Vulnerable pupils could ‘leave site without being noticed’ at Lancashire special school facing closure

A special school in Lancashire could face closure this year after ‘inadequate’ Ofsted reports, safeguarding concerns and financial difficulties.

By Jessica Hubbard
Friday, 4th June 2021, 12:30 pm
Wennington Hall School (image: Wennington Hall School/Lancashire County Council)
Wennington Hall School (image: Wennington Hall School/Lancashire County Council)

Wennington Hall School, Lodge Lane, could be forced to close after a public consultation later this year.

In a recent monitoring inspection, Ofsted says vulnerable pupils could 'leave the site without being noticed' and missed ‘crucial parts of their education’.

New Lancashire County Council leader Phillippa Williamson and Cllr Jayne Rear, cabinet member for education and skills, approved the public consultation on behalf of the authority's cabinet.

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Jayne Rear said: "This proposal has been considered very carefully and this decision has not been taken lightly.

"We have a duty to provide a high-quality education for all of our young people and this was a major factor in the discussions that we had about the future of the school.

"We had hoped to find a suitable provider to take over the school to give us the opportunity to improve the availability of high-quality school places in Lancashire.

"Unfortunately, that has not been possible.

"Importantly, taking the decision to consult now enables us to talk to parents and carers about the potential implications for the education of children and young people at Wennington Hall School.”

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A month-long initial consultation was carried out in March this year after being delayed due to the pandemic, in the absence of any sponsor willing to take over the school.

The local authority said it is ‘committed to continuing to support the school during this period of change’.

Financial issues and an uncertain future

The consultation will take place following several ‘inadequate’ ratings from Ofsted.

Schools such as Wennington Hall, which are rated ‘inadequate’ by the watchdog, are usually placed into ‘special measures’.

The government minister responsible for education may issue an academy order. This means the school must become an academy.

An academy order for Wennington Hall School was issued in 2017 but was later revoked by the education minister on the grounds that LCC would find a provider to take over the education provided there.

The council advertised the opportunity to take over the school in October 2020 but has since been unable to find a private sponsor.

This means that the future of the residential school and its 36 pupils - 14 of which will leave this year - is at risk and the school retains a deficit of over £1 million.

‘Serious concerns’ led to inspection

Schools watchdog Ofsted carried out its last full inspection of the school in 2019 and a remote monitoring visit took place in March this year.

But, due to concerns over leadership and safeguarding at the special school, Ofsted carried out a further in-person visit on March 24.

It identified ‘serious concerns’ over safeguarding and pupil behaviour and reported the school to the local authority and the regional schools commissioner.

According to the watchdog, school leaders ‘are not taking effective action to provide education in the current circumstances’.

Wennington Hall pupils, who have social, emotional and mental health needs, were found to be unsupervised in ‘large areas of the school’ including areas where they could ‘leave the site without being noticed’. This was despite staff being on duty throughout the day.

Pupils’ learning has ‘suffered considerably’ during the pandemic according to the monitoring visit report which says ‘extensive support’ was provided to the school by Lancashire County Council.

Due to a ‘poor quality curriculum’ pupils at the school could struggle to transition to the next stage of their life such as further education, employment or training according to Ofsted.

Four fifths of pupils were not in school during the spring term and Ofsted says ‘a considerable number’ did not access remote learning, missing ‘crucial parts of their education’ as a result.

Despite shortcomings identified by Ofsted, the school was praised for helping pupils with their personal development.

Pupils could read fluently to inspectors and showed ‘enthusiasm’ about books they read in class.

They also told Ofsted that staff give them ‘plenty’ of opportunities to try new things and gave them careers advice and guidance.

Ofsted said it would return to the school for a further inspection ‘as soon as possible’.

Parents, staff and interested parties can take part in the school closure consultation from September this year.

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