A Brighton secondary school has won praise from Ofsted in an inspection report published today (Monday 11 September).
Head teacher William Deighan said that he was pleased and proud with the good verdict for Varndean School, in Balfour Road, Brighton.
Ofsted said: “This school continues to be good. The leadership team has maintained the good quality of education in the school since the last inspection.
“Many aspects of school life have moved into a higher gear, from achievement to behaviour, and pastoral care to the curriculum.
“As a member of staff wrote: ‘It has come on an incredible journey since the last inspection.’
“Initiatives that started a few years ago have blossomed and over 90 per cent of staff are proud to work at the school.
“Since the last inspection, you have strengthened the quality of teaching in the school.
“This has resulted in improved progress for pupils in all years and in better GCSE examination results.
“Pupils now feel confident about how to improve their work and typically behave well and work hard in lessons.
“The percentage of pupils attaining good grades in GCSE English and mathematics examinations in 2016 was just above average.
“Results were convincingly above average in several curriculum areas, such as technology and computer subjects, Spanish, sports and media studies.
“You and senior leaders are fully aware that a few subjects and groups had disappointing results. Tackling the underlying factors started early this year.”
This year – after the Ofsted inspectors’ visit – the school recorded better GCSE results, reflecting the analysis and work that had been identified in the report.
Ofsted added: “Under your leadership, your deputy head teachers and other members of the senior leadership team have become increasingly effective.
“You insist on high standards of teaching throughout the school. You make sure that teachers’ skills are constantly improved by providing relevant and useful training sessions and by visiting and working with other schools to share best practice.
“You welcome probing and challenging questions from your experienced and wise governors and regularly seek external advice to verify procedures and standards.
“A contributory factor to pupils feeling safe, happy and belonging is the successful establishment of four ‘small schools’.
“In these, teaching and non-teaching staff know each pupil really well, so that small and large concerns are dealt with swiftly.
“Many parents complimented the school, writing, for example, ‘I love the fact that Varndean is a caring, inclusive and friendly school.’
“Pupils are extremely well prepared for their transition towards sixth-form studies and beyond through activities such as ‘learning for life’ and philosophy lessons.
“Pupils confirmed that behaviour has improved since the previous inspection. This has generated a reduction in exclusions and improved attendance – an aspect for improvement in the previous report.
“Your school has the best attendance in the local authority but you are not complacent and staff continue to work hard to raise attendance further.
“Many parents, rightly, complimented the considerable breadth of extra-curricular activities and trips, particularly the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
“The school has the largest number of pupils achieving these awards in the south east.
“Parents also referred to the ‘brilliant music’, ‘fantastic drama’, ‘amazing library staff’, ‘energetic sport’ and ‘thought-provoking philosophy’.
“It is not surprising that the ethos of the school reflects its excellent provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.
“Pupils contribute much to the local community and generously raise funds for charities.
“Safeguarding is effective. The school’s safeguarding policy is up to date and comprehensive. Posters around the school display the name of the designated safeguarding lead whom pupils can contact.
“Pupils are regularly advised about the dangers of social media.
“New members of staff receive appropriate induction in the school’s safeguarding procedures prior to attending the training and updates that all staff receive regularly.
“Recently, staff have been brought up to date on recognising the signs of female genital mutilation, domestic abuse and radicalisation.”
Ofsted said that the next steps for the school should include the leaders and those responsible for governance ensuring that “the support provided for middle leaders of science and the humanities continues so that pupils achieve as well in these subjects as they do in most others”.
Ofsted also said that all teachers should “intensify their focus on middle-attaining and disadvantaged middle-attaining pupils so that they make at least as good progress as others”.
As well as speaking to staff and students, Ofsted said: “Inspectors took into account 131 staff members’, 200 pupils’ and 170 parents’ responses to questionnaires and their written comments.”
Thirty parents wrote detailed comments, the report added.
Mr Deighan said: “Leading a secondary school is like, I imagine, the cycle up Ditchling Beacon at the end of the London to Brighton – invigorating, never-ending, sometimes getting off to push and always joyous.
“I am deeply appreciative of the hard work and commitment of our staff, governors, students and their families that make Varndean School such a special place.
“I hope you enjoy reading the report. We’ve already moved on with the wonderful job that is Varndean School.”