle leaders including employing careful succession planning whenever possible. For example, Christepher Hald was appointed as Deputy Head of the Junior School and after one year in post was promoted to become Head of Juniors. In the Senior School, our Head of Classics was initially given the newly created post as Scholars’ Officer and thereafter became an Assistant Head in charge of Teaching and Learning. She has now been promoted out of school to become Principal Deputy at New Hall School, Chelmsford.
We regularly work with our sister order, the Loretos, in particular with the Director of Education for Loreto in Ireland who has given training for a group of our Junior and Senior School middle managers within the framework of our particular Catholic charism. We also send potential leaders on external training courses including those run by Association of School & College Leaders (ASCL); Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA); Catholic Independent Schools Council (CISC); and Girls’ School Association (GSA), all of which provide high quality courses. We encourage colleagues to visit other schools to share best practice with them and have links with both state and independent sector schools including being a founding member of CCFSG – Cambridge City Faith Schools’ Group.
We believe that articulating our core values to staff as well as to pupils and parents helps develop a shared understanding of our community; our ethos is summed up through what are known as the 12 characteristics of a Mary Ward school; Mary Ward being our inspirational 17th century foundress who believed that ‘By God’s grace, women in time to come will do much’. The Excellence Through Employees report highlighted very positively:
“St Mary’s School, Cambridge permeates warmth, care and respect for individuals, whatever their background. The Christian ethos, strongly intertwined with Mary Ward’s characteristics, creates a wonderful environment in which to nurture the students. The fluid and dynamic leadership, displayed by the Head and her Leadership Team, ensures the school is equipped to be an effective place of learning in this ever-changing world. In short, in a world where values/fashions are in a constant state of flux, St Mary’s School, Cambridge can stand firm and be proud of its clear identity, core values and the timeless universal truths it champions.”