Headteacher says once failing Blackpool school is back on track

Abid Ali, 10, Cameron Richards, 6, and Shannon Hollingworth-Craig, 8Abid Ali, 10, Cameron Richards, 6, and Shannon Hollingworth-Craig, 8
Abid Ali, 10, Cameron Richards, 6, and Shannon Hollingworth-Craig, 8
Ofsted report pulls primary out of special measures as head says '˜things are on the up'.

A primary school has shaken off the shackles of being in ‘special measures’ – with its headteacher now issuing a rallying cry to parents to help it improve even further.

Ofsted said Revoe Learning Academy is back on track following a turbulent period – which saw tales of unruly pupils and a teacher step down after a child was locked in a ‘time out room’.

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It is no longer rated ‘inadequate’ but Ofsted said the Grasmere Road school still has room for improvement however, with punctuality and disruptive behaviour still issues that need to be tackled.

Dayle Harrison, a former deputy head brought back in to turn the school’s fortunes around in 2014 when it became an academy, said it will ‘100 per cent’ receive a good rating at its next inspection, and called on parents to support the school and their children.

“The vast majority have been fantastic,” he told The Gazette yesterday. “They make sure the children are here on time and are very supportive. They have contributed significantly.

“It’s the small minority whose children have poor attendance and punctuality.”

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The school’s previous report, in 2013, was scathing, and Mr Harrison accepted it was fair reflection of standards at the time.

But he said hard work by parents, staff, and children had led to the marked improvement in standards across the board, particularly in its two nurseries and reception, which have been rated ‘good’.

He accepted the quality of teaching still needs to improve, with extra training and support planned, but said the report’s findings show the school is on the right track.

Around half of the staff at the school three years ago have now left, and while some have moved elsewhere or taken promotions, some left following ‘honest conversations’ about the school’s plans for the future, he said.

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He said: “This school was in special measures for everything and it has taken a long time to stabilise. We have now got some great staff.

“There’s absolutely no doubt we will be good at the next inspection. The acid test for me is, ‘Would I send my kids here?, and the answer is yes.

“We still need to improve the quality of teaching and we need to ensure children make more rapid progress in reading, writing, and maths across the school.”

Mr Harrison also said school staff have gone to some children’s homes in the morning to make sure they are up for school, and will continue to issue fines for unauthorised absences.

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He added: “We have even gone out to the parents who did not turn up to parents’ evening.

“If going into their home breaks down the barrier we will do that because, ultimately, we want parents to get more involved. The children come first.”

A ‘reducing minority’ of youngsters are responsible for continuing to cause trouble in class, Mr Harrison said, with their behaviour being challenged.

And teachers are spending a ‘significant amount of time investigating any incidents’ of bullying, which Ofsted said has left children feeler safer at the school, which attracts some of the resort’s poorest children.

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Ofsted said: “Leaders have worked very effectively to improve pupils’ behaviour and safety. Pupils report that they are happier in school and feel safe. The Revoe Learning Academy of 2016 is a far more effective school than that which opened its doors on April 1, 2014. In no small part this is due to the unwavering commitment and strong leadership of the headteacher.

“Leaders and governors have successfully improved many aspects of the school’s work, including the inadequate behaviour that existed when the school opened and which put pupils’ safety at risk.

“However, behaviour is not yet good.”

The report, written following a two-day inspection in late October, revealed a number of strengths, as well as areas school chiefs are now concentrating on improving.

Pupils still don’t make enough progress in reading and writing, it said, while the quality of teaching in reading, writing, and maths, including from support staff, is not yet consistently good.

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‘Low-level’ misbehaviour, particularly from boys, remains disruptive to others, while pupils are not routinely arriving at school on time.

The school was also told it has not ‘made rigorous enough checks’ to see if extra cash it gets to support disadvantaged children has made a difference.

However, the report also said teaching has improved since the last inspection three years ago, and that staff have good relationships with pupils, who reported feeling ‘happier and safer’.

