‘Inadequate’ education centre placed in special measures by Ofsted
- Credit: Chris Flanagan
An education centre serving Welwyn Hatfield, Potters Bar and Stevenage has plummeted from “outstanding” to special measures in just three years.
In an Ofsted inspection on January 24 and 25, Park Education Support Centre’s overall effectiveness was found to be “inadequate” in all four measures.
In its last inspection in 2015, it was rated “outstanding”.
Park Education Support Centre in Potters Bar - known to pupils as “the Park” - is classed as a pupil referral unit, providing short-term education and support to pupils who have been excluded from other schools or who are vulnerable to exclusion.
The school provides for pupils who live in Welwyn Hatfield, Hertsmere and Stevenage.
The report states that pupils, who often arrive at the Park in need of significant support, are not making the progress they are capable of.
There is an “exceptionally high” rate of persistent absence.
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Transport difficulties for a number of the pupils compound the attendance problem, which leaders at the school are attempting to tackle by helping families secure better funding.
A new head teacher, Miss Julie Porter, was appointed in 2016, and along with the deputy head Ian Graham was singled out for praise by the report for the efforts being made to improve standards.
However, the report said their efforts have been “significantly hindered” by a lack of well-coordinated support from the school’s management committee and the local authority.
The report noted a “serious lack of coordination” between the management committee and the local authority, and said: “The committee does not ensure the provision is used appropriately by other local schools.
“In particular, there is not enough routine checking that the management committee members themselves are held to account for their own school’s use of the provision.”
A source who preferred to remain anonymous and has been trying to raise concerns, said that the situation was “very unsettling” for staff.
They said: “The management committee use the Park and can dump the children if they aren’t doing very well.
“It’s a conflict of interest.”
Despite Miss Porter’s efforts to agree a fair admissions agreement with other schools, this has never been signed or upheld, and admissions are often ad hoc.
The Park’s management committee was chaired by Peter Brown, the headteacher of Stanborough School who is about to take his retirement.
The committee included Miss Porter and Mr Graham, as well as several other headteachers from nearby schools: Peter Baker of Mount Grace School, Kim Custis of Little Heath Primary School, Cathy Elsley of Monksmead School in Borehamwood, Clare Herbert of Peartree Primary School, and Kate Smith of Monk’s Walk School.
In addition, the report was particularly concerned that though the school is meant for short-term support, some pupils end up staying for a number of years.
“Too often, pupils who have been at the provision longest have not sustained any improvements in how they behave and interact,” said the report.
In that time, too many are leaving Year 11 without essential basic skills, although most of them have secured a place to go on to after leaving.
But pupils have noticed that their head teacher is “putting her foot down”.
The report described efforts by Miss Porter and Mr Graham to turn things around, increasing welfare support for the pupils, improving safeguarding, and broadening the curriculum.
The report said: “The urgent work that they have undertaken thus far has been to establish the basic systems and processes so desperately needed.
“This is showing very early signs of making a difference to attendance, behaviour and teaching.”
Miss Porter said: “Following our recent inspection by Ofsted we were pleased that a number of strengths were highlighted in the report including.
“Many aspects of the school are on a gradually improving trend.
“The inspector did however find a number of areas that were identified as unsatisfactory which resulted in our school being placed in special measures.
“We acknowledge these findings and have already started addressing the areas where improvement is needed.”