Special school with ‘serious, widespread’ safeguarding failures to get a new sponsor

The DfE has announced a 'targeted support package' of training for new heads as part of the NPQH.

A residential special school in Worcestershire will be moved to a new academy trust after inspectors identified “serious, widespread” safeguarding failures.

The boss of the academy trust in charge at Vale of Evesham School today admitted that mistakes at the school had led to “catastrophic results”, including the recruitment of a member of grounds staff with a criminal record, but insisted pupils were never put at risk.

There have been a couple of lapses that have had catastrophic results, but I absolutely stand by my assertion that the young people have not at any time been at-risk

Ofsted branded both the education and residential provision at the Vale of Evesham School as ‘inadequate’ after inspectors visited last year. The school, which has almost 200 pupils, was previously rated ‘outstanding’.

The inspection of the residential provision last November found managers had “failed to implement a strong safeguarding culture in the school, particularly regarding the safe recruitment of staff”.

Two residential staff had “significant gaps” in their recruitment records, the Ofsted report said, and another prospective employee was appointed despite having received a criminal caution from the police.

“When the prospective new member of staff informed senior leaders that they had a criminal caution from the police, an assessment of risk was undertaken by management staff who were not qualified to do so,” the report said.

“As a result, the member of staff started employment without sufficient safeguards in place.”

There was also another incident where a member of staff charged by police after being involved in a “violent incident in public” resigned, but no referral was made to the Disclosure and Barring Service.

Ofsted’s report on the educational provision found behaviour and attitudes and leadership and management were ‘inadequate’, warning that pupils were “being put at risk of harm” because staff leaders and governors were not trained well enough in safeguarding.

The school’s sponsor, the Advance Trust, has been issued with a termination warning notice, in which Andrew Warren, the regional schools commissioner for the West Midlands, concluded that the chain “does not have the capacity to secure rapid and sustainable school improvement at the academy”.

Liz Hayward, executive principal of the trust, which runs three other special schools in Worcestershire, said her organisation would not oppose the move to transfer the school.

“It was a very difficult position to be in, because we were found wanting around safeguarding, and that’s not a position that you can defend very easily,” she told Schools Week.

“And so for the sake of the students and their families and the staff, we felt that actually we needed to find the next best move for that school.”

Hayward insisted pupils had never been put at risk by safeguarding failures at the school. She claimed the new staffmember with a criminal record never actually started working on site, and had their employment terminated once the oversight was noticed.

“There have been a couple of lapses that have had catastrophic results, but I absolutely stand by my assertion that the young people have not at any time been at-risk, because they come first,” she said.

Hayward also pointed to the school’s previous residential inspection in December 2018, which found it to be ‘outstanding’.

Under the terms of the termination warning notice, the Department for Education will now find a new sponsor for the school. There will then be a due diligence process before the academy transfers to its new trust.

“It’s really sad,” said Hayward. “We know the school well, obviously. We know this is a school that has a fantastic reputation amongst the families of the children who attend the school, and that’s quite right. The staff in the school are exceptionally dedicated to the children and their families. Children do make progress.”

She added: “We’ve tried really hard to meet individual needs, but the challenges that have been presented have been quite significant.”

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  1. At the time of the inspection, the newly-appointed head had agreed to work two days a week before taking up her post full-time in January. Inspectors said she’d only been at the school for two days.
    In the circumstances, it may have been better to issue a ‘minded to terminate’ letter rather than a termination warning to give the new head a chance.
    There seems to be no coherent policy about issuing these letters. For example, a recent spate of warning letters have been issued while at the same time REAch2 received a ‘minded to terminate’ (or pre-warning letter) for an academy judged inadequate twice.

    • Mark Watson

      I recognise I may be ascribing too much credit to the powers that be, but perhaps decisions such as these are made on more that a glib headline in SchoolsWeek or a single Ofsted report. Was the issue between this specific school and the specific academy trust more than just a question of whoever is the headteacher? However good the new head may be, was the Advance Trust simply not the right trust for this school?

      As you point out below, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the Advance Trust is no good – indeed it seems that it is doing well for its other schools. We need to get away from the sensationalist approach whereby if a trust doesn’t do well at one school we assume it’s no good for any school. As glib as it sounds, it’s horses for courses. There should be no shame in a trust admitting that actually for a specific school there is another trust that could do better.