Education watchdog Ofsted has praised Moulsecoomb Primary School in a newly published inspection report.
The official watchdog said: “Leaders and managers are taking effective actions towards the removal of the serious weaknesses designation.”
But steps to turn the school into an academy meant that head teacher Adam Sutton had less time to devote to improving the school for its children.
Pupil numbers have dropped since a poor previous inspection report prompted the government to order the school to be converted into an academy. Ofsted said that the school has 226 pupils but capacity for 607.
Ofsted also said that staff cuts – referred to as a “restructuring” – as well as dealing with the latest coronavirus-related changes were diverting Mr Sutton from “securing improvements in the school”.
Her Majesty’s inspector Julie Sackett, who led the inspection with fellow HMI Clive Close, wrote to Mr Sutton and praised progress at the school while highlighting areas for improvement.
She said: “The inspection was the second monitoring inspection since the school was judged to have serious weaknesses following the … inspection that took place in April 2019.”
The latest inspection, on Wednesday 5 May and Thursday 6 May, “was the first routine inspection the school received since the covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic began,” Ofsted said.
In her report, she said: “The school is in the early stages of the academisation process. Arrangements for the school to join the Pioneer Academy Trust are under way.”
The government ordered the school, in The Highway, Brighton, to become an academy after the inspection in April 2019 rated it inadequate.
Parents, staff and politicians have campaigned against converting the school, which is currently a local authority maintained school, into an academy, run by a multi-academy trust.
The report flagged up “progress made towards the removal of the serious weaknesses designation”.
It said: “The head teacher is steering the school through an unsettled period with care and sensitivity. His aspirations for the school and its pupils remain high.
“However, the head teacher’s current focus on a range of issues is diverting his attention away from securing improvements in the school.
“These issues include making sure that pupils settle back into school quickly, managing a staff restructuring and leading the school through the academisation process.
“Leaders had made a start in improving the curriculum prior to the pandemic.
“Teachers’ expectations were increasing, and training was helping to deepen teachers’ understanding of how to support pupils in different subjects.
“Careful sequencing of the mathematics curriculum meant that pupils were learning the right things in a sensible order.
“Improvements in mathematics have been sustained and are well established across the school.
“However, the pandemic has hampered plans to secure further important improvements in other subjects. Therefore, significant weaknesses in the curriculum remain.
“Leaders have not yet sequenced the content to be taught in subjects other than mathematics well enough.
“The reading curriculum lacks sufficient detail and clarity about what should be taught, when and why.
“A consistent approach to phonics teaching during the early years continues to support early reading skills well.
“However, the teaching of reading in the older year groups does not build sufficiently on this secure start.
“Leaders had begun to improve the reading curriculum before the pandemic. For example, the introduction of a new reading programme was helping to promote a love of reading through the use of high-quality books.”
The report also said: Some pupils have fallen behind in their learning during the pandemic. This includes some pupils who have significant weaknesses in their reading skills.
“Leaders are acutely aware of the need to ensure that these pupils are provided with swift and effective support. This is particularly important for those pupils in year 6 who will move to secondary schools in the autumn.
“Leaders have put some initial support in place. For example, some pupils who read little during the recent lockdown are now reading to an adult every day, while others are benefiting from specialist support.
“Urgent adjustments to the school’s post-lockdown curriculum have supported pupils well as they return to school.
“Careful thought has been given to how the curriculum is ensuring that pupils continue to learn a broad range of subjects while catching up with key learning after the recent lockdown.
“Governors are well informed about developments. The chair of governors meets with the head teacher regularly online. She and her fellow governors continue to support and challenge leaders well.
“Some subject leaders had begun to attend leadership training prior to the pandemic. This helped them to secure improvements in the teaching of some subjects, most notably mathematics.
“However, while the school continued to deliver an element of staff training during the pandemic, most was postponed. As a result, the quality of subject leadership remains variable.”
The report added: “Improvements in pupils’ behaviour noted at the time of the February 2020 monitoring inspection have been maintained.
“Most pupils have settled back into school routines quickly after the national lockdown. Pupils follow the rules and move around the school calmly and quietly.
“Some pupils find it hard to stay focused during lessons and a few struggle to act sensibly during playtimes.
“However, staff provide timely and sensitive support for those pupils who find it difficult to behave consistently well. This includes appropriate support for those pupils with specific emotional and behavioural needs.
“The head teacher and his leadership team work hard to make sure that all pupils are in school regularly. They have developed strong pastoral procedures which support vulnerable pupils’ attendance well.
“Warm and professional relationships developed with parents underpin the school’s work to support pupils’ attendance.
“A strong focus on pupils’ safety and personal wellbeing at the start of the autumn term helped pupils to settle back into school life.
“All pupils returned to school after the recent lockdown and leaders can point to significant improvements in individual pupils’ attendance.
“Positive responses to Ofsted Parent View illustrate the school’s success in earning parents’ trust.”
And, Oftsed said: “The head teacher values the local authority’s support. He and his team have made sensible use of advice and resources provided by a range of local authority services, such as the local authority’s traveller service, a local authority attendance strategy, the behaviour and support service and the social, emotional and mental health team.”
To read the full report, click here.
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