Suffolk: IES Breckland, first for-profit free school in England, placed in special measures by Ofsted
16:38 10 March 2014
The prospect of sanctions against a Suffolk free school has been raised tonight as IES Breckland was placed into special measures by Ofsted.
The Brandon school was strongly criticised in its first Ofsted report, which alluded to the disruption caused by the departure of six staff and the school’s principal late last year.
Sherry Zand left IES Breckland in November shortly before a review from the school’s parent company concluded that it was “not representative of our schools”.
The Ofsted rating represents a blow to Michael Gove’s education policy; IES Breckland was the first for-profit free school to open in England and its establishment garnered a lot of publicity.
Yesterday the Department of Education said they expected the school to make “rapid improvements” otherwise they wouldn’t hesitate to take “tough action”.
“We have demonstrated before that where we find failure – whether in council-run schools, academies or free schools – we will act swiftly and decisively. A number of sanctions are available to deal with sustained poor performance, ranging from bringing in external expertise to more serious steps.”
The Ofsted report, which won’t be released until Thursday, said: “Too many students have experienced frequent changes of teacher. In autumn 2013, the departure of some key staff, including the Principal, seriously disrupted the education provided by the school.”
It also said teaching and behaviour was inadequate and added: “Too many students fail to make sufficient progress and they do not attain the standards of which they are capable.”
Furthermore it said: “The school’s own evaluation of the quality of teaching and student achievement is inaccurate. The school has not been able to improve because school leaders have not assessed the school’s performance adequately or devised strategies to improve it.
“The management of teachers’ performance is ineffective. Improvement targets for individual teachers lack precision. Leaders rarely check whether teachers are making progress towards meeting their targets.”
However the report also said the standards in mathematics were generally high, and noted some outstanding examples of teaching, including that the provision for students’ spiritual and cultural education is good.
In a statement acknowledging the rating, the new principal of IES Breckland listed a series of measures taken in response to the report’s criticisms.
Alison Tilbrook said these would include recruiting more teachers, subject specialists and increasing the number of dual lesson observations using internal and external observers.
“Ofsted’s role was to judge the school it found on the day, rather than our plans for improvement,” she said. “The ongoing staff recruitment and work which had begun to transform the school were, quite rightly, not under consideration. Likewise the fact that this short-term process will mean long-term gains could not affect the report.
“However, the changes we are now making in the school will have positive effects which will be felt by all. The task given to me as principal, which I have been glad to take, is to turn around the fortunes of this school, to support staff to improve, and to make beneficial recruitment decisions. This is a challenge for all involved, but one which we are equal to.
“The atmosphere in the school is fantastic and there is a real determination to succeed from staff and students. Our students are incredibly willing to learn and up to the challenge of working to achieve the best results they can.”
The school came in for scathing criticism from a member of the Suffolk Coalition Opposing Free Schools.
Martin Campbell said the senior leadership team at IES Breckland had “imploded”.
“IES Breckland seemed to just ignore the fact that they were struggling and there were vacancies for head of maths and head of English at different times that seemed to take a long time to fill and gaps in leadership that didn’t seem to get any kind of intervention.
“Despite their apparent defence that they took action I think they comprehensively dropped the ball and the message to parents here is if you send your child to a small, untried and untested free school, even if the sponsor apparently has a good reputation elsewhere, you are taking an incredible risk.”
However the school retained the support of West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock, who said that IES Breckland “has already taken steps to address points raised in Ofsted’s report” and new staff were “working hard to raise standards”.
Mr Hancock announced he would shortly be visiting the school. Although the result was “clearly disappointing”, he added, “I am confident that the school now has the right management and teaching staff in place to see the changes through.”