Attendance is on the up, while early years children get a ‘good start’ to their education, the report said.

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Pupils were found to have good manners and be friendly towards visitors, and to enjoy their lunchtime activities.

It also said the school, which has 458 children, gives youngsters a good understanding of British values.

“It teaches them the life skills and provides many clubs, activities, and visits that enrich pupils’ learning,” the report added.

Chairman of governors Alana Frith said: “We are proud of our improvements so far. We are closely monitoring children’s work to ensure standards continue to rise and we are challenging all pupils to ensure they are meeting their full potential.”

Who inspected the school and what did they find?

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Ofsted looked at teaching, checked pupils’ work, listened to them read, spoke to them in lessons and during breaks, and reviewed a range of paperwork.

They also held talks with teachers, and met with governors and representatives from the multi-academy trust board.

Parents’ views, gathered through an online survey and by speaking to them as they dropped their children off at school, were also taken into account.

The inspectors rated five key areas: Effectiveness of leadership and management; quality of teaching, learning and assessment; personal development, behaviour and welfare; outcomes for pupils; and early years provision.

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They gave a rating of requires improvement in all areas except early years, which was rated good, with an overall rating of ‘requires improvement’ – one better than ‘inadequate’, but still below ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’.

What was the school’s previous rating?

Revoe Learning Academy has never been inspected before because it is classed as a new school.

Its last inspection as Revoe Primary School – before it became an academy in 2014 – resulted in a scathing report in 2013.

Ofsted said the school had ‘declined rapidly’, with bullying, badly-behaved pupils, and name-calling all too common, and placed it in special measures following an overall rating of ‘inadequate’.

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Wasn’t there some other trouble at the school at around the same time?

When Ofsted released its damning report in 2013, seven members of staff were suspended – including head Cath Woodall – after a boy was locked inside a room.

The police were called in to investigation, but dropped their inquiry, while the school’s SERF unit, for those with behavioural problems, was closed by the council.

Julie Smith, who lost her job as the special educational needs coordinator over the incident, claimed staff lived in fear from youngsters – and insisted she would act the same way again.

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She said: “I said I knew he shouldn’t be in there but we wanted to get everything safe, that it was right and safe for him and everyone else in school.

“I would have done the same again because it was so frightening. I was really, really scared.”

What does ‘special measures’ actually mean?

Put simply, it means schools are failing to provide pupils with an acceptable standard of education, and is not showing it can make the improvements needed.

Those judged as ‘inadequate’ will be visited on occasion by Ofsted, and reinspected within 18 months.

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Did being put in special measures lead to Revoe becoming an academy?

Schools under local authority control judged to be inadequate – which Revoe was in both cases – are issued with an order by the government that force them to become an academy.

Another recent example in Blackpool is Highfield Leadership Academy, which is now under the control of the Tauheedul Education Trust.

What has changed since then?

Good quality teaching has been a priority since the school became an academy, Ofsted said, with a high-turnover rate – just under half of the current staff were not there when the academy opened.

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Mr Harrison, who took over from Cath Woodall when she retired, has shown an ‘unwavering commitment and strong leadership’, while senior teachers and governors have ‘successfully improved many aspects of the school’s work’.

That includes behaviour so poor it was putting pupils’ safety at risk, and the quality of English and maths teaching.

Particular merit was paid to the early years staff, who are well-trained and skilled.

What challenges remain?

There are several, though inspectors are hopeful they can be overcome.

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Behaviour could still be better managed, with concerns over bullying investigated, while Ofsted wants a crackdown on boys disrupting classes.

It said the school could also improve punctuality, pupils’ presentation of work, and the quality of teaching so all staff have ‘secure subject knowledge’.

What next?

Because it still requires improvement, Revoe will be monitored by Ofsted and will be inspected again within a period of around two years. If, at that point, it still requires improvement, there will be further monitoring and another inspection within two years. If at that time it is still not good, it is ‘highly likely’ it will be judged ‘inadequate’, Ofsted said.