Covid-19: Ofsted rebukes school that did not contact pupils 'frequently enough'

Ofsted has accused one of the largest special schools in the country of failing to contact its pupils often enough during partial closures – leaving children “at risk of harm”.

The watchdog said safeguarding arrangements at Severndale Specialist Academy in Shrewsbury were “not effective” after an emergency inspection in July.

The “no formal designation” inspection was prompted by concerns about safeguarding arrangements and “aspects of leadership and management at the school”.

In its report, which does not include a formal grading, Ofsted said initial risk assessments by the school during the Covid-19 pandemic “did not ensure that contact was made with all pupils frequently enough”, and that leaders subsequently reviewed their approach “so they can ensure visual contact is made with all pupils weekly”.

Ofsted said other agencies are also investigating safeguarding at the school, but those investigations “have had no impact on the inspection outcome”.

Routine inspections were paused in March following the government’s decision to partially close schools. But Ofsted can still go in if it has concerns about safeguarding.

Before wider reopening, institutions were kept open for the most vulnerable pupils, including those with special educational needs and disabilities, and the children of key workers.

According to Ofsted, around 130 of the school’s 407 pupils were attending Severndale during partial closures, with “daily remote learning sessions” provided for those not in school.

During their visit, inspectors looked at documents relating to safeguarding, and met with principal Sabrina Hobbs, senior leaders and those with responsibility for keeping children safe.

They concluded that leaders “do not have a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of safeguarding”, and consequently there was “inconsistency in how staff identify and address safeguarding issues”.

“Leaders are not confident in their ability to use school-based systems to analyse patterns of concerns over time. As a result, the risk of harm to pupils and students might go unnoticed.”

Under normal circumstances, the inspection would have been “immediately” upgraded to a full inspection, Ofsted said. But because of the Covid-19 pandemic, they recommended that the school’s next inspection be a full one, and be “brought forward once routine inspection resumes”.

Hobbs said the report was “disappointing”, but sought to reassure parents their children were safe.

She informed parents that trustees had decided to move the school into a multi-academy trust to “bring stability to what has been an extremely challenging time for us all”.

“We hope that our actions assure parents and carers of our unwavering dedication and commitment to their children. We will continue to keep safeguarding of children and young people as our highest priority.”

As a result, the school has decided to join a multi-academy trust.

The DfE has also today published a termination warning notice issued to the school in July, urging it to join a MAT.