Former ‘inadequate’ school’s four-year wait for Ofsted inspection

A school branded “inadequate” before it switched to a new academy trust has gone without any follow-up inspection from Ofsted for more than four years, a Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) investigation has revealed.

Cecil Jones Academy, in Southend, was found to be inadequate and placed in special measures in December 2017, before being transferred from Legra Academy Trust to the Loxford Schools Trust in April 2019.

When schools are “re-brokered” into new trusts, they are regarded as “fresh start” schools which means any former Ofsted category becomes null and void.

However, senior councillors have voiced concern over the lack of Ofsted involvement since the switch, which means a sizeable cohort of children will have been through the school with no judgement about its effectiveness.

The LDRS investigation has prompted criticism of Ofsted, which carried out four inspections of Cecil Jones during Legra Academy Trust’s tenure in a four-year period between 2015 and 2019.

In addition, both Southchurch High School in Southend and Gable Hall School in Corringham both had follow-up Ofsted visits within months of them being rated inadequate, suggesting a lack of consistency in inspections.

Laurie Burton, Southend Labour councillor responsible for children, learning and inclusion, said: “When a school receives a poor Ofsted score, it shouldn’t be left for four years without being re-inspected.

“Where there have been improvements, it’s only right that they should be recognised, and where there are still issues, that should be recognised too.

“Parents and prospective parents have a right to know how a school is performing, and in the case of Cecil Jones, I hope Ofsted don’t take too long to give parents the assurance they need.”

Tony Cox, leader of Southend Council’s Conservative Group, added: “It does seem quite remarkable that it has been left that amount of time by Ofsted. I would have expected something to have happened but I know they have been busy and have recently done a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Ofsted on the council.

“We are waiting for the results of that but I am rather surprised. I would have thought they would have received one in four years. It does seem rather bizarre.”

James Duddridge, Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East, said: “By providing Cecil Jones Academy with a fresh start under the Loxford School Trust, since the school was rated inadequate in 2017, there has now been the opportunity for sustainable improvements to be made.

“However, it is not ideal that the school has not received a routine Ofsted inspection given the challenges faced by the school previously. Nationally, there is still a significant backlog of inspections created by the pandemic.”

Ofsted addresses wait

The education watchdog says it is operating within current rules in its dealing with the Cecil Jones Academy, which it says are a matter for the Department for Education (DfE).

An Ofsted spokesman said: “When Cecil Jones transferred to the new trust in 2019 it legally became a new school and no longer carries any inspection judgment – inadequate or otherwise.

“New schools that opened before September 2020 are likely to be inspected in their fourth or fifth year of operation. So Cecil Jones Academy’s first inspection is not late and, as a new school, it was not subject to any monitoring inspections.”

They added: “We are not the schools regulator so we don’t make decisions about what happens after a school is judged inadequate.

“Decisions around academisation, re-brokering to a new academy, what constitutes a new school and legacy judgements, are made by the DfE.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The Loxford Trust has a strong record of transforming ‘inadequate’ schools to ‘good’ schools. When a school transfers to a trust after intervention, it is treated like a new school and is not normally inspected within the first three years.

“Due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ofsted’s normal three-year window for inspections may be extended by an additional 18 months.”

The Loxford School Trust and headteacher of Cecil Jones were asked to comment but did not respond.

Union condemns delay

Murray Sackwild, Essex branch secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Ofsted is hugely inconsistent.

“This is one of the many reasons why we want Ofsted abolished and replaced with something much better. It’s a toxic, tarnished brand, whose time is up.

“More than any other cause, a lack of teachers joining, and staying in, teaching affects educational quality and inclusion.

Murray Sackwild

“Ofsted has been in the news for all the wrong reasons – but we know the mental health and wellbeing of too many teachers and school leaders has been put under immense pressure for far too long.”

In March, headteacher Ruth Perry, 53, killed herself after an Ofsted report which downgraded Caversham Primary School, in Reading, from “outstanding” to “inadequate”.

Ms Perry was the principal of the Berkshire school for more than 12 years and following her death her sister called for Ofsted to be “destroyed”.

It followed the death in 2015 of award-winning headteacher Carol Woodward who hanged herself shortly after Ofsted downgraded her school, Woodford primary school near Plymouth from “good” to “inadequate”.

Mr Sackwild added: “In March, NEU members delivered our Replace Ofsted petition to the Department for Education.

“With more than 52,000 teachers, school leaders, parents and pupils having signed, it is clear the profession is speaking with one voice when we say Ofsted is not fit for purpose and must be replaced.

“This toxic inspectorate is driving school leaders and teachers out of the profession and fuelling a mental health crisis among school staff.

“Nearly 40 per cent of teachers leave the profession within ten years, citing excessive workload caused by accountability as the main reason for choosing to go. No education system can succeed whilst it haemorrhages teachers and school leaders.”

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Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter