Interview with: Claire Madeloso, headteacher of Archbishop Blanch School

At the time of the visit (18 March), it had been over year since the Educate team had the pleasure of stepping foot inside a school to conduct a headteacher interview. Schools had only just reopened a week ago and whilst the way we met staff and students has changed somewhat, the vibrant, happy feeling that you get when you enter a school is still wonderfully present. 

Archbishop Blanch School is a striking building, both inside and out. The modern layout provides an open and airy space which offers a sense of calm, even with almost 1000 pupils and over 120 members of staff. 

Heading up the school is Claire Madeloso. The former St Hilda’s CE High School student studied geography and completed her PGCE at Newcastle University. Claire then moved back to Liverpool in 1997 and began her teaching career at Alsop High School. 

She said: “Alsop has always been a large school so there was lots of opportunity for progression. I started as a geography teacher and soon began working on attendance and worked up to assistant head of sixth form, head of year and then assistant headteacher.”

During her time at Alsop, Claire also completed two secondments, the first at Notre Dame Catholic College and the second at De La Salle in St Helens for six months.  Both secondments were very different and interesting experiences that gave Claire an appetite for further progression.

In 2017, Claire then joined Archbishop Blanch School as deputy headteacher.  18 months later she had the opportunity to become acting head and just six months on, she was appointed as the substantive head.

She said: “While I was acting head, we did have a Section 5 Ofsted inspection that we were well prepared for.  The inspection was the short one-day inspection, and we were a good school already and had some great practices. The inspection confirmed that we were able to start thinking about the outstanding criteria for our next full inspection.”

Her journey to becoming headteacher followed a slightly different route.  Claire said: “The pastoral avenue through school provides you with a lot of different opportunities. At Alsop, I was lucky to work with every single year group and got to understand their needs, specifically the year 7s when they came in on transition, Options for Year 9, then later on transition into sixth form and then further education.  I also got to really look at the curriculum and the wellbeing support students need to be successful. I was able to develop a really rounded set of skills, obviously with a more pastoral focus, but with the opportunity to link in with other departments.”

During Claire’s time at Archbishop Blanch School, there have been many proud moments. Most notably when the school received Outstanding Ofsted status, adding to the already Outstanding SIAMS judgement.

She said: “The school was already on a continuous journey of improvement and you feel a responsibility as the custodian for a school to continue that improvement.” 

One of the school’s core values is community and Claire wanted Ofsted to see what the community was achieving as a whole.  She said: “There was so much potential in the staff and students and I wanted to ensure that this was seen clearly through the Inspection.  This was noted in the first paragraph of the Ofsted report, “Pupils and students are exceptionally proud to be part of such a close knit, friendly and welcoming school community”.” This was particularly important to Claire as the contribution of all members of the school was recognised.

“That sort of external recognition gives us the determination to always be the best that we possibly can be. The impact on the staff was tremendous. They were delighted and we were cheering when we found out the news.  We were about to have an Ofsted celebration last year, but sadly the schools were then shut!  We will still celebrate this tremendous accolade, as I think it’s really important to mark the journey that the school has been on.”

Schools have had their fair share of challenges over the past year. Claire explained that one of the biggest issues she faced was time scales and waiting for information from the Department for Education.  She said: “I like to forward plan to maximise student success and have clear frameworks in place that will support the workload and wellbeing of all members of the school community. I didn’t like that feeling of not being in control.”

Claire went on to say: “At times I felt like I was being reactive. I wanted to plan and think things through.  So regular meetings with the leadership team became critical in order to make the decisions in a timely manner that were well thought through and debated.”

One of the other challenges Claire struggled with was isolation and not being around her team.

She said: “This is a social job and schools are social places. There are nearly 1000 children in the school and there are over 120 members of staff and my job is to interact and communicate with people. I did experience loneliness as I did not like working from home. I missed my wonderful staff and my amazing students.”  Claire acknowledged how difficult home learning was and the support parents and carers offered to students was exceptional.

Back in January of this year, Archbishop Blanch School won Leadership Team of the Year at the Educate Awards’ live virtual ceremony, outlining what can be achieved through a real representation of strong team work and real unity.

Claire explained: “After such a difficult year, we were all so delighted and quite overwhelmed to be honest. We work so well as a team and we are quite a close knit group.  Everybody’s got a really diverse set of experiences and backgrounds.  Within the Leadership Team, there are staff with curriculum backgrounds, pastoral backgrounds and very varied teaching experiences.  We work well and make decisions through lots of academic debate, discussion and make unanimous decisions in the best interests of all members of the school community.  That creates real clarity across the school as to how we will be moving forward.

Claire holds senior leadership away days where they plan and review the vision for the future, review what they’re going to do for the next year and look at what they have achieved and what they want to achieve next. 

Claire said: “We also spend quite a bit of time talking about the ethical leadership framework which is something that I am particularly interested in. It was written by a variety of different organisations and allows us to really think about our integrity of leadership and everything comes from the top down in the school.”

Speaking about future plans for the school, Claire said: “We’ve just been accepted as part of the Teaching School Hub. The Teaching School Hubs are replacing teaching schools and so we are working in partnership with a number of schools across Liverpool and the Wirral. I feel this is really important to us because we’ve got a lot to offer as a school in terms of our experiences and what we are doing for staff development.”  The Teaching School Hub is called ‘The Inspire Learning Teaching School Hub North West’.

Archbishop Blanch has been a School Direct training school for over two years in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University and already has 18 confirmed places for this September. Claire continued: “The feedback about the school direct programme so far has been fantastic and we’ve retained a number of those staff within the network.  We work with several other schools across the city including St Hilda’s, King David, The Academy of St Francis of Assisi, St Margaret’s and Belvedere.  

 “We hope to maintain and build on that school direct programme and play a key part in the teaching school hub.”

But for the immediate future, Claire said: “It’s about maintaining the outstanding provision that we offer to the students and I say provision because for me it is not just about results. Results are fantastic but they are grades on a piece of paper.

 “Children become citizens of the future and it’s our job to get them ready for that, so the provision for me is not just academic it is pastoral; it is welfare and everything else that goes with that.” “The fact that we are achieving these great outcomes links to the fact that our children are getting a well-rounded experience in school, which thoroughly prepares them for any next step which they may choose to pursue.”

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