The headteacher and governors of the Oxford Academy have resigned following the publication of an Ofsted Report which rated the School ‘inadequate.’
An Interim Advisory Board (IAB) has been put in place to replace recently departed staff. Andy Hardy, the now former headteacher of the Academy who had been in position since September 2018, left the school on December 31 due to ‘personal circumstances.’
Members of the governing board resigned explicitly over the Ofsted rating and the School being placed on special measures.
The Report, highlighting safety concerns for pupils at the School, stated: “Pupils do not get a good deal at this school. The behaviour of a growing minority of pupils has become unruly, unkind and unsafe. Bullying is not dealt with well enough. Many pupils rightly told us that they feel very worried about coming to the school. There is not enough support for pupils’ personal development and well-being. Serious safeguarding concerns have not been acted on promptly enough.
“Frequent behaviour incidents, in class and out, disrupt daily life. Many pupils are scared to use communal areas. Incidents of violence and abuse, including fights between pupils, are increasing. Many pupils use homophobic language. Leaders have failed to deal with the situation. The behaviour policy is not effective, and staff do not implement it consistently. Sometimes, low-level behaviour escalates to become much more serious. Several staff told us that they feel unsafe. They are frustrated and disheartened, because leaders do not support them effectively.”
The issues at the Academy have primarily been blamed on poor direction from the School’s upper hierarchy, explaining the departure of both the former head and the governors.
Ofsted inspectors explained: “Leaders are hugely overstretched. Many are inexperienced in their roles. Not enough priority has been given to the leadership of safeguarding and pupils’ well-being. Leaders lack a precise understanding of the serious scale and nature of behaviour incidents. Important signs that pupils need help have been missed, because of a lack of communication.”
The Report rated the Academy ‘inadequate’ in the areas of quality of education, behaviour and attitude, personal development, as well as leadership and management. Sixth-form provision was the only area that was rated above ‘inadequate,’ though it was still labelled under ‘requires improvement.’
These rating represent a marked departure from Ofsted’s previous inspection in September 2016, which rated the School ‘good’ for the first time in its 12-year history.
The new IAB that now controls the School comprises four members, David Terry, the interim head, Paul James, the chief executive of the River Learning Trust, Tony Wilson, Director of Education for the Oxford Diocesan Board of Education, and Adam White, a lecturer at Oxford Brookes University.
In a statement, the IAB said: “The IAB brings a wealth of experience in creating outstanding schools and steering schools through difficult periods. During the last six weeks the IAB has taken decisive action to make rapid and sustainable improvements at the school.
“Also, River Learning Trust (RLT) has agreed in principle to welcome The Oxford Academy into its family of secondary and primary schools. The trust is working closely with the Department for Education with the aim that The Oxford Academy can join later this academic year. However, in practice, the school is now receiving the levels of expert support from RLT that it can expect when it formally becomes part of the trust.”
The RLT is a multi-academy trust responsible for the administration of a number of academies in the area, and holding them to government standards.
Since taking over, the IAB has enacted a review of safeguarding in response to Ofsted’s concerns, taking action to improve safety issues. A new pupil behaviour management strategy is now in place, while leadership team responsibilities have been reviewed. Another senior leader has joined the Academy to focus on improving attendance and the provision for vulnerable pupils.
Mr Wilson, who also serves as the Chair of the Interim Academy Board, said “At the start of January we appointed an experienced interim headteacher, Mr David Terry, with a track record of school improvement, as well as an interim deputy head with expertise in behaviour, personal development and safeguarding”.
Tony Wilson, Director of Education for the Oxford Diocesan Board of Education and Chair of the Interim Academy Board, said: “We are delighted with the impact he has already made in a short space of time. Immediate action was taken last year in response to the concerns identified by Ofsted, and we have already carried out a thorough review of safeguarding. Improving attendance of our vulnerable pupils, and our provision for them, has also been a key focus.
“Additional teaching and support staff have been hired to fill vacancies in maths, English, PE, languages and technology, which means we have been able to reduce the number of supply teachers used. New staff and existing staff are being given extra training with a focus on safeguarding, behaviour and the quality of teaching. Some of the staffing issues we have had to resolve have stemmed from poor governance and past decisions relating to a financial deficit at the academy in excess of £1m. This deficit is reducing and we are working with the Department for Education to resolve the issue and ensure a positive sustainable future for the academy.”
Mr Terry, who has experience in schools on special measures, told the Oxford Mail: “To some extent the report reflects the school as it was, and we have definitely moved on [since inspection]. It’s a much calmer environment on site. We are focusing on behaviour and a better clarity of expected behaviours. We have just had to say ‘no’ and be assertive, but to say it with love and care.”
The IAB is only temporary, with the Academy looking to appoint a permanent headteacher by end of March.
As an academy, the School is directly under the supervision and funding of the government in Westminster, rather than local authorities as other schools are.
Writing to Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards, Anneliese Dodds, the Labour and Co-Operative MP for Oxford East, has criticised the government’s role in the development of the academy system and the failings at the Oxford Academy.
“I do believe that the departure of the previous leaders and governors will signal a change at the school, and it was right for them to leave and take some responsibility after a series of failings. I am sure that teachers who remain at the school are working hard to ensure that it is a safe environment for their pupils.
“However, I am incredibly concerned that this situation ever arose in the first place. I am concerned not only for the students at this school, but for what this signifies about the wider academy system which enabled such an enormous failure.”
Concerns over children’s safety at the School only became public after Oxfordshire County Council notified Ofsted of the issues in November.
A spokesman for the Council said: “We acted immediately by sending staff with safeguarding expertise to support the school. The safety and welfare of children and young people are of paramount importance to the county council.
“The county council has no direct responsibility for school performance. We believe the former school leaders and governors of the school are accountable for the findings in the Ofsted report.”