Ofsted has downgraded a former ‘outstanding’ school to ‘inadequate’ over serious safeguarding issues discovered in its first routine inspection in 15 years.
Thomas Mills High School, a single academy trust in Woodbridge, Suffolk, was visited in November last year having been exempt since its ‘outstanding’ judgment in October 2006.
Routine graded inspections of top-rated schools restarted in September for the first time since 2010.
Inspectors said that processes for safeguarding were weak at the school and leaders did not have the information needed to “know that pupils in school are safe”.
The report, published this week, warned “too many decisions rely on informal conversations rather than rigorous procedures”, which meant the school could not ensure safeguarding procedures were effective.
The school was judged highly in other areas, earning a ‘good’ for quality of education and behaviour.
But an Ofsted spokesperson said: “Serious safeguarding issues have always meant that a school will be judged inadequate.”
Head calls for annual safeguarding review
Philip Hurst, the school’s headteacher, said a new electronic safeguarding system would make monitoring of potential issues easier and more efficient.
However, he said schools should be required to complete an annual external safeguarding review as those not frequently visited by Ofsted could “easily get out of touch”.
The report added leaders had not been “clear where the records are”, which meant they “do not have to hand the information they need to support vulnerable pupils”.
Safeguarding consultant Gill Sommers said there was “little or no” external oversight of a school’s safeguarding practice between inspections.
A school’s failure to manage safeguarding effectively for a long period could “lead to children being harmed or put at risk”, she added.
Rachel Gooch, a former national leader of governance, said the inspection exemption placed the focus of ‘outstanding’ schools “firmly on published results” and opened “the risk that other areas of schools life would decline unnoticed”.
But such failures could be avoided within well-run trusts or local authorities.
Too early to draw conclusions, say Ofsted
Two other ‘outstanding’ schools have been downgraded to ‘inadequate’ since September.
Dovery Down Lower School in Leighton Buzzard, and Busbridge Infant School in Godalming, Surrey, were downgraded following inspections in October.
Neither had received a full inspection since March 2007.
Safeguarding was also highlighted as an issue at Busbridge. Staff training was not “up to date” and the most vulnerable pupils’ records were not “maintained in good order”.
Headteacher Darren Heatley said “robust recording mechanisms” had been introduced. Senior leaders had safeguarding training, with more planned for other staff this year.
Dovery was downgraded after the watchdog judged the school’s quality of education, early years provision and leadership to be ‘inadequate’.
In a letter to parents Ian Haynes, chair of governors, said it was “not acceptable, and we should not have reached this point”.
An Ofsted spokesperson said it would be “misleading to draw conclusions about the overall picture so soon after the exemption was lifted”, but it was not seeing high numbers of ‘inadequate’ grades.