Headteacher defends Southend school after damning Ofsted report

A Southend school has been branded “inadequate” at every level by Ofsted inspectors who found bullying, prejudice and inappropriate segregation of boys and girls.

The scathing report revealed that some children at Southchurch High School in Southend were “inappropriately separated by sex”, with inspectors branding it “indirect discrimination”.

The report – the first since the school was rebranded in 2018 –was issued to parents this week, months after the inspection took place.

In the report, the inspection team led by Her Majesty’s inspector James Chester, said: “Year 11 pupils are being inappropriately separated by sex in some subjects. Leaders made this decision without consulting pupils.

“They chose to do so because they determined boys’ behaviour was worse than that of girls. Although the school’s intention was to improve achievement, the impact was to take away choice from pupils by grouping them by sex rather than need.

“While a very small number of pupils have moved to a group made up of a sex other than their own, there is no realistic choice for most to do so.”

The report said the school was inadequate in its overall effectiveness, quality of education, behaviour and attitudes and in its leadership and management.

Inspectors said children kept fears of bullying and prejudice to themselves because they believed it would “keep on happening” and older children worried about younger siblings having no support when they left school.

Youngsters said they “did not always feel happy and safe”.

Teachers at the school, run by the Partnership Learning Trust, had “low expectations of how pupils should behave and what they should learn.”

This prevented youngsters from learning, inspectors said. They also noted bad behaviour by children outside lessons also made children feel unsafe.

Staff were said to take a “confrontational approach” to dealing with behaviour, with negative effects on children.

Ofsted said the school, in Southchurch Boulevard, had inadequately trained teachers who did not cater to the needs of pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities, because it didn’t take account of parents’ views.

Inspectors said leaders, including those from the trust, were not aware of the extent of the issues within the school. Pupils were found to be “unprepared for life in modern Britain”.

Headteacher Stuart Reynolds has fiercely defended the school’s achievements, claiming the negative impact of the COVID pandemic is behind the disappointing verdict delivered by inspectors.

Mr Reynolds said: “Before COVID struck, Southchurch was the most improved school in Southend, with GCSE scores above national expectations and the highest number of Year 7 applications amongst the non-selective schools.

“On the day inspectors visited, in early March, the school was just beginning to emerge from COVID arrangements to ensure the safety of students and staff.

“Like many schools at this time, staff absence was still above the norm, with 18 per cent of teachers off ill.

“All this meant that the school was not able to show itself at its best.”

The school will now face a follow-up visit from Ofsted.

Mr Reynolds added: “The school has to accept the snapshot which the inspectors took over the two days they were on site, but know that this is not a true reflection of Southchurch’s strengths.

“In the three months since the inspection the school has addressed all of the concerns raised in the report, re-instating all of the pre-COVID arrangements which made the school so popular with parents.”

Southchurch High School was previously rated “requires improvement” by Ofsted in 2016 when it was called the Futures Community College.

Roger Leighton, chief exec of the Partnership Learning Trust which runs the school, said: “We know the recent Ofsted inspection does not accurately reflect Southchurch’s strengths.

“We have already worked with the school to ensure that any concerns have been quickly addressed and when Ofsted return we are confident that inspectors will give the school a resounding ‘thumbs up’.”

Laurie Burton, Southend councillor responsible for children and learning, said: “We understand the trust leadership team has put support in place and are undertaking actions to address the issues.

“We will continue to support the school and the trust to make the improvements.”

Southchurch High School

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter