Concern for children’s welfare as pupil referral unit branded inadequate by Ofsted
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A Suffolk pupil referral unit has seen its Ofsted ratings slide over the past five years – with poor safeguarding, serious issues with behaviour and substandard teaching methods slammed by inspectors.
Hampden House Pupil Referral Unit in Great Cornard, near Sudbury, was judged to be good by Ofsted as recently as 2013 – but has since seen its ranking slip to requires improvement, and now inadequate.
The pupil referral unit (PRU), which currently hosts 19 boys aged eight to 14 who are unable to cope at mainstream school, has been told by inspectors that it must improve in four of seven key categories.
All of the pupils at Hampden House have special educational needs (SEN), and each student has been permanently excluded from mainstream school or moved from another PRU.
What is going wrong?
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Hampden House was found to have inadequate safeguarding procedures, while “regular disruption” in lessons and the “persistent absence” of a small minority of pupils was said to have a detrimental impact on students’ progress.
The inspection team also reported that the quality of teaching varies – with not all staff applying the schools’s agreed procedures for planning, learning or managing behaviour.
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Meanwhile, pupils’ “social, moral, spiritual and cultural education” was said to be underdeveloped, and the PRU, which houses seven boarders, does not meet the national minimum standards for boarding schools.
The report stated that pupils usually mix together well during breaks, and arrivals and departures from school are orderly and calm – but “all of this can change in an instant because behaviour is so volatile”.
It continued: “During the inspection, violent and aggressive behaviour, often requiring restraint from staff, ruined these social occasions.”
It also flagged up serious issues with leaders’ own understanding of problems at the school.
“Leaders evaluate the school’s effectiveness as good. This is too generous,” the report stated. “Leaders can point to improvements made to teaching, learning and assessment that have enhanced pupils’ social and academic progress. However, at times, the school is unsafe. A minority of pupils regularly disrupt the school day. They show little respect for staff, including senior leaders.”
The team noted that, during the inspection, the fire alarm was deliberately activated by pupils on four different occasions. A small number of pupils were also said to “regularly leave lessons”, roaming the site and damaging school property.
In a bleak reflection on previous reports, the inspectors said the leaders, including the management committee, had not built on the strengths noted at the time of the last inspection.
What went well?
In its favour, Hampden House was said to have improved its monitoring of teaching. Assessment information and work in pupils’ books also showed reasonable progress – while good management in the boarding provision, along with positive relations between staff and pupils, ensured students felt safe and cared for.
Inspectors described headteacher Graham Alcock as “knowledgeable and experienced”, and leaders were said to make effective use of pupil premium funding to help disadvantaged students.
The report added: “Over the past two years, the school has enabled most pupils to re-integrate back into mainstream school or into other alternative settings. Leaders can point to many examples of positive, life-changing support provided that has enabled pupils to return to their mainstream schools.
What targets have been set for the school?
To improve, Hampden House was told it must build on the quality of leadership and management, gain greater consistency in the quality of teaching, learning and assessment, and focus on pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare.
Specifically, the PRU was told to pay special attention to “eliminating the swearing and abuse directed towards staff,” as well as strengthening safeguarding for vulnerable pupils, clarifying learning outcomes and tackling high absence rates.
Some pupils with special needs ‘not suited’ to school environment
The report also stated that committee members feel that “a small minority of pupils recently placed in the school by the local authority are not suited to this type of provision”.
Jack Abbott, county Labour spokesman for children’s services, education and skills, said this “not only impacts on educational outcomes, but it can also put staff and pupil safety at risk”.
He added: “It is really important to carefully read through this report as there are many positive aspects that have been highlighted and I know that the leadership at Hampden House have moved swiftly to address concerns.
“However, it shouldn’t be ignored that the local authority are placing a number of pupils in pupil referral units who are simply not suited to this type of provision. This practice simply has to end.
“I am part of a cross-party policy development panel who are currently reviewing Suffolk’s SEN and alternative provision, including PRUs. We are all committed to finding the solutions that will provide effective support to our schools and ensure that every child and young person can access the right educational setting at the right time.”
What does the school have to say?
Mr Alcock said it was important to note the Ofsted report “highlighted areas of strength” at Hampden House, but the team “fully accept there are some areas we need to work on,” and aimed to build on the findings of the report to ensure all pupils receive the best education the school can offer.
“Whilst we are disappointed in the overall grading, we acknowledge the findings of the report,” Mr Alcock said.
“The Ofsted report for Hampden House Pupil Referral Unit in Sudbury highlighted areas of strength, especially the progress students are making in English and Mathematics, the life-changing support that enables pupils to return to mainstream schools, and good residential provision that ensures pupils feel safe and cared for.
“We are pleased that the report also recognises how staff forge good relations with pupils and work hard to provide care and support for them; that we provide a broad range of academic subjects, activities and intervention; that reading is taught effectively; and that funding is used effectively to promote self-esteem and aid pupils’ progress.”
He added: “We now have the opportunity to build on the findings of the report to ensure all our pupils receive the best education we can offer. We have already taken action to make improvements which are having a positive impact on learning.
“We continue to work together with the local authority to drive up standards.”
What does the council have to say?
The council did not respond directly to concerns that not all pupils sent to Hampden House were suited to the PRU environment, despite being placed there by the local authority.
However a spokeswoman said: “Suffolk County Council is working closely with the leaders, including governors, of Hampden House in Sudbury to support them to rapidly address the issues set out in the Ofsted report.
“The school has begun to address these areas and with further support we are confident that the school leaders will make the improvements required and that Ofsted will see the evidence at the next inspection.”