Christine Rourke, Fazakerley High School

Winner of most inspirational high school in the Educate Awards 2012, Fazakerley High School is a ‘family school’, where tea and biscuits are served every day while students talk about their hopes and dreams with the school’s headteacher. We met the head of this inspirational high school, Christine Rourke.

At the entrance to Fazakerley High School just off Longmoor Lane in Aintree, there is a sign that sits high in the entrance of the high school for 11-19 year-olds. ‘We aspire to inspire’ read the words high and large on the wall. This tenet runs throughout the school’s and students’ daily lives and is a principle that headteacher Christine Rourke holds close to her heart.Speaking of winning Educate’s most inspirational secondary school award 2012, Christine says: “To me to be named an inspirational school means more than anything else, including places on performance tables. It is essentially what education is all about, so I’m really pleased that it has been recognised in our school.”But what singles Fazakerley High School, deemed a good school by OFSTED at their latest inspection, from the others who made the shortlist for the award?“What singles us out is a very clear vision for the school,” says Christine. “One of the things that I really believe in very strongly is that the culture and the ethos of the school is the driving factor. If we don’t or can’t inspire pupils then we won’t have any success. Inspiration is about having the right culture and ethos and we have done a lot of work to get that in place.”The right culture at the school has certainly spurred on some massive changes in attainment. GCSE levels at the school are rising year on year. Six years ago, just 47% of pupils at the school left with 5+ A* to C GCSE grades and this narrowed to 18% including English and Maths. In 2011 / 2012, 92% of pupils at the school left with 5+ A* – C, 50% including English and Maths. I asked Christine just what has changed within the school to see such a marked improvement in attainment levels.“We make sure that every pupil is looked at as an individual, targets are set for each pupil and we put a lot of emphasis on parental involvement, “says Christine. “Parents come in for review days and if pupils need any further intervention we make sure that is in place. There is a whole raft of things which have changed but they all relate back to culture and ethos, I think that if you don’t get that right, then pupils are not going to buy into the bigger vision, if you don’t get the basics right the rest of it won’t follow.”
The concept of the ‘bigger vision’ at the school is something which certainly inspires. Christine meets with a group of six pupils every day at 11am over tea and biscuits to talk about each of their aspirations and what they want from the future. Fazakerley High School describes itself as a ‘family’ school and clearly a school where the headteacher might not know a student’s name, it is not. As head of the school Christine makes efforts to try to get to know each of her students and what they want from the future. Another aspect, which makes the school stand out is its excellent record as an engineering college.  One of the top five engineering schools in the country , two of its pupils have gone on to win sought after awards including EEF’s North West Engineer Award and North West Young Apprentice of the year, directly as a result of their grounding in the subject from the school. “Studying engineering from year 7 brings into sharp focus not just engineering but subjects that would be linked with engineering, such as maths and science and all aspects of technology,” says Christine. “This can then lead into careers in those subjects or equip children for the technological world that we now live in.”The school has links with big companies such as Jaguar, Scottish Power, Cobalt Housing and is looking at opening a career academy where there will be an intensive mentoring and support program with the help of local and national companies who have agreed to help with apprenticeships, mentoring support and coaching for job interviews.“I do believe that the technical side of education in the sort of world we are in is increasingly important and something we have to keep up with internationally,” adds Christine.And the school doesn’t just stop at the pupils, the secondary has some of the most oversubscribed adult education courses in the area at a time when adult education numbers are dwindling in the rest of the country. “Schools have an important role in relation to their local community,” says Christine. “It is the role of the school to influence the community’s ethos and raise aspirations in the wider community not just in the school.”Christine herself has had a long and illustrious career having previously studied at Oxford University before joining Fazakerley High School. Having taught and worked at the school, once teaching English and R.E, for twenty-five years I asked Christine what she enjoys the most about the headship role which she now occupies?  “You can very much shape the strategic direction of the school as a headteacher, “says Christine. “You feel in a very privileged position because the way in which the pupils respond to you in your role as head makes you realise just how important that role is. The response we get from our students is extraordinary. The school has changed greatly in the time I have been here it has developed and moved on and I can see that we are stronger now than ever before. “

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