Casterton College bidding to be best school in the country

In 2021, Casterton is a school transformed.

Casterton's staff and pupils have helped the school earn a chance to be crowned the best in the UK.
Casterton's staff and pupils have helped the school earn a chance to be crowned the best in the UK.

The school is heavily oversubscribed, progress scores are well above average, the budget is in surplus and morale is high.

To underscore their achievements, this year’s Pearson’s National Teaching Awards saw the school placed in the top three, picking up a silver Award for Making a Difference – Secondary School of the Year and in the running for the top prize to be announced later this year.

Headteacher Carl Smith picked up the Bronze Award for Headteacher of the Year in a Secondary School, in recognition of the work he has done to transform Casterton – all done with no extra money or resources.

Mr Smith arrived in 2015 and began setting in place a radical approach to improve life for everyone there. Out went lesson observations, learning walks, targets, marking policies and supply teachers. In came putting staff first, a culture of trust, and working in partnership.

The school is incredibly proud of its comprehensive, inclusive intake and the fact that 1 in 8 of its students are from army service families. Ability on intake is around or slightly below the national average but the percentage with Special educational needs and disability (SEND) is much higher.

“A lot are working class, based in the small towns and villages close by, people that tend to feel forgotten by Westminster,” says Carl. “We are a proudly inclusive and comprehensive school with a broad range of students, including many who have attended several schools because of their services background.”

Their success has seen the numbers in year 7 nearly double from 110 to 210. The total roll has risen overall by 33% in 5 years, mostly because of parental demand rather than demographic growth.

It has one of the best Maths departments in the country, with progress scores always above 1 and progress in science, English and History not far behind. Disadvantaged pupils do extremely well, and boys and SEND pupils make remarkable progress. The reason is that they benefit from great teachers who care deeply. Casterton never uses supply teachers and both staff turnover and absence are low. People want to stay at Casterton.

In 2019, Dr Sam Sims at the Institute of Education, Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities conducted an anonymous national survey of staff attitudes to workload and Casterton came top. He was so impressed he arranged a visit to find out why staff love working at the school so much.

“As we all know, workload is a huge issue these days but we are extremely fortunate to retain great staff and have a very low staff turnover,” says Carl. “We are respected for our approach to workload and staff wellbeing. Of course, staff wellbeing doesn’t come from handing out cake or trotting out easy slogans, it comes from managing people’s workloads, not burdening them with unnecessary bureaucracy, ensuring behaviour is looked after and giving them the autonomy to do their jobs without constant oversight.”

Casterton invests heavily in 14 mental health first aiders and takes the lead role in “Resilient Rutland”- a mental health project funded through the National Lottery – there is even a Director of Children’s Well-Being on the Senior Team.

Anonymous stakeholder surveys, benchmarked nationally, show year after year that they rate the school as outstanding, not just because of its results but because its children feel happy and safe in school, cared for by staff who know them well. Parents often comment on this when they step inside, and as one said: “You can just feel you’re in a school that cares”.

When the pandemic came the school’s community spirit came to the fore. Casterton looked after its staff and made them feel very safe by requiring face masks in class in the autumn term and applying very strict rules on maintaining bubbles and good hygiene. The result was attendance in the autumn at a remarkably high 96% while staff absence remained low and the number of positive cases was well below the local average.

Casterton is also highly commended for its work with service families and has its own dedicated forces family’s liaison officer. A huge display in the hall put together by students shows the military heritage of their families, involved in all major conflicts over the last century and another has 400 ceramic poppies.

“Casterton doesn’t often make the headlines,” says Carl. “It is an average sized school, outside an average sized town, with a broadly average ability intake, but there is nothing average about what happens inside. It is a community school with happy children that just happens to be getting great results, year after year.

“It doesn’t do anything extraordinary, it just does the ordinary very well. That is why it is a great model for other schools to follow, a blueprint for how any school can become great.”

To find out more about the school visit the website.