‘We have lost pupils to the rumours, but parents are now asking if they can come back’

Headteacher Kathy McNicholas has spoken out about the school's problems, as she looks forward to a more positive year ahead
Headteacher Kathy McNicholas has spoken out about the school's problems, as she looks forward to a more positive year ahead

Following a turbulent year caused by staff disputes and a huge blaze which destroyed many of the school buildings, the headteacher of Leyland St Mary’s Catholic Technology College candidly opens up to reporter KAY TAYLOR about how the troubles have affected pupils and teachers, as she looks forward to a more positive year ahead.

In this week’s Guardian, Kathy McNicholas finally ends her silence about the troubles faced at Leyland St Mary’s over the past 12 months.

She says pupils left during the ‘unsettling period’ of staff disputes and strikes, and eight new teachers have joined the team from the start of term.

Some parents voiced concerns on the Guardian’s website about the number of substitute teachers their children were having in lessons before the summer, particularly in English.

The chair of governors said at the time it was due to staff sickness being ‘higher than usual’.

Now, eight new permanent teachers have joined the school from the start of term – two each in English, science and history, and one each in maths and ICT.

Miss McNicholas assures the reasons staff have left is for promotions in other schools, and are not related to disputes at St Mary’s.

“I think there is a misguided view that movement of staff is bad,” she expanded. “I consider that if we’re developing staff enough that they’re feeling confident to apply for these better jobs, then we’re doing our job.

“I see it as a really positive thing, and the new teachers come with bags of enthusiasm, which is really infectious across the school.”

While teachers may not have left on bad terms, sadly, that isn’t the case for some pupils.

Parents who vowed to pull their children out of the Leyland school around the time the strikes took place have followed through with their threats.

Miss McNicholas admitted: “We have lost pupils to the rumours and the unsettling period, but we’ve already had enquiries from parents about children coming back.

“Children were still joining the school throughout the last year though, so we’re actually holding our own with pupil numbers.”

And it seems the havoc hasn’t put parents off from sending new-starters to St Mary’s either, as 291 pupils have taken up places in year 7 this year, compared to 286 in 2013.

Of those 291 children, 129 had selected St Mary’s as their first choice (compared to 125 last year), 99 put the school as their second preference, and 63 as their third choice, (compared to 99 and 62 last year).

“When the fire happened, we were worried that it might affect our new-starter intake,” Miss McNicholas revealed. “But we had a really positive open evening and meetings with parents.”

- For more on this story, including Miss McNicholas’s comments about the ongoing ‘peace talks’ with union representatives, and the views of year 7 and 11 pupils about the year ahead, see this week’s Guardian.