THREE schools in one

In just five years an east London school has been transformed into a beacon of aspiration

Success is the best word to describe what is happening at the Bishop Challoner Catholic Federation of Schools. Academic success, community success, organisational success and spiritual success. Just five years ago only 50% of pupils at Bishop Challoner were achieving 5 GCSEs (including English and Maths) and this was not surprising taking into consideration the challenges and disadvantages facing the pupils, staff and community of Whitechapel and Tower Hamlets.

This year it is celebrating four students going on to Oxbridge universities and recent results that show 79% of pupils achieving 5 GCSEs including English and Maths.
The Bishop Challoner Federation offers a traditional academic education, with less emphasis on BTECs or GNVQs to achieve targets, focusing on GCSE and ‘A’ Level qualifications for all students instead. Nick Soar, the newly appointed Executive Principal for the federation of all three schools, suggested a number of reasons behind this positive change.

‘Firstly, the federation structure has made a big difference. We now have three schools working in unison,’ Nick explained. ‘This allows the sharing of the best teaching research and ideas, standards and staffing budgets.’ As Britain’s first federated school, the campus now has a Boys’ and a Girls’ School, as well as a Sixth Form College.

Bishop Challoner Catholic Federation Schools Girl Student Science Pipette
‘Another contributing factor,’ Nick continued, ‘is the quality of teaching that has radically improved over the last five years. 80% of the 125 teachers, are new faces from five years ago.’

Teach First, based on an American concept, is a model in which high-flyers fresh from university are encouraged to take a year or two teaching in under-privileged communities. This way some of the ‘success dust’ is sprinkled where it is needed most before these super able and ambitious individuals go on to high-powered city jobs. A disproportionate number of these individuals have come to Bishop Challoner because of the school’s early engagement with the scheme.

Nick also explained how the school has been both patient and brave in its approach to recruitment. ‘Not only have we grown talent from within, nurturing individual staff, turning teachers into pastoral leaders and bringing talent into the leadership team but we have resisted filling positions if the individuals were not right. We have trusted our judgement and often taken on additional exceptional teachers in order to secure quality individuals even when positions are already filled, just to get and keep that talent.’

This may be a luxury that most schools could not afford but the funding Bishop Challoner have in place is not just state supplied – it has been secured by the endeavours of the leadership team who have won the support of businesses like marketing agency Ogilvy & Mather and the American bank Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo sponsor a reading and maths scheme at Bishop Challoner to the tune of $10,000 per year and it is connections like these, established by Nick and his team, that have a massive impact on day to day performance at the school. The close relationship with Ogilvy & Mather provides more than just work experience for pupils but a detailed and sustained program instead. Thirty to forty students go for two days and work together on a project like planning a marketing campaign. This is followed by a formal two weeks of work experience and ongoing careers advice and mentoring from Ogilvy staff.

According to Nick Soar, the biggest driving force behind the leaps in improvement at the federation has been ‘the belief that high ambitions and aspirations work just as well for disadvantaged children as they do with pupils from the leafier suburbs.’

Established by Irish Catholic nuns in 1850 as a girls school in Whitechapel, an area famously challenged by poverty, underpinning each of the schools and the Federation is a strong prayer-centred vibrant Catholic ethos. Tolerance and a moral code based on ‘love of God, love of the self and love of each other’ is a core appeal to many of the parents whose children attend Bishop Challoner.

Bishop Challoner Catholic Federation Schools Boys Students
Nick Soar takes the reins this September as Executive Principal at Bishop Challoner and the senior leadership team for each of the schools is now as follows:

* Paul Stone: Head of Bishop Challoner Boys’ School
* Chantelle Easmon-Johnson: Head of Bishop Challoner Girls’ School
* Mrs Helen Livermore and Mr Andrew Warburton: Joint Heads of Bishop Challoner Sixth Form

As Nermeen, Esther, Mila and Bruno each prepare for their Oxbridge starts this autumn, the future for the younger children in E1 is looking brighter than ever too.

352 Commercial Road
E1 0LB
t: 0207 791 9500

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