Ofsted downgrades England’s biggest free school amid safety concerns

Ofsted were called in for an emergency inspection after footage surfaced of canteen brawl

Ofsted were called in for an emergency inspection after footage surfaced of canteen brawl

22 Mar 2022, 13:23

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Staff and pupils at England’s biggest free school feel “unsafe” amid the “regular racist and homophobic remarks” and “frequent” poor behaviour of some students, Ofsted has found.

Northampton International Academy (NIA), part of the East Midlands Academy Trust (EMAT) was downgraded to ‘inadequate’ following an emergency inspection last month.

The report, published today, finds that pupils’ poor behaviour “regularly disrupts lessons” leaving staff “overwhelmed” as they “do not get the help they need from leaders to do their jobs well”.

The watchdog was alerted to problems at the school by concerned parents after a video showing a brawl between five students in the canteen was shared across social media.

In the footage, staff can be seen struggling to keep the attackers away from the victims while hundreds of pupils cheer on the assault.

The school, previously rated as ‘good’, was criticised by the inspectorate last February after it found staff had “too many responsibilities to enable them to carry out their safeguarding duties effectively”.

Tom Bennett

NIA has now called on the services of government behaviour tsar Tom Bennett to right the ship.

‘Substantial concerns about school’

Inspectors identified “substantial concerns” about NIA after “many” parents, pupils and staff said they were worried about safety at the school.

Ofsted stated: “Too many pupils, and some staff, do not feel safe in school due to the behaviour of some pupils. They have little confidence that the leaders will address concerns about their safety.”

Inspectors found primary pupils at the all-through school “say that they do not feel safe and that older pupils disturb their learning”.

Meanwhile secondary-age pupils “believe the poor behaviour they experience every day is having a negative effect on their education”.

Many pupils told inspectors that school leaders do not deal with bullying effectively, while parents are “frustrated because they feel that leaders do not listen to their concerns about bullying”.

NIA has a 2,300-pupil capacity, with 1,821 currently on roll.

Trust has ‘failed’ to tackle poor behavior

The watchdog found that leaders from the school and trust “have failed to act swiftly enough to address poor behaviour”.

“Too many” secondary-age pupils are “late to lessons, behave poorly in lessons or remain in the corridors when they should be in classrooms learning”. Inspectors witnessed pupils behave poorly and go unchallenged by staff.

These pupils disrupt learning and “show a lack of respect to staff and pupils”.

“Too often, pupils’ behaviour, particularly outside of lessons, makes other pupils feel unsafe.”

Pupils also said that the “regular racist and homophobic remarks of some pupils make it hard to be different in the school”. While leaders have introduced some measures to curb this issue, it is too soon to judge their impact.

However, secondary-aged pupils told inspectors they were “fed up with the constant change of teachers” which meant staff did not know what had already been covered. This issue was exacerbated by Covid staff absences, inspectors said.

The watchdog warned that leaders needed to ensure their systems and procedures work effectively to make sure staff and pupils “are safe and feel safe”.

A “significant proportion” of staff, parents and pupils do not believe leaders had the ability to bring about the necessary improvements.

Safeguarding is not effective

Questions were raised for Ofsted earlier this year after footage of the canteen brawl surfaced.

It had rated NIA’ safeguarding as “effective” during a monitoring visit in June, later clarifying its reports reflect “findings at the time of inspection”.

Today’s report states that safeguarding arrangements are “not effective” and “leaders have not maintained the improvements to safeguarding noted at the previous inspection”.

The school failed to maintain accurate safeguarding records and staff did not record pupils’ absence correctly – meaning they cannot deal with occasions when pupils are at school but skip lessons.

Headteacher Dr Jo Trevenna said leaders “fully accept the report and work is already underway to turn things around” after an “unprecedented and hugely challenging time” due to Covid.

Ofsted’s comments were “in line with our own understanding about what needs to change” and the school will continue to listen to staff and pupils to “ensure that we are moving in the right direction”.

Behaviour tsar called upon for support

Bennett, who leads the Department for Education’s behaviour hubs project, visited NIA on Friday to meet with pupils and provide training sessions for staff.

He said there was a “strong sense that the leadership team are aware of the need to restructure and really focus on building their culture back after the pandemic.

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