'Inadequate' Steiner free school faces rebrokerage over pupil safety

A Steiner free school in Devon that failed to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its pupils and “disproportionately” excluded those with special educational needs now faces being rebrokered to a new sponsor following a damning Ofsted report.

Steiner Academy Exeter, one of a handful of state schools in England where learning is based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, has received a termination warning notice from Lisa Mannall, the regional schools commissioner for the south west of England.

The warning follows the release of a damning report by Ofsted, which branded the school ‘inadequate’ and warned of “significant lapses” in safeguarding practice, dysfunctional leadership at all levels of the school and a failure to identify and support SEND pupils.

I do not have confidence that the trust is able to rapidly and sustainably improve the academy’s systems of governance and management, and educational standards

Inspectors also criticised inadequate teaching and low attendance, particularly among SEND pupils, and said governors “failed in their duty of care” to both adults and pupils. Governors, inspectors said, have “failed to take swift action to address known safety issues”.

SEND pupils are “disproportionately excluded from school” and additional funding for disadvantaged pupils is misspent, having “no impact on their achievement”, inspectors warned.

Schools Week reported in October that Steiner Academy Exeter was forced to close temporarily following the Ofsted inspection, so that it could “focus on learning lessons from this week’s inspection and ensure a safe environment for all pupils”.

A new leadership team was subsequently appointed at the school, with acting principal Paul Hougham hailing a “new era in excellence” for the school. The school is also being supported by the Ted Wragg Trust.

Companies House records show that 12 trustees had their appointments terminated on October 15 and 16.

Mannall said she was issuing the warning notice, sent on November 23 but published today, because “I do not have confidence that the trust is able to rapidly and sustainably improve the academy’s systems of governance and management, and educational standards”.

The commissioner’s team will work with the trust’s new leadership to “identify a trust that can provide for the needs of the school and its pupils”.

In a statement on the school’s website issued in the wake of the Ofsted report, Hougham, a former employee of the Steiner Academy Hereford, pledged change.

“This is a new era for the Steiner Academy Exeter and we are wholly committed to this school offering an excellence in Steiner Waldorf education whilst meeting the requirements of Ofsted and the Department of Education.

“At the heart of the reorganisation, already well underway, is a seismic shift in the consistency and level of rigour and responsiveness of our focus on the quality of children’s education and wellbeing.”

In a further statement issued today, Hougham told Schools Week: “Robust measures to improve the school were already in place before the notification from the Department for Education and we are in regular contact with DfE officials to demonstrate the progress that has been made over the past two months.