Astrea ‘strong and improving’ but exclusions ‘too high’ says Ofsted

Leaders 'united by vision of addressing disadvantage', but behaviour and attendance issues remain

Leaders 'united by vision of addressing disadvantage', but behaviour and attendance issues remain

Rowena Hackwood, Chief Executive Officer of the Astrea academy school group based in Sheffield and South Yorkshire

Astrea Academy Trust is “strong and improving”, but suspensions and exclusions remain “too high” and “too many” of its pupils don’t attend school regularly enough, an Ofsted evaluation has found.

The watchdog has completed a summary evaluation of Astrea, which is considered a turnaround trust and runs 26 schools in Barnsley, Doncaster, Sheffield and Cambridgeshire.

Batch inspections of nine of its academies saw two improve from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’, while another two ‘good’ schools maintained their grades.

Five schools had their first graded inspections since joining the trust. Three were judged ‘good’, one ‘requires improvement’ and another, Astrea Academy Woodfields, was graded ‘inadequate’.

In its report, Ofsted said the results of the inspections showed that Astrea was a “strong and improving trust”.

Leaders ‘not satisfied’ with attendance

However, the report highlighted issues with behaviour and attendance.

Although attendance is “improving, too many pupils do not attend school regularly enough”. Leaders are “not satisfied” with attendance and are working “hard to improve it”, the report found.

Leaders know that “in a few schools, some pupils do not behave well enough”. They are “working at speed to improve pupils’ behaviour across the trust”.

Incidences of suspensions and permanent exclusions are “still too high”, but are decreasing.

A “very small minority” of pupils have received multiple suspensions during the current academic year “and are at risk of permanent exclusion”.

It is the latest example of Ofsted calling out exclusion rates in turnaround trusts. Outwood Grange was also warned about high suspensions at Outwood Academy Ormesby earlier this year.

But Ofsted said about Astrea that staff and pupils “appreciate the recent changes in behaviour policies” and “value the calm classrooms and corridors that they increasingly experience”.

However a new management information system is not yet “fully embedded”. This limits trustees’ “ability to support and challenge leaders effectively”.

Leaders should “continue to embed this analysis to further strengthen the trust’s actions to reduce suspensions and permanent exclusions”, the report recommended.

Leaders and staff ‘united by vision’

Rowena Hackwood, formerly the chief executive of the David Ross Education Trust, took over as Astrea’s CEO in 2020.

Ofsted said she had “recognised the need to move from the previous model of school autonomy to one of collaboration and a rigorous drive towards excellence”.

Leaders and staff across the trust’s schools are “united by the vision of addressing disadvantage so that all children ‘learn, thrive and lead successful lives’”.

However, the report also warned that “in some areas of the primary curriculum, leaders have not mapped out clearly the disciplinary knowledge that pupils need to understand important subject-specific concepts”.

“Where this is the case, teachers have a lack of clarity of how to develop this over time. As a result, some pupils’ knowledge is more limited.”

The report also found that some schools in the trust’s south Yorkshire hubs don’t “benefit” from parent representation at local governance level.

Hackwood said many schools joined Astrea in the years leading up to the Covid pandemic “because they needed more support to become the best schools they can be”.

“There is a rapidly improving picture and this takes time, resource and tenacity. As the evaluation shows, Astrea staff certainly have tenacity.

“Whilst we reflect on that, this is also a good time to take stock, to focus on where we still need to improve and to look forward to future success.”

‘Inadequate’ school issued warning notice

Astrea Academy Woodfields has since been issued with a termination warning notice by the government, the first stage of intervention that could see it rebrokered to a new sponsor.

The school was previously Balby Carr Community Academy, part of the troubled Wakefield City Academies Trust before its collapse.

Ofsted’s inspection rated it ‘inadequate’ overall because behaviour and attitudes, a limiting judgment, received the lowest grade.

The report warned “too many pupils miss important learning because of low attendance and/or poor behaviour”, and noted the number of pupils removed from lessons or suspended was “too high”.

However, quality of education, personal development and leadership and management were rated ‘requires improvement’ and the sixth form was ‘good’.

The trust has made written representations to the DfE following the termination warning notice, and regional director Alison Wilson will now decide whether to re-broker the school.

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