AET risks losing academy over AP failures and discrimination

Ofsted said prominent trust's school failed to do necessary checks on AP settings or whether pupils attended, risking harm

Ofsted said prominent trust's school failed to do necessary checks on AP settings or whether pupils attended, risking harm

29 Jul 2022, 15:38

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One of the country’s largest academy trusts risks losing one of its schools after it breached safeguarding rules on alternative provision and failed to tackle discrimination among pupils.

A recent Ofsted report said leaders at Sir Herbert Leon Academy, a secondary in Bletchley, Milton Keynes, “failed to follow their own policy or statutory guidance with regard to pupils who attend alternative provision”.

The Department for Education has now warned sponsor Academies Enterprise Trust that it will transfer the “inadequate” school to another trust if it cannot show how it will rapidly turn things around.

Ofsted said safeguarding duties had not been fulfilled by leaders. They are reported to have failed to carry out “necessary checks” on AP settings themselves – or on pupils’ attendance.

The failure to “systematically check” those attending AP are present or safe leaves them “at risk of harm”, with a lack of “rigorous systems and processes”.

“Pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) who have been placed at alternative provision do not receive the additional support they require, since they often do not attend the alternative provision and the school does not diligently follow this up.”

Meanwhile those who attend part-time “do not receive the necessary support for their wider personal development”, according to inspectors.

The Sir Herbert Leon Academy, sponsored by 57-school AET since it converted a decade ago, uses three registered and one unregistered alternative provider.

The 538-pupil mixed school was last rated “good” in 2011 under its previous name Leon School and Sports College. It was rated “requires improvement” in 2014, inadequate in 2016 and RI in 2018.

Wider issue of schools not checking on AP

It comes only a few weeks after the Department for Education called for evidence on unregistered AP, which it said ranges from tutoring companies to online, vocational or therapeutic providers.

While some is “highly valued”, “not all schools or local authorities…undertake suitable or consistent checks on its quality or safety, or on whether the placements are appropriate”.

It is sometimes “used as a substittute for high-quality specialist provision” – and there is also a “lack of local oversight and transparency” about how placements are managed, meaning young people become “less visible across the system”.

The government’s recent SEND review also highlighted a series of challenges in alternative provision more generally.

They included inconsistent quality across the country, unpredictable funding, and little parental say. Young people “too often” remain there regardless of their needs.

Threat to transfer AET’s school

The report also said disruptive behaviour is “tolerated by staff” in some lessons at Sir Herbert Leon.

Many pupils “do not believe” the use of red cards – removing them from lessons all day for disruptive behaviour – helps them to improve. But in other lessons, “pupils behave well” and leaders have made some improvements.

Inspectors said leaders did not do enough to ensure “discrimination, harassment and bullying” are addressed among pupils, with a culture of “non-reporting and tolerance”.

Curriculum thinking is “weak” in PSHE and RSE. While a new curriculum is imminent to address this, children said LGBT pupils are often subject to “discriminatory language”. Pupils are “not prepared for life in modern Britain”.

The school has also experienced “significant turbulence in leadership at all levels” ,though new leaders are trying to tackle issues and most staff now feel well-led.

Ofsted “strongly” recommended the school not appoint early career teachers as a result of its report.

The DfE’s south-east regional director has issued a termination warning notice to AET members and trustees, published today.

She highlighted Ofsted’s comments, and demanded a safeguarding action plan and proposals to strengthen “leadership and governance oversight” – including the “available supportive capacity in the wider trust” – by mid-September.

If she is not satisfied, AET’s funding agreement to run the school could be “terminated” and another trust found to take it over.

An AET spokesperson said they were “disappointed”, but welcomed scrutiny. The trust is “determined” to replicate two other AET schools’ recent success lifting warning notices.

It has introduced a new principal, with a new AET secondary director and interim standards board providing oversight. Leaders have a “very clear understanding of what needst o improve”.

“Significant improvements” have already occurred in attendance, curriculum, how AP’s organised and student opportunities to be heard, particularly those subject to past bullying and discrimination, they said.

Another trust warned over pupils absconding onto roof

The termination warning notice is one of five published today by the DfE.

One issued to The Coppice Spring Academy highlighted an Ofsted report which said it had been in “serious decline”.

The special secondary school in Basingstoke, Hampshire, run by the Catch22 MAT, was downgraded from “good” to “inadequate”.

It is said to offer an “unacceptably poor education”, with an “unsuitable” curriculum, low staff expectations forming a “constant backdrop to school life”.

Pupils frequently “exit lessons and roam around the school and grounds”, and abscond altogether from their drop-off taxis or onto the school roof. Pupils, parents, and staff “agree that the school is not a safe place”.

The report said insufficient staffing and high staff turnover and absence, exacerbated by Covid, had had a “major negative impact”.

The substantive head has been absent since December and is due to leave, while there are no specialist English, maths or science staff. Staff reported “unmanageable” workloads. But the interim head is “setting new boundaries”.

A Catch22 MAT spokesperson said they were “disappointed” with the outcome of the report, acknowledging the failings.

The feedback has been a “catalyst for change”, with new leadership, staff in key areas, curriculum changes, and a “renewed focus” on behaviour and attendance already.

Strategic plans in place will “ensure all areas highlighted for improvement are successfully and promptly addressed” as part of “ambitious improvement journey”.

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