PUPILS told Ofsted officials about racism during an inspection – before their Blackburn high school was placed in special measures.

The inspection at Our Lady and St John Catholic College found evidence of an increase in racist incidents, as well as a ‘high number of incidents, including bullying’’ and homophobic language.

The North Road school, housed in a new £10 million Building Schools for the Future campus, was found to be ‘inadequate’ on every count, with behaviour cited as a particular concern.

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council said it had stepped in to offer support and schools boss Coun Dave Harling said: “We are working with the Diocese to plan a robust support package around the school to make sure it can deliver the improvements required by Ofsted.”

Inspectors said Our Lady was under-performing in relation to achievement of pupils, quality of teaching, behaviour and safety of pupils, as well as leadership and management.

They said they were approached by a number of groups of students at the 857-pupil school who said ‘there was a lot going on under the surface of the school’.

The youngsters told of ‘cliques’' of students who get together to cause problems and talked of racism within the school.

They said they felt leaders did not do enough to promote cohesion and harmony.

The report found ‘relatively little evidence of students from different cultures and heritages mixing together’.

It also found absenteeism was a problem.

Lead inspector Christine Birchall said leadership was ineffective and achievement ‘in a number of subjects’ was low.

She said: “Behaviour is inadequate.

“ Students do not show enough respect for the school environment or their teachers.

“Between lessons and at break times a significant number of students do not treat others with respect and language is frequently inappropriate.

“When such behaviour is challenged, students do not immediately do as they are told.

“They occasionally respond in an inappropriate fashion, such as mimicking the teacher.

“There is still evidence of a high number of incidents, including bullying, in particular year groups.

“Students report that it is not uncommon to hear homophobic language around the school.”

She said academically, the school, which caters for 11-19-year-olds, was struggling.

She added: “Too few teachers challenge and correct students’ literacy errors. Even the most able struggle to communicate their ideas clearly and convincingly.

“In mathematics, students are able to apply the formulae but they do not understand the concepts behind the methods.”

The proportion of students who are from white British backgrounds is lower than average, with the remainder of students being mainly of Pakistani or Indian heritage.

However, the inspectors said pupils from an ethnic minority background were not achieving well enough.

But autistic pupils in the resourced provision were said to be doing well. Ms Birchall said: “Their progress is better when they have individual support than it is in the classroom.”

The school was rated ‘satisfactory’ at its last inspection in 2011 under former head Colette Gillen.

She stepped down in 2012 and acting headteacher Keith Ballard was promoted.

Mr Ballard said: “We are extremely disappointed with this report and while we acknowledge that there are some areas for improvement, which we are already addressing, we don’t feel this is a fair or accurate reflection of our school or students.

“The report does not acknowledge that we have had a 17 per cent increase in attainment at GCSE over the last two years, which is a significant achievement, particularly as it happened while we were temporarily based in another building while our own school was rebuilt under the Building Schools for the Future programme.

“However, we do recognise progress has not been made as quickly as we would have liked in some areas and this is something we are now urgently seeking to address.

“We recently moved back into our new campus and believe we are in a strong position now to deliver the improvements required by Ofsted. We are working closely with the Diocese and local authority to develop a detailed action plan to help bring about these improvements.”

Double move caused disruption says Ofsted

THERE were high hopes when Our Lady and St John’s began the year in a purpose-built £10 million school building.
In January, the school described the results of building work at the North Road site as ‘fantastic’.
However, Ofsted was of the opinion the move to create an entirely new campus had caused disruption.
In the report, inspector Christine Birchall said: “There has been significant disruption to the school due to changing premises twice while waiting for a new building.”
The school is part of the multi-million pound Building Schools for the Future programme, renewing and rebuilding local schools.
The scheme was launched to replace older buildings within Blackburn with Darwen and provide students with 21st century learning environments.
Our Lady and St John, one of the last to be completed, now consists of a new building with classrooms and administration facilities forming a quadrangle with three of the old buildings based around a courtyard.
The heart of the school is an open space used during lunch breaks, where the whole school also gathers for break times.
Also included is a new open plan library and resource centre, new changing rooms and a fitness studio, as well as a bigger car park.