Fostering talent

For Les Rippon, headteacher at St Francis Xavier’s, one of the benefits of being at the helm of a school is the ability to recognise and develop ability and talent amongst the staff. At SFX, the Catholic academy in Woolton where he has taught since 1995, that job was made all the easier thanks to the fact he knew the school so well when he took on the head role in 2004.
“You are obviously very much aware of the strengths of the school,” he says. “Obviously you know the staff as well and that’s important because you can identify those people who’d be good at certain things and you can build up a team around you in order to take the school forward.”
Les started his career in County Durham, taking his first teaching job, as a geography teacher, in 1979. In 1987 he moved to the North West and was appointed head of geography at Rainhill High School in St Helen’s, before moving to SFX in 1995.
It is this ability and passion for nurturing talent that is behind plans currently underway to redevelop the school building. The existing school building was originally built in 1961 when the 173 year old college moved to Woolton and the school is currently seeing new £7.5 million facilities take shape that will transform daily school life.
“The big aim was to make sure that we had a school that was going to cater for all of its pupils in terms of whatever their ability is and whatever their gifts and talents might be”, says Les. “We wanted to create a school whereby everybody feels as though they’re important, that pupils can excel in the area they are best at. By that I don’t mean that they leave school with A* A Level grades – that’s great if they’re doing that but for those pupils who maybe aren’t as academically able we’re able to set them up on a course for life, if you like. That’s been the main aim since I started in 2004.”
The new facilities include a state of the art science block, which will be ready for the start of the new 2015/16 school year and a sports hall which is expected to be completed by October. The hall is designed so that sports can be played at club and regional level, including trampolining, five-a-side football, badminton, volley ball, netball, indoor cricket and athletics and is equipped with an electronic scoreboard and Wi-Fi connected to a plasma screen.
The redevelopment also includes the creation of a new, safer entrance from Woolton Hill Road rather than Beaconsfield Road.
The new building will complement Les’, and indeed SFX’s, ethos of making every child count and developing their skills.
“It’s about being able to have a system whereby we recognise the achievements of all,” says Les. “We might have an awards evening to recognise an academic achievement. We can have a sports evening to recognise sporting achievement. We can have awards presented through school for pupils that have made the most progress in something. They haven’t got the best mark but they’ve made the most progress. It’s about making sure that we’ve got an effective school council so we’re listening to the views of pupils and that they feel valued and part of the whole system.”
Interestingly the actual building work taking place is also playing a part in this philosophy. According to Les, giving pupils an opportunity to have their voices heard in the design stages of the development was important, as the school strives to recognise the achievements of every student and help them to progress, making them feel like a valued part of “the family of SFX”.
“Pupils have had quite an input in terms of the design of various parts of the building,” he explains. “They’ve had an input into the colour schemes in the new science building, they chose the colour of the new flooring, the colour of the walls, and more recently we’ve been looking at new names for various buildings in the school so some pupils have been working with the governors on those.”
Meanwhile, although the phased construction scheme has brought about “quite a logistical exercise” for the school, it’s also highlighted an example of a career achiever who previously studied at SFX.
“One of the site managers for the construction company, Kier, is a former pupil of the school,” says Les. “Her name is Rachel and she was in our sixth form about six or seven years ago. She went off to university, qualified and then got a job in the construction industry so she’s done really well, and it’s very interesting to see her managing all of these people on the site.”
Plus, with work taking place just metres away from a functioning existing building at times, SFX has also found practical and academic ways to make the best of the busy environment.
“The building company has taken pupils around (the building site) on a number of occasions, and pupils stay there all day with questions such as ‘why does this go here?’ and ‘how do you build this?’” says Les.
“From a curriculum point of view it’s also been good because people have, if they’re doing some maths teaching for example, got some real life examples just outside of the window of why it’s important to get accurate measurements of certain things. Or if it’s technology it’ll be looking at building materials and the environmental impact of certain materials that they’ve got there in front of them to see.”
Inevitably, smoothly adapting to the new facilities and ensuring they are fully utilised is high on the agenda for the forthcoming academic year at SFX, and whilst it will be a time of transition for the school, Les has become adept at managing change during his long career in education.
“Change happens, and as long as it’s for the benefit of the youngsters going through the system then everybody’s fully supportive of that,” he explains, adding: “The needs of the pupils have got to come first every time.”

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