First non-faith school inspected at Star Academies Trust put in special measures

The first non-faith school to be inspected after joining the lauded Star Academies Trust has been placed in special measures – becoming the trust’s only school not to be judged ‘outstanding’.

Star, which the government has called an “expert schools sponsor”, took over Highfield Leadership academy in Blackpool in 2016 – but Ofsted’s report published today found “low standards prevalent in so many classrooms”.

The trust has 24 schools and all 10 of those inspected until now have Ofsted’s top grade, three of which are ranked among the top ten schools in the country based on Progress 8.

Star was re-branded from the Tauheedul Education Trust after it expanded to run nine non-faith schools. It previously just ran schools with a Muslim religious character.

The inspection at Highfield, from December, found some teachers “shouting across the corridors for support from on-patrol staff” to deal with badly behaved pupils. A new behaviour policy has been “ineffective”, a situation worsened by the fact “too frequently teaching is not engaging”.

Other findings include vulnerable pupils leaving school unsupervised at lunchtime, pupils refusing to follow teachers’ instructions, fights between pupils and pupils saying that smoking on the premises goes unchallenged by staff.

A new principal has been appointed since the Ofsted report, according to a Star spokesperson, adding other changes “will take time”.

“We remain passionately committed to getting things right for our talented young people, hardworking staff and our local community,” they said.

The structural and wide-ranging changes we are putting in place are addressing long-term challenges and will take time

“The structural and wide-ranging changes we are putting in place are addressing long-term challenges and will take time – but they will ensure sustained improvements.”

Star’s takeover of Highfield was controversial with some parents at the time, prompting the Department for Education to defend its “excellent track record”.

In 2014 the school was judged inadequate, with pupil behaviour singled out for criticism.

But, in the new report, inspectors found the trust had an “overgenerous” view of Highfield, and school leaders held the “inaccurate” belief that pupil behaviour was good.

Pupils also displayed negative attitudes to learning in English, maths, drama, science, languages, geography, music and religious education, said the report.

Meanwhile, staff attempts to promote British values hadn’t worked since some pupils used “discriminatory and offensive language”, including homophobic language.

Key stage 4 progress was “among the worst in the country” and more than half of the 74 parents who filled out Ofsted’s online questionnaire would not recommend the school. Government information shows its Progress 8 score was -0.95, or well below average.

Oversight of safeguarding was also found to be weak, including several incomplete checks on the suitability of staff that were “only rectified during the inspection”.

But inspectors acknowledged leaders have encountered “many obstacles” and noted “the pace of improvement has quickened” under a principal seconded from the trust in September 2017.

The trust also pointed out the number of pupils achieving a pass in English and maths GCSE has doubled since it took over, its maths results are better than all other schools in Blackpool, and attendance is now better than the local average. The school is in one of the government’s opportunity areas.

Two-third of pupils are also taking academic subjects recognised in the EBacc under a re-design of the curriculum.

Of its Muslim faith-based schools, 10 are rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, while the remaining five have yet to be graded.

The Star Academies Trust spokesperson added: “There are no quick fixes – what we all want to achieve is higher standards and stronger outcomes for the students.”