An academy trust has pulled out of talks to take over a special school in Brighton that was rated “inadequate” by Ofsted and placed in “special measures”.
A letter from Ofsted published on Monday (20 March) said: “Homewood College remains inadequate and requires special measures.
“Leaders have made progress to improve the school but more work is necessary for the category of concern to be removed.
“The school may not appoint early career teachers before the next monitoring inspection.”
Ofsted inspector Lucy English visited the school in December for a “monitoring inspection” – the second since the school was given the watchdog’s lowest grading.
She wrote to Homewood’s interim head teacher Pam Ridgwell: “There have been further changes to staffing since the first monitoring inspection.
“There are still five members of staff on long-term absence. The planned staffing restructure detailed in the first monitoring inspection did not happen due to funding constraints.
“Consequently, the plans for improvement have not been fully implemented, and leaders have not moved on as quickly as planned with curriculum developments.
“Additionally, the school had to close on several days in the autumn term due to staff absence from covid-19.
“These factors have hindered the progress of the school towards the removal of special measures.”
The school has the equivalent of about 20 teaching staff, including Miss Ridgwell and more than 10 teaching assistants, as well as a small team of admin and other support staff.
Although they may not all work full-time, the absence of so many – including the five long-term absentees – has affected the school’s progress.
Ofsted said: “While a sponsor multi-academy trust (MAT) has been identified, there is uncertainty regarding the timescale by which the school will join the MAT.
“Staff are unsettled by this situation, which adds to staffing and recruitment challenges for leaders.”
Schools placed in special measures are expected to join an academy trust and Homewood has held talks with the Sabden Multi-Academy Trust which runs five schools in East Sussex.
But the talks are understood to have ended, leaving Homewood without a sponsor.
When Ofsted initially placed the school in special measures, a year ago, it published a critical report that branded the school “unsafe”.
The school caters for children with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs at premises in Queensdown School Road, off Lewes Road, Brighton.
It was set up to take about 40 pupils from 5 to 19 years old although the current age range is 11 to 16.
Ofsted said in February last year: “Pupils’ behaviour is often chaotic and sometimes violent.”
The official education watchdog added: “Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector is of the opinion that this 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 in the school.”
The interim head had only just been appointed when two Oftsed inspectors visited the school in December 2021.
Their report said: “Only a small number of pupils come into school daily. When they do attend, pupils do not understand what is expected of them or what they will learn. This is because the adults themselves are unsure.
“Changes in leadership have meant that staff do not have the skills they need to support the very complex special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) of pupils.
“The lack of appropriate systems to support behaviour means that lessons are usually disrupted by poor and, at times, unsafe behaviour. Pupils often use offensive language and show a consistent lack of respect for each other and staff.”
Qualified improvements were noted during the latest monitoring visit and the letter from Ofsted said: “Leaders have maintained their focus on creating a culture of safeguarding in the school. Staff are confident when discussing safeguarding issues and actions.
“The effective use of systems to record and oversee have been sustained. The single central record remains compliant, well organised and clear.
“Staff work well together to use the agreed approaches to support pupils’ behaviour.
“As with the previous monitoring inspection, the school is a calm environment. However, it should be noted that most pupils were not in school because they were being educated off site or were absent.
“Pupils’ attendance remains poor. Leaders’ actions continue to make a difference and most pupils’ attendance has improved since the monitoring inspection.
“Many pupils access off-site education at an alternative provider for specialist courses such as hair and beauty.
“Leaders have a good oversight of these pupils, visiting them and making sure that they are learning well.
“There are still too many pupils who refuse to attend any provision. For these pupils, leaders follow clear routines, their ‘sight or sound’ process where they check up on them by telephone and/or visit them so that they know where they are.
“School leaders have continued to make good use of the local authority support for the school. The local authority has provided advisers and essential premises improvements such as fencing.
“More recently, the local authority has identified two experienced governors to join the local governing body, a development that current governors welcome.
“School leaders also appreciate the advice from local authority specialists such as the educational psychologist and the attendance and special educational needs and/or disabilities teams.”
The report also contained some other positives, adding: “Leaders have established a wide curriculum that is matched to the needs of pupils.
“They have created three ‘pathways’ so that pupils can achieve qualifications relevant to their interests and aspirations post-16.
“Leaders are determined that pupils should have a bespoke offer, and therefore a range of academic and vocational qualifications are available.
“Pupils receive regular advice as they progress through these pathways, including from an independent careers adviser.
“Staff have been involved in designing the various courses for pupils. They are enthusiastic about the opportunities they can offer.
“Pupils like the variety of opportunities and the equality they have with peers at mainstream schools. However, some of the curriculum thinking is still being established.
“Currently, there is a focus on the activities pupils will do rather than the order in which they need to attain knowledge.
“Any gaps in prior learning are spotted because teachers know pupils well rather than because the designed curriculum helps staff to identify what pupils need to learn.
“One weakness of the curriculum is the lack of a systematic approach to supporting pupils who find reading difficult.
“Leaders know that poor reading knowledge and confidence prevents pupils from accessing the wider curriculum successfully.
“This work is now planned to start in March, nearly six months after leaders originally intended. Leaders recognise that this needs to be a whole-school priority and addressed with urgency.
“More successfully, leaders have ensured that a focus on pupils’ personal development runs through the whole school, starting with ‘T-Time’.
“This is time where tutor groups meet in the morning for tea, toast and to talk about current affairs, big moral questions, or tricky personal challenges.
“Pupils are starting to engage well with this and I saw pupils discuss recent world events in one class while in another they were discussing how to make the best toast and listening well to each other’s ideas.
“The implementation and longer-term impact of this curriculum, along with support for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, will be a focus of the next monitoring visit.”
Green councillor Hannah Allbrooke, who chairs the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee, said: “National news this week of the tragic death of Ruth Perry and the courageous actions of Flora Cooper have put a spotlight on the suitability of Ofsted in inspecting schools and the management of the consequences of their appraisals.
“There are evidently issues that need resolving in Homewood College. But this limbo imposed on children, families and staff by the academy order and the withdrawal of Sabden Multi-Academy Trust is unacceptable and causing delays to some of our most vulnerable learners.
“We urge the Department for Education to reconsider the academy order and continue to join with many organisations that demand and end to the Ofsted regime.”
The council said: “We have been informed that Sabden Trust will no longer be moving forward with the academisation of Homewood College.
“An academy order remains in place and it is the responsibility of the regional schools commissioner to select another academy sponsor.
“We have as yet no further information from the regional schools commissioner.”
To read the letter from Ofsted, click here.
To read the 2021 Ofsted report, click here.
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