Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Governors upset by Ofsted criticisms and deny any blame for failure

FORMER governors of Chiltern Edge School say they are devastated by its “inadequate” rating from the education watchdog.

They have been replaced by an interim executive board, chaired by a former headteacher, who will hold the school’s leadership to account.

It follows criticism of the school by Ofsted inspectors who said teachers had low expectations of pupils and students made poor progress in core subjects.

The governors were accused of being too accepting of information on performance and not effectively challenging the leadership.

In a letter sent to parents, the governors say they don’t accept the report’s findings, which were a “complete reversal” of the previous Ofsted report in 2012 which found the school to be “good”.

They say: “The report, reflecting a two-day visit by assessors, belies the hard work that has taken place over the last 10 years by the school’s staff, the Chiltern Edge School Association, the governing body and numerous other connected organisations and individuals.

“Everyone involved with the school had one objective — to safeguard the education of our children and ensure that every child matters. As part of the new headship strategy in 2012, the governing body was restructured and trained. The committees were taught how to challenge and this was all set out in detailed minutes which are a matter of public record.

“The governing body, along with the senior leadership team, worked extremely hard to provide good governance and we sincerely believe that, since the 2012 Ofsted report, a robust framework has been maintained and further developed.”

The governors say the school lost support from parts of the community in 2007 when it was issued with a “notice to improve” by Ofsted.

The school was set specific areas to improve in, focusing on achievement in Key Stage 4 and raising teachers’ expectations of what students could achieve.

A monitoring inspection found progress was being made but the governors say parents had already started to send their children to other schools.

The letter says: “In addition, the failure of Oxfordshire county and Reading borough to agree a long-term strategy over the catchment of the school, together with changes in the demographic profile of the catchment, further reduced the roll. To exacerbate the problem, the school was crippled by loans that were taken out over 10 years ago when the school roll number was almost double what it is today.

“It was the existence of these loans that prohibited Chiltern Edge from being allowed to change to academy, which also meant it did not receive the ‘windfall’ academy conversion monies enjoyed by other local schools that were able to convert.”

The governors say they tried to address this by deciding to sell part of the school’s land for housing in 2015. The 2.4 hectare site was earmarked for 37 homes in the Sonning Common neighbourhood development plan and would include some rented accommodation owned by the school to be used by staff.

The money raised from the sale would be reinvested in sports facilities at the school, which could be used to create an income stream by renting them out in the evening.

The letter says: “The money raised would not only assist in reducing the deficit but would also finance much-needed improvements which would underpin the competitiveness of the school in terms of attracting pupils and would also reduce ongoing maintenance and utility costs. The school leadership team and governing body concluded that this was the only course of action open to it.”

The governors have been waiting for the county council to transfer the deeds to the school so it could progress the sale. The letter says: “The land sale was approved by the Secretary of State in December 2015 but, despite further approaches, the deeds were not forthcoming. This has all resulted in further delays in investing in the school.”

The governors accept the exam results from the last two years have been poor but dispute the Ofsted assertion that they did not challenge the school leadership. They say that results in many other subjects were good and compared well with other local schools.

The letter also says the school has struggled to employ teaching staff.

“Chiltern Edge is further hampered by the lack of a sixth form, which has made the employment offer less attractive for the key post of head of maths and made more challenging the recruitment of experienced maths and English teachers,” it says.

“The school had to recruit temporary staff which has not helped achieve required grades nor has it assisted the school’s financial position as temporary staff are expensive. There is no doubt that if the money had been available to recruit enough permanent staff of a high calibre, and if the local community had supported Chiltern Edge by making it their school of choice, the school would have continued on the very successful road of 2012.

There were offers of help from other schools in terms of sharing teaching resource but, again, this was not supported by Oxfordshire County Council.”

The council said the land deeds would be transferred but this was judged to be “less urgent” than the growing amount of work associated with schools converting to academy status.

It also said it had been aware the school was operating with a deficit budget for a number of years.

The council said: “We know from working with other schools subject to special measures that raising standards and addressing other weaknesses is expensive and the county council has very limited resources that it can use to support schools. If the school stays open it needs to bring its budget into balance at precisely the same time as it needs to be investing in addressing the many weaknesses identified in the report.”

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