Ofsted received “credible intelligence” that staff at a school at the centre of a High Court challenge over its inspection grade had been bullied and suspended after speaking to inspectors, court documents show.
Schools Week reported in July that All Saints Academy Dunstable in Bedfordshire had been granted permission for a judicial review over its ‘inadequate’ judgment.
The watchdog deemed further evidence was required after a first visit to the school in November last year.
The school said inspectors told them it was due to be rated ‘good’ overall, but Ofsted said the provisional rating was ‘requires improvement’.
But the inspectorate then received “credible intelligence from a whistleblower that Ms [Liz] Furber [the school’s executive principal] had been bullying staff in relation to the inspection”, the documents state.
“The claims included that staff had been suspended until they disclosed what had been said to the inspection team and that certain staff did not feel safe in following the school’s policies,” Justice Linden said at the court hearing in June.
Ofsted visited again in January and the school was subsequently rated ‘inadequate’.
School claimed Ofsted ‘acted unfairly’
In its bid to gain a judicial review, All Saints argued Ofsted “acted unfairly” in taking the bullying claims into account without first putting them to Furber..
But John Young, an assistant regional director at Ofsted, said in his witness statement the information “merely reinforced” concerns that had cropped up in the evidence-based review of the school’s November inspection.
The intelligence, which the inspectorate was “not in a position to investigate”, did not affect either the decision to gather further evidence or the assessment after the second inspection.
Justice Linden said he accepted that Ofsted was entitled to maintain the confidentiality of the information “and that no unfairness resulted to the school as a consequence of it doing so”.
A spokesperson for All Saints told Schools Week: “The intelligence was not credible and if the allegation is raised in the proceedings this will be formally denied.”
Ofsted declined to comment.
Ex-employee says they were suspended after talking to inspector
A former employee, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Schools Week they were suspended a day after talking to an inspector during the November inspection.
They said two school employees took up an invitation from an inspector to talk to them during breaktime.
They answered “generic” questions and “were only in there for about 10 minutes before we went back to work. Then the next morning … I was suspended.”
According to the staff member, they were told the suspension was due to information disclosed in feedback from parent surveys.
The school then lodged a secondary allegation that the employee created a toxic environment within their department.
But a letter sent by the ex-staff member to the school stated that “no evidence was ever presented to me to support this accusation”.
The staff member claimed: “It was because [I] went over [to speak to the inspector]. It was just too glaringly obvious.”
They later left the school.
Judge grants judicial review, but doubts it will succeed
When the claims were put to the school, it said: “We have made our response and have nothing further to add.”
At the time of the report’s publication, Furber told parents the school believed there were “significant flaws” in the way the inspection was conducted and the report was “unfair”.
In the finalised report, inspectors said “too many pupils” did not feel safe at the school, while a “significant” number were unhappy.
“Many” parents and staff members were said to have “concerns” about provision, while a “large proportion” of vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils had low attendance.
While the judge rejected eight other grounds for challenge, he did grant permission for judicial review on the basis that the school was not provided with “sufficient information” to fairly contest inspectors’ findings and to “complain” about how the final report was “expressed”.
But he had “considerable misgivings and real doubts as to whether the arguments…will succeed”.