Catherine Twist, headteacher at St Cuthbert’s Catholic High School

St Cuthbert’s Catholic High School in St Helens has been on quite the journey. With the school celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, headteacher Catherine Twist tells Educate about its diamond successes and bright future ahead.

Success for all

by Hannah Fowler

Like many students when they leave school at 18, Catherine Twist didn’t quite know what she wanted to do as a future career. Not wanting to go to University, she got on the job ladder and took a role as a school lab technician at St Augustine of Canterbury Catholic High School in
St Helens.

But a few years down the line, Catherine got the teaching bug, “I decided I wanted to go in to teaching because it’s about being with children and working with kids. So that’s what I did,” she explains.

Catherine gained her degree from Manchester Polytechnic (now known as Manchester Metropolitan University) and entered the world of teaching. Luckily, her first foray as a teacher was somewhat familiar, as she landed a job at St Augustine’s, where she was the lab technician only a few years earlier.

“I stayed there for 16 years and was a science teacher; head of year; exams officer; Key Stage 3 manager; all of those different kind of jobs that you pick up when you’re trying to build your portfolio,” she said.

With her teaching career taking off, Catherine was, and still is, unwavering on what community she wants to serve – her native St Helens. “I’m St Helens born and bred,” she says. “I haven’t been very far, apart from holidays. It’s about wanting the best for our children and our area.”

The only role Catherine hadn’t gone for was head of department, and when an advert came up at St Cuthbert’s Catholic High School (known as St Cuthbert’s Catholic Community College for Business and Enterprise at the time) she jumped at the chance and landed the job.

As head of science, Catherine was soon asked to take on the maths department too and after that (“very suddenly,” says Catherine) she became assistant headteacher for teaching and learning in September 2013.

But sadly that same year, Monica Gallimore, St Cuthbert’s headteacher since 2008 passed away. Described as a ‘wonderful leader and teacher’ who changed lives for the better, the impact on the school was great. “That left a big hole in the school, a massive hole in the school,” explains Catherine.

The School Leadership Team rallied together and after temporary replacements stepped up and took the lead, Catherine became the permanent headteacher of school in September 2015.

“So it’s been quite a rapid journey up this corridor,” said Catherine. Rapid it might be but she has wasted no time getting to grips with her new role.

In 2015, the school embarked on a new identity which included changing the name to its current form and creating a fresh new brand to be rolled out across the uniform, prospectus, signage and website.

“We are competing with schools that are quite big schools and quite new – shiny buildings we call them,” Catherine explains. “We did use the phrase we might not have a shiny building but we’ve got shiny staff, shiny students and shiny curriculum!”

With a new modern image, the next milestone for Catherine to achieve was receiving a Good Ofsted inspection. “We knew we were a Good school, the results might not have shown that, but we knew we were a Good school and that the children were getting the best possible day to day education that they could,” she said.

But the pressure was on. The school had been in ‘Requires Improvement’ for two Ofsted sessions and was in risk of being put in special measures.

But seemingly unfazed, Catherine was confident that Ofsted’s visit on 20 September 2016 (a date forever etched in her memory) was going to prove successful.

“So Ofsted came and we showed them that we are a Good school,” says Catherine. “I could go to staff and say we have proved what we already know. Even at Christmas when everyone is tiring, everyone was still smiling because we had got our Good!”

This August’s GCSE results day brought yet more good news for the school. 54% of students achieved five standard GCSE passes including English and maths, consolidating the improvements the school is constantly making. “When you see children coming in to school who have worked really hard and then they get that piece of paper and they open it up and their faces light up, that’s what it’s about,” said Catherine.

Ofsted praised Catherine for creating an ‘ambitious and aspirational culture’ and noted how she has taken the whole of the school community with her on this journey of improvement. Catherine says everyone at the school has worked hard to foster a “success for all” attitude.

“We foster this aspiration that nothing is beyond anybody,” she said. “So anybody can go to university, if that’s what they want to do, anyone can go in to apprenticeships, anyone can go in to work, so it’s all about aspiration and success.”

And despite not having a ‘shiny building’, St Cuthbert’s is brimming with shiny ideas and innovation. The first day back in September saw the school host a live feed throughout the day, which was streamed on social media. “We do a live feed throughout the day so that the parents who sit at home and go ‘What’s he doing?’, ‘How is she doing without me?’, they can see them going in to class, they can see them having their lunch so they get that little idea of being part of the day, even though they’re not here,” Catherine explains.

With St Cuthbert’s celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, Catherine says it’s a time to reflect on the school’s journey and exciting future. Plans include a whole school mass at Liverpool Cathedral, creating a lasting piece of artwork and lots of activities throughout the year which will see staff, parents, past students and primary children join together to celebrate.

Even with a Good Ofsted under her belt and results constantly improving, Catherine isn’t resting on her laurels. Gazing at the five year plan on her wall, she says there is still much to do. This includes working towards Outstanding, developing a teaching school and making sure all students leave with the best possible outcomes.

“We want to be the ‘talk of the town’ for the right reasons and because we’re all working together,” she said.

“So really it’s just the beginning. It’s been a really exciting couple of years but there’s still a long way to go.”

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