St Mary’s school and sixth form college in Wrestwood Road are now in special measures.
A damning Ofsted report published last Thursday revealed failures across the board and meetings were held immediately with local education authorities - which fund children there - to discuss the way forward, as well as with parents on Friday.
The inspection led by Bernard Payne found inadequacy in all six categories - leadership and management, behaviour and safety of pupils, safety of teaching, achievement of pupils, sixth form provision and overall effectiveness of the residential experience.
It was ruled the school requires special measures “because it is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and the persons responsible for leading, managing or governing the school are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement.”
St Mary’s is a non-maintained special school which currently provides for 104 children between 7-19 years old.
The chair of governors is Don Young and the chief executive officer is Sharon Menghini.
Pupils have speech, language and communication needs, some also have autism spectrum disorder and other disabilities.
It has gone into special measures because the school’s leaders “have not secured good teaching and learning across the school” and inspectors found “a sizeable proportion” of parents have concerns about the leadership and management.
The governing body has “not been effective” in areas such as holding the school to account for pupils achievement, and safeguarding procedures have not been properly followed.
There was also criticism of the way the curriculum is planned and monitored, provision in the sixth form, and teaching because “teachers do not plan work effectively enough to ensure that all groups of pupils make the progress they should.”
Pupil achievement in English and mathematics was a concern and youngsters are not prepared for the next stage of their education, training or employment.
Findings ended: “The school must ensure that it meets the national minimum standards for residential special schools which have not been met.”
In criticising the leadership of St Mary’s, the report highlighted “very significant changes” in senior staff over a short period and admitted that while leaders have “accurately” identified what needs to be done, it was too early to judge the impact of recent changes, and there was additionally concern there is “no effective middle leadership” within the education-focused part of the school.
The inspectors also listened to parents and reported the majority did not agree the school is well led and managed.
“Particular concerns centre upon the significant staffing changes over the past two years, which parents feel have unsettled their children, and other changes, such as timetabling, which some parents feel have had an adverse effect on their children’s education.”
Arrangements for safeguarding were also criticised as inadequate and not meeting statutory requirements; at the time of inspection some key roles for leading safeguarding systems were vacant.
The Ofsted report did however praise pupils’ “consistently good behaviour” and said they are happy, willing to learn and interact, tolerant and supportive of one another.
There are 86 boarders and provision for them was judged inadequate in terms of criteria such as quality of residential provision and care, safety, and leadership and management of the residential provision.
The report noted: “There have been weaknesses in assessing the safeguarding risks individual pupils face.
This has had a serious and negative impact on the quality of residential provision and care.”
The report added that pupils say they enjoy their boarding experience, and outcomes were judged adequate.
Youngsters enjoy a variety of activites such as computer time, gym, and music club, and spoke positively about learning life skills.
In response to the Ofsted report the following statement was released by Don Young, Chair of Trustees and Governors.
Following a full and integrated inspection by Ofsted in November, St Mary’s School and 6th Form College are being placed in special measures.
The Governors accept the findings of the report and support the staff in the changes that are required.
The findings did not surprise us, and indeed we were already addressing the issues.
This is evidenced by Ofsted in the report where they wholeheartedly endorsed the leadership team’s ‘Self Evaluation’ of the school as accurate, and the team’s Improvement Plan which sets out the direction for the future and many of the actions required.
In addition, the senior leadership team at the school has already taken action to implement Ofsted’s recommendations and to ensure that all the areas highlighted for action will be dealt with as soon as possible.
Part of the background to the report’s findings, and perhaps to other critics, is the hard work which has been underway to address a number of longstanding legacy issues and to modernise our practice. This has inevitably meant necessary change – and change is not always popular.
Safeguarding issues raised in the report have already been addressed, and we will now expand the series of improvements that were already underway across the rest of the school.
Ofsted also reports, there is a strong senior leadership team who are focused on improving the outcomes for our pupils as quickly as possible. The Inspectors also noted that “children are happy at the school, make friends and feel happy and safe.”
We are fortunate to have the support of the majority of our dedicated staff and we are reassuring parents that we are doing everything to give our pupils the excellent care and education they need and deserve.
Finally, we want to say that our staff are prepared for the hard work ahead which is essential in the best interests of our children. We hope to be well supported by parents and the local community. The Governors and Trustees and Senior Team are fully committed to making all necessary changes and improvements, and with the help of our dedicated staff we are sure we can secure a very bright future for our school.”