Thursday, 18 August 2022

Closure-threatened school given more time to improve

CHILTERN Edge School in Sonning Common looks set to stay open.

Lucy Butler, director of children’s services at Oxfordshire County Council, the education authority, has recommended it does not go forward with the proposed closure.

A final decision will be made by the county council’s cabinet at a meeting on Tuesday.

The school’s progress will then be checked in October by an external body, probably Ofsted, and the county council cabinet will review a report on the improvements in November.

The review will look at addressing the weaknesses identified in the Ofsted report which saw the school rated “inadequate” and put into special measures.

These weaknesses include poor progress in the core subjects, lack of support for disadvantaged pupils and poor senior leadership.

Another condition is the construction of a balanced budget as the school has accumulated debts of about £500,000 in recent years.

Councillor Hilary Hibbert-Biles, the cabinet member for education, said she would be urging her colleagues to follow the officer’s guidance.

She said: “We are working towards a lasting solution which both enables the school to stay open and delivers the much-needed improvements demanded by Ofsted.

“Our number one priority remains to ensure that good educational opportunities are available to children in this part of Oxfordshire.

“The first important steps have been taken by the school’s very capable new leadership team and it is right that more time should now be given for the school to turn itself around.”

The report says: “The very large majority of responses identified that the closure of Chiltern Edge School would affect their family, the community, and the quality of local education in the area, negatively or very negatively, and thought that closure should not be considered.”

More than 1,200 people responded to the consultation with most respondents urging the county council to keep the school open. 

The authority launched the consultation in April after the Ofsted report for the school, in Reades Lane, was released. It ran until June 30.

The school was criticised by Ofsted  for “inadequate” effectiveness of leadership and management, quality of teaching, learning and assessment and outcomes for pupils.

It was also rated “requires improvement”, the second lowest score, for the personal development, behaviour and welfare category.

Since the consultation was opened headteacher Daniel Sadler has been replaced by Moira Green. The governors of the school were replaced by an interim executive board, headed by Julie Tridgell, a former headteacher.

Councillor Hibbert-Biles said: “The county council was responding to the Ofsted report and we have appointed a new head, who is very dynamic.

“She has hit the ground running and says there will be green shoots by October. We have taken her at her word and we will get external people in to assess whether there have been improvements. 

“As far as I am concerned I am very positive. I have a lot of faith in the new head and she has already started making changes. I am sure we will see improvements by October. She assures me results in 2018 will be far, far better.”

The report says: “Several respondents commented on the positive impact the new interim headteacher and interim executive board were already having, and thought that with strong leadership, the school could quickly improve.”

Many parents raised concerns about lack of school places in their response to the consultation.

Among those to write to the county council to oppose the closure were Highdown School, The Henley College, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Matt Rodda, MP for Reading East.

The report says the children from Oxfordshire, about a third of the total roll of 507, could be placed into other schools. The extra cost of getting the Oxfordshire children to other schools would be about £100,000.

But Reading Borough Council said closure would cause “insurmountable problems with placing children in other schools in Reading”.

The report says: “Langtree School and Gillotts School identified potential to create ‘bulge’ classes to take additional pupils, but did not consider they could accommodate all the pupils currently at Chiltern Edge School. It would be necessary for Reading schools to accommodate most or all of the Reading pupils.”

Cllr Hibbert-Biles said: “I looked at the school as a whole, the children were not divided into Reading children and Oxfordshire children.  If you wanted to be picky you could say Oxfordshire County Council is not responsible for Reading Children, they are, but I looked at it as a whole. What Reading Borough Council said did not affect me whatsoever. ”

The county council is in discussions with the Maiden Erlegh Trust, a multi-academy trust in east Reading, and the Regional Schools’ Commissioner to get the trust to sponsor the school and convert it to an academy. 

Cllr Hibbert-Biles said: “We are supporting that and I am very confident this school will stay open. 

“I think we have two bites at the cherry, that the school will improve and be taken out of special measures and that Maiden Erlegh will sponsor it. For me the future of the school is bright.”

She added: “The long term goal is for the school to provide the best possible education and that school does even better than before and becomes outstanding.”

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