Parent refutes school leaders’ letter after Ofsted report

A parent of a pupil at an Essex primary school has slammed members of the leadership team following a letter sent out after a poor inspection report by Ofsted.

Members of the leadership team at Waterman Primary School in Rochford said that they had “no respect for or acceptance of” the report published in February, in which the academy was rated ‘requires improvement’ based on the quality of its teaching in particular.

In both a statement provided to LDRS and a letter sent out to parents of pupils, school leaders criticised Ofsted’s approach to awarding this rating, and said: “Ofsted has come under heavy criticism in recent years for its lack of knowledge of small schools, poor inspection practice, and the abuse of its own code of conduct impacting on staff well-being and staff retention. We experienced all of these on this inspection and formally complained.

“We have an excellent curriculum for children, fantastic provision for those pupils with additional needs…and a very strong, committed and familial school staff who place our pupils at the heart of everything we do.

“Waterman is an excellent school and we will continue to be, and we will of course continue to develop further.”

However, Jenny Smith, whose child is a final-year pupil at Waterman Primary, said that the school’s attempt to appeal Ofsted’s decision was “ridiculous”, with the headteacher Mrs Collison and other members of the senior leadership team “telling lies” about the reality of the culture at the academy.

Ms Smith told LDRS that she and her family initially had “high hopes” for the school upon moving to the area in 2023, but these were soon squashed after her child became subject to a “relentless” campaign of bullying by another student in their class last September.

She said that, due to the lack of support offered by Waterman Primary, she is now a parent to “a completely different child” who has since been referred to adolescent mental health services by a GP for issues relating to anxiety.

Despite being reassured by staff that the student who had instigated the bullying against her child would face appropriate consequences, Ms Smith said that she was told it was “not within school policy” to reprimand pupils for bad behaviour by issuing verbal warnings on school grounds as it could cause humiliation.

Ms Smith said that she “was constantly phoning the school, and wrote plenty of emails… but still nothing was done” to support her child, with the promise of a course of counselling provided by the academy never materialising.

She told LDRS that the situation escalated suddenly after she witnessed her child being verbally abused by their bully at the school gates, being loudly called “ugly” and a “s***bag” in front of other parents and pupils.

After notifying Mrs Collison of the incident, and in spite of providing a number of other parent witnesses being willing to corroborate her claims as requested, Ms Smith was informed by the school leader that this behaviour was “just banter”.

She said: “How dare the headteacher of a school claim to do so many nice things for their students and be so accomplished when this is their response to a child being bullied to the point where they need to access a mental health service?

“I tried to go forward with (a formal complaint to the school) but (Mrs Collison) ignored me. She refused to speak to me.

“My emails weren’t delivering… I’ve left messages for the executive headteacher (of HEARTS Academy Trust, Mr D Wry) but have not got a response… it’s completely unacceptable.

“The (complaints) process is totally dysfunctional. There’s no communication; if call with an issue, the receptionist will ignore you, the teachers will ignore you, no one will respond to your messages because they don’t want to know.

Ms Smith called Mrs Collison’s way of addressing pupils “condescending”, noting that her child’s bully was repeatedly referred to in early correspondence as their “friend”.

“It’s appalling that the school have let a student down so much at such a young age,” she said; “Children at Waterman Primary are being set up for a lifetime of mental health issues.”

LDRS contacted Essex County Council’s cabinet member for education for comment and was directed to general advice published on the council’s website, which states that “children and young people have the right to learn in an atmosphere that is free from bullying, harassment and discrimination. Bullying is something we take very seriously and we want to work in partnership with schools, parents/carers, young people and the wider community to tackle this issue”.

Guidance published by the Department for Education suggests that all schools should implement anti-bullying measures such as ensuring that all parents, carers and children know how to raise a concern about bullying and have a clear understanding of how this will be responded to, as well as regularly monitoring the effectiveness of individual anti-bullying policies.

Emma Doyle

Local Democracy Reporter