Creating an outstanding school, despite the barriers and because of the barriers

How do some schools do it?

How do they manage all the national pressures? 

  • Increased complex SEND needs
  • Lack of funding
  • Recruitment crisis
  • Falling roll

And then on top of that, the local challenges and nuances of their context?

It’s a question I’ve been researching since 2011, finding these schools, visiting them, learning from them.

And just a few weeks ago I met Dawn Titus, Headteacher, St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School.

It’s one of those schools that as you’re approaching, you know how tough a demographic they are serving. The deprivation is visible in the streets around the school. Thankfully when I went, the gang culture was not in evidence that day.


Yet walking through the doors it’s like walking into a different world. An oasis of a school with happy, helpful staff. Well behaved and smart children are taking their learning seriously with pride, whilst also being fun, welcoming and happy.


Dawn’s passion and commitment to create an outstanding school is evident from speaking to her and is in every molecule of the building.


The pupil population is challenging:

  • 4.5% of pupils have an ECHP (vs a national average of 2.5%).
  • 18.5% of pupils need SEN suppor4t (vs a national average of 13.5%).
  • 58.4% speak English as an additional language (vs a national average of 22%).
  • 25.9% are eligible for free school meals (the same as the national average).

And yet:

  • Pupil absence is below the national average (4.4% vs 5.9%).
  • Persistent absence is below the national average (10% vs 16.2%).

The school was satisfactory in 2011. But two years later, under Dawn’s leadership the school was judged Outstanding in January 2013 and again in January 2024.


As for their results…

  • The percentage of pupils reaching the expected standards is 91% (vs 60%).
  • The percentage of pupils reaching the expected standards 21% (vs 8%).

Having been to the school, it’s everything you would hope for in an outstanding school. And it’s in a context where the children need outstanding education the most.


If like me you’re thinking:


‘Wow! How have they done it? What can I learn?’

Then you’ll be delighted to hear  Dawn is one of our speakers at our annual conference, Outstanding Against the Odds.

Dawn will be sharing how she and her team Created an outstanding school, despite the barriers and because of the barriers.

Dawn will share how she took the “fire in her belly” that so many of us have for education and channelled it to create not only the quality of education her children deserve, but the quality they need to create a culture that gives the best academic and personal development of pupils and staff.

Dawn will explain how:

  • The school’s approach leads to high achievement for their children who speak English as an additional language. 
  • The school navigates and supports a community beset by gang crime. 
  • The team manages parent relationships within a challenging community.
  • Exemplary behaviour is achieved, despite the contextual challenges.

Outstanding Against the Odds 2024:

Best practice from recently Outstanding Headteachers

Thursday 21st November 2024

1 ticket gets access for your entire leadership team

Tickets £360+VAT