Four rural Suffolk primary schools branded ‘inadequate’ or in need of improvement just a few years after being commended by Ofsted inspectors
Schools in Peasenhall, Middleton, Yoxford and Bramfield, which are all run by the same federation, have been told they require urgent action or special measures to turn round falling standards.
Each of the rural primaries has been branded ‘inadequate’ or in need of improvement just a few years after all were celebrated as ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’.
Last time inspectors visited the four schools they filed glowing reports on the achievement, behaviour and safety of pupils, quality of teaching, leadership and management.
But, according to Ofsted, standards dipped significantly in the intervening years between inspections, with one of the schools slipping from the top marks achievable to requiring special measures.
School leaders last night said it would take time for the four-school federation to develop after its official formation in April this year.
It said Ofsted’s assessment of small year groups at each separate school had made a “huge” impact on percentages, but that the schools were already making many positive moves forward, working on action plans with a new board of governors.
Suffolk County Council said it was working closely with leaders and staff to drive rapid improvement and ensure all pupils have the high quality education they deserve.
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Meanwhile, Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey said she had become increasingly concerned about the schools but supported what the county council was doing to address the situation.
The steepest decline was at Peasenhall Primary School, near Saxmundham, which inspectors considered ‘inadequate’ following a visit at the end of April – four years after Ofsted awarded it an ‘outstanding’ rating.
For the last eight years, Peasenhall has been federated with Middleton Community Primary School, which was told it ‘requires improvement’ following its latest inspection – little over three years since it too was marked outstanding.
Meanwhile, Yoxford Primary School and Bramfield Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School have also been demoted.
They formed a partnership with the other two schools in 2013, before entering a four-school federation in April 2015. At the end of that same month, inspectors found teaching “poor and badly organised” in the early years foundation stage at Yoxford, which they said was inadequate overall and required significant improvement.
Earlier this month it was revealed that Bramfield’s action plan for improvement was ‘not fit for purpose’ by Ofsted. This paper reported that the school near Halesworth had not fully addressed action required following a January inspection, which found achievement of pupils to be inadequate and improvements required to leadership and management and quality of teaching.
Located within a 10 minute drive of each other, the four schools form the BMPY federation, which shares an executive headteacher and governing body.
The connection was established following the retirement of headteachers at Yoxford and the two original federation schools at Middleton and Peasenhall.
Bramfield head, Cathryn Benefer was asked to lead the four-school partnership, with a total of 244 children in mixed-age classes.
Mrs Benefer, who was a finalist for the Headteacher of the Year title in the East of England Teaching Awards in 2010, said the federation had provided new opportunities for children to share learning, as well as viability for each school within the security of a larger group.
She said the project was new and innovative but was taking time to develop, and that research showed other similar projects taking about two years to influence test results for pupils.
“It is also challenging, as it does not fit the usual pattern,” added Mrs Benefer, who retires from the position at the end of term.
“From Ofsted’s point of view, each school has been assessed separately, and with small and very small numbers in year groups. This has a huge impact on percentages.”
Mrs Benefer said Peasenhall had only two years pupils this summer, but that they had achieved 100% in level four reading and writing.
At Yoxford, the overall outcome for the school’s nine year six pupils had been “extremely close” to national average, while at Bramfield, pupils had achieved above average for combined reading, writing and maths at year six, and at other key assessment points.
She said the federation offered shared use of facilities such as the covered swimming pool and gym at Yoxford, and the forest school and large sports field at Peasenhall.
“We have begun sharing expert teaching of PE and sports, and competitions from our local high schools,” she added.
“We have a number of fantastic music teachers working across the group, two orchestras within the group, and increasing numbers of year six pupils taking music grades. None of this happened before in our little schools.”
Lee Regan, who will become executive head in September, said: “The possibilities and potential going forward are huge.
“We are already making many positive moves forward. We have begun working on Ofsted action plans and have a new executive board of governors working with us.”
Suffolk County Council’s head of education and skills, Lisa Chambers said: “We are working closely with leaders and staff in these schools to put measures in place to drive rapid improvement and ensure all pupils have the high quality education they deserve.
“We welcome the support and dedication of the staff and parents in working together to secure this shared aim.”
Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey said: “I look at Ofsted reports for my schools on a weekly basis and have become increasingly concerned about the schools in this federation.
“I’m supportive of what the county council are doing to address the situation including the interim executive board taking control of running the schools.
“I have spoken to Deputy Director of Education, Nikki Edwards, to discuss the issue. What matters to me is rapid improvement for the education and learning of the children. I am confident the actions taken will help that.”