In Conversation With… Headteacher Bridget Morris and Teach First’s Tessa Thomas

August 2021

Headteacher Bridget Morris took charge of Stuart Bathurst Catholic High School (SBCHS) in February 2019. At the time, the school was Ofsted rated ‘Special Measures’; within months, Bridget had reduced incidents of poor behaviour by 80% and instilled a sense of school pride in the pupils and teachers alike.

While a talented headteacher in her own right, Bridget credits Teach First with giving her colleagues the confidence, time and skills to successfully lift the school in all areas. SBCHS benefits from Teach First’s Leading Together programme, which works with leadership teams in schools to understand and overcome the barriers which stop children from achieving their very best. The Huo Family Foundation has supported the programme with a grant of £750,000.

Bridget said: “I inherited a school in special measures with a fractured leadership team with very low morale. Confidence was shot but we were lucky enough to embark upon the Leading Together programme shortly after I started. I think it’s been one of the best things that’s happened to the leadership team in my time here, in terms of professional development, and also in terms of the development of the school and the children.”

Briget Morris, Stuart Bathurst High School’s Headteacher

Tessa Thomas, the Teach First Achievement Partner working with SBCHS, works closely with Bridget and her leadership team. She works with schools for two years, helping them understand why issues are arising, how best to tackle them, and how to help the pupils achieve their potential. 

Tessa said: “Bridget had only been Head for a few weeks whenwe began the programme together. It focuses on the senior team, not just the head teacher, because the evidence shows, if you galvanise the team and you move them forward and skill them up together, that will bring about sustainable change. The beauty of having two years with the team is that when I walk away, they’re in a much more secure and sustainably improved position than they were at the start.”

Bridget agrees. “It’s enabled my leaders to step back, become strategic thinkers and focus on research-based solutions. It’s fed right down, through the school to our middle leaders and back into the classroom. You can see by the quality of what’s being delivered in the classroom and the excellent work in the children’s books. And that’s been an amazing thing to witness. Teachers feel empowered to try different practices that they hadn’t heard about before.”

Tessa Thomas, Teach First Achievement Partner

However, it was not only a newfound pedagogical confidence that was key to Bridget and her team’s success. Thanks to a new behaviour system, designed and implemented with Tessa’s help, the two years that SBCHS worked with Teach First saw behavioural incidents reduced by over 85%.

Bridget said: “We implemented 100% compliance for behaviour in class, lateness and smart uniform. Now we’ve got 99% of children working very well in classrooms and disturbances are a minimum. While the focus of the programme is on the leadership team and teachers, it’s all about the impact on the children“.

There is another school which had a better reputation than ours, and one of the magic moments here was when a pupil told a visitor: ‘we used to say we go to the school opposite, the one everyone knows. But now we say we go to Stuart Bathurst. We’re proud.’”

A further signifier of the positive effect of the partnership between SBCHS and Teach First is the excellent outcomes of the pupils once they finish school.

“Last year we sent four students to medical school and 2 to dentistry courses.” Bridget notes. “81% of our year 13 went to the university of their choice to study their first-choice course. We’ve also increased the number of children staying on for sixth form.”

Part of this success comes down to ensuring teachers are better placed to help pupils understand the options available to them after school, as well as the various ways in which you can be supported financially to study at further or higher education.

“A lot of our children have a fear of debt gained from going to university and simply need more information. We helped one student gain a training bursary from PWC to help cover their fees. We do all we possibly can to make sure that economic disadvantage doesn’t transfer into educational disadvantage. Now, we’re seeing many more pupils go on to do the courses they want to do – not just because they are able to, but because they feel supported in their decision to do so”

Bridget added: “The Huo Family Foundation is doing great work in education and we are very grateful for their support. It enables us to have a lifelong impact on the students that come through our school. The confidence they’ve gained by, for example, studying their top-choice course at their top-choice university is an amazing gift to be given to just one young person and we can multiply that by hundreds, maybe thousands.”