Ofsted says every aspect of Court Fields School ‘requires improvement’ according to the latest inspection report carried out in November and December last year. Since the 2013 inspection Leadership and Management have deteriorated from Good to Requires Improvement.
Other categories such as quality of teaching, learning and assessment, personal development, behaviour and welfare and outcomes for pupils are all judged as having made no significant improvements over the past three years.
The report says that extra “Pupil premium” money has not been used effectively to improve the progress of disadvantaged students because of a “lack of precision” from school leaders and governors
This is the latest in a series of Ofsted reports that have identified considerable weaknesses in Court Fields’ performance. In November 2012 ‘Special Measures’ were introduced when the overall effectiveness of the school was regarded as ‘Inadequate’. Rachael Bennett was appointed Head in 2013 replacing Elaine Faull and, in October 2013, the effectiveness of leadership and management were assessed as ‘Good’. The school became an academy in January 2014, sponsored by the Castle Partnership Trust.
The latest inspection report – available on the school’s website – identifies the achievement of disadvantaged pupils as of particular concern. In the report ‘disadvantaged pupils’ are those who attract government pupil premium funding, those claiming free school meals at any point during the last six years and those in care or who left care through adoption or another formal route. The additional funding is designed specifically to support schools in raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.
Whilst the report states that ‘standards are rising overall’ and recognises the way senior leaders have improved behaviour and increased pupil participation in out-of-class opportunities, sporting and community events, it regards them as ‘over-generous in their assessment of the quality of education provided by the school’.
Pupil progress across the age range in different groups of pupils is identified as ‘uneven’ with pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds – predominantly in lower sets – failing to keep pace with the rising standards of more able pupils and ‘minor disruption’ occurring in lessons, particularly those in lower sets.
In her detailed response to the report Ms Bennett referred to the positive aspects of the school’s development which inspectors had identified, particularly rising standards of attainment and performance – in humanities in particular, pupils’ behaviour and attitudes to learning and the work done to promote their personal development and welfare. But she also accepted that measures to support disadvantaged pupils and achieve better outcomes for them had to be addressed. She said, “The report gives a judgement that improvement is needed – which we accept. Issues raised are issues we know about and have to address. Small numbers of students in our school who are disadvantaged have not made sufficient progress – but the vast majority do.”
Ms Bennett also referred to ‘Progress 8’, the measurement of performance and attainment in schools introduced by the Department of Education in October 2016 and now applied by Ofsted. She said, “Progress 8 has raised the bar hugely since the last inspection so it would be very easy and misguided to say what required improving last time still requires improvement and that Court Fields has made no progress.”
Asked to comment on the report’s concerns about aspects of the school’s provision for disadvantaged pupils Ms Bennett said, “Ofsted is a snapshot. The inconsistency [of provision] which is the thread running through the Ofsted report can be found in any school. We know where it is and we are working to address those inconsistencies. What we know is this: there is a small cohort of students where a barrier to learning is poor literacy. When they get to us at 11 and they haven’t mastered the basics of spelling, punctuation and grammar there’s work to be done.”
It was pointed out to her that Court Fields’ main feeder schools – Wellesley Park, St John’s, Rockwell Green and Beech Grove were all assessed as ‘Good’ in every category in their last Ofsted inspections. Ms Bennett replied that criteria used in the assessment of pupils at the end of Year 6 had changed. She said, “As a cohort, our current Year 7 have come to us with weaknesses in literacy and aspects of maths lower than national standards.”
In terms of the capacity of the school to address the issues identified by Ofsted, Ms Bennett said, “We have improved in all the areas identified in our last inspection – and they are now strengths in the school. Now, with a new inspection framework, we have more work to do with our disadvantaged children. Issues will be addressed. We are capable of improving what needs to be improved. We will do it. It may not fit in with the time frame of Ofsted but at the end of the day we are working with people and communities.”
Ms Bennett also referred to the growing problem of cuts to schools’ funding. Research by the Association of School and College Leaders and the Secondary Heads Association published figures this week showed a sharp decline in pupil funding between now and 2020 with some schools losing 17%. This represents the sharpest cut in schools’ budgets since the 1970s.