St Mary's Menston: Lessons for 2010... in a 1964 building

THE prospect of a new school building at Menston was already on a distant horizon – and one that has receded still further since the Coalition Government axed the school building programme.

"We were scheduled to get a new building around 2020," said Catherine McMahon, acting headteacher at St Mary's Roman Catholic High.

"Children benefit from a smart, functional, clean state-of-the-art learning environment that should be basic for all children.

"I don't know if there is a correlation between results and school buildings but new facilities can only enhance what we have and make people feel better.

"But while I am disappointed that a 21st century building does not appear to be imminent, we are rich in other things that matter such as high quality staff and talented children supported by parents and governors."

Mrs McMahon said the school was "incredibly well maintained" by the site manager and it would be hard to find areas that were dilapidated. But a brand new school would have reduced the necessary maintenance.

"We have had numerous phases of renewal and redevelopment," she went on, "and the school benefits from a wonderful green environment. Its location on Bradford Road is superb.

"But it is a 1964 building and therefore it doesn't befit a 21st century education system. There are some days when finding room for classes is incredibly tight. Space is a major issue.

"Unlike other schools, we cannot meet the demand for computers and laptops."

Notwithstanding these limitations, St Mary's has a high record of achievement. Some 92 per cent of pupils achieved five GCSEs at grades A-star to C; and 84 per cent achieved five A-star to C grades.

She is rightly proud of a letter from Chris Edwards, chief executive of Education Leeds, praising the school for its latest results – which were its best ever. And he singled out the "ruthless determination" and "relentless focus" of the headteacher and her staff in delivering excellent teaching and learning.

Mrs McMahon says she was a long-time fan of St Mary's even before she moved there in 2002 from Cardinal Heenan High School; and her own son Matthew, now 28, was once head boy.

"I am privileged to have worked in two outstanding Catholic schools in Leeds," she said, "one of which, Cardinal Heenan, achieved a new building 10 years ago.

So I have experienced that inter- esting transition."

Good sports produce the big shots

AS a specialist sports college, St Mary's has a team of coaches who give their services to other schools.

In fact, no fewer than 54 other schools are in a sports partnership with the Menston school.

St Mary's has received grant aid from the Football Foundation and is developing an all-weather pitch which should be ready for next year. It will also be used by the wider community.

Alumni who have made their mark in county cricket include Yorkshire opener Joe Sayers, and David Wigley, who started with Yorkshire and is currently with Northants.

In soccer, Aidan White has become a star with Leeds United and Luke Hendrie, son of former Leeds United player John, is on the books of Manchester United and is a youth international.

Defender Niall Canavan signed for Scunthorpe United and midfielder Tom Taiwo was snapped up by Carlisle United after playing for Leeds, Port Vale and Chelsea.

Michael Jones is a promising 14-year-old diver with his eyes on London 2012.

A school that scales many different heights

"WE'RE not just an examination factory," says St Mary's acting headteacher Catherine McMahon.

"We are about more than academic achievement – we develop the whole person."

So during the summer break, a party of pupils and teachers went out to their "link" school – Mnyakanya High in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa.

There they taught classes of 60, 70 and even 80 students. "They experienced unusual situations like goats wandering through the classroom," said Mrs McMahon, "and cockerels fighting outside.


"Our two schools were brought together by the Youth Sport Trust and the British Council 'Dreams and Teams' initiative because, as a high-achieving secondary school, we wanted to learn about other cultures. We can learn from them as much as they can learn from us. We have exchange visits and they come over here every two years."

Another party of teachers and pupils, led by Darren Dootson, went on a World Challenge trip to Peru.

The Pope's visit to Britain this week has special interest to Catholic children and a small group was travelling down to Twickenham where His Holiness was meeting 3,000 pupils and students.

Classes at St Mary's were to watch the Pope on TV screens.

The school nurtures creativity and the world of showbusiness has benefited. Matthew Lewis played Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films and Christian Cooke appeared recently in Cemetery Junction with Ricky Gervais. Verity Rushworth has been a regular on Emmerdale.

Three of the Kaiser Chiefs attended St Mary's and have been back to school to lend their support.