As a former pupil of All Saints Catholic High School, under its previous guise of St Kevin’s, headteacher Tony McGuinness may have ties to the school’s past but it’s clear his focus is
firmly on the future and, under his leadership, that future looks bright.
Making a difference
by Amelia Heathman
When Tony left St Kevin’s Comprehensive school in Kirkby in 1982, he could not have imagined returning to the school over 30 years later as its headteacher. The school, which merged with St Gregory’s to form All Saints a few years after Tony left, was a key part of his childhood and so too was the Kirkby community in which it is located. And it was ultimately this that brought him back.
Taking on the role of headteacher in April 2015, at what was a difficult time for the school (it had been placed into special measures five months earlier) Tony says his passion for the community was a key factor in his accepting the position.
“For me, it was a bit of a calling,” he says. “I wasn’t going to turn my back on a school which is at the centre of the community that I was brought up in. I wanted to serve the community to the best of my ability and try to make a difference to the young people’s lives in that special community.”
Indeed, this desire to make a difference to people’s lives is what led him to the teaching profession initially. After leaving St Kevin’s he had gone on to gain A-levels at Kirkby Community College before securing a place at Liverpool John Moores University, or Liverpool Polytechnic as it was then known, to study Economics.
“I started thinking about teaching because it’s a job where you could make a difference in terms of people’s lives and the degree of stability associated with teaching posts at the time was a big influence,” explains Tony. “Economics was my subject at the time and I was passionate about teaching it.”
After a year’s teacher training at Edge Hill University, Tony stayed in the Liverpool area, taking positions at Deyes High School in Maghull, St Francis Xavier’s College, and eventually becoming deputy head at St John Bosco Arts College in Croxteth – a school which was graded Outstanding by Ofsted in 2013.
Tony says his time at St John Bosco helped to prepare him for the All Saints role, instilling in him a confidence in his ability and a commitment to turning things around at the school.
“I believed in myself and I felt as though I’d had a good grounding in the deputy head role at St John Bosco,” he says.
And that belief was warranted. The special measures tag has now been removed (the result of the LEA, Knowsley Borough Council, the Liverpool Archdiocese and the staff at the school working together, he says) and the school has achieved great success, particularly in terms of attendance. Indeed, for the academic year 2015-2016 the school was awarded with the most improved attendance award from Knowsley Council.
“We threw out the old system and brought a system in that I’d used at St John Bosco where there’s much more accountability for attendance at year group level,” says Tony. “But then I backed that up with support, so working with the school welfare office from Knowsley Council, who worked alongside the school’s staff to make sure the children were in school.”
One area in which the school has always excelled is in its treatment of students with disabilities, something which has been praised by Ofsted.
“The SENCO division has been identified as a real strength,” says Tony. “The most vulnerable are supported by a number of different staff within the school. When there’s a need, we have a team who support the family, so there’s regular six-week meetings with students who have particular needs, to ensure that those needs are being met.”
And while the welfare of its students has always been the priority, Tony has also helped to ensure the school remains a beacon of the community he grew up in and still holds dear, participating in community events like performing at the annual Kirkby show and promoting the opportunities on offer, post-16 education, to students.
“The post-16 provision in the school is one of the main strengths,” he says. We’re the only Knowsley school that has post-16 provision. The BTECs have been very successful in terms of pathways into university and also into the world of work, in modern apprenticeships. A couple of students have gone to work at places like Santander and the Walton Centre at Aintree Hospital.”
Looking to the future Tony says the focus will be on exam performance, something which is already seeing good progress.
“We’ve changed the curriculum, so we have a more appropriate curriculum,” he says. “And we will change the structures, processes and procedures to make the job easier for the staff, so they can concentrate on learning and teaching.”
Tony is clearly very proud of his work at All Saints and his ability to play such a key role in the community he still considers home (“My extended family are still involved in the Kirkby community. We still worship there; I go to church every Saturday night in Kirkby,”). The most rewarding part of the job, it seems, is being able to realise that ambition that set him on the path to teaching all those years ago.
“Just making a difference in people’s lives,” he smiles. “Getting to give them an opportunity, whereby they take those opportunities and develop them in a way so that they can lead a healthy life and make a positive contribution to society.”