Berwick Academy Ofsted: Positive progress but much still to do

Challenges remain but Berwick Academy has received an encouraging new report from Ofsted inspectors.

By Ian Smith
Friday, 29 March, 2019, 07:54
Berwick Academy.

The work of recently-appointed headteacher Tracy Hush and trustees in stabilising the school since it was placed in special measures is praised.

Inspectors conclude that while more needs to be done to remove this status, there has been an improved pace of change and they consider the school’s improvement plan fit for purpose.

They recognise that pupils’ behaviour continues to show signs of improvement and praise the ethos of mutual respect that permeates the school.

However, inspectors note there are still a minority who choose to misbehave. High absence rates remain a concern, along with the proportion of excluded pupils, while outcomes in some subjects are of grave concern.

Despite this, the inspectors say that Mrs Hush, still acting head at the time of inspection, ‘is providing much-needed strong and decisive leadership so the pace of improvement gathers urgent and necessary momentum.

‘The (acting) headteacher, ably supported by the assistant headteacher with responsibility for pupils’ outcomes, is vigorously introducing systems and processes to effect change and raise expectations at a more urgent pace. Together, they make a formidable team.

‘The (acting) headteacher’s conscientiously determined approach serves pupils, staff and the wider community well. For example, staff spoken to during the inspection have unequivocal confidence in her absility to move the school forward and raise expectations and standards.’

Inspectors report that senior leaders’ actions to improve lines of accountability are beginning to have a positive effect.

Safeguarding practices and procedures are also reported to have shown clear sign of improvement. Inspectors noted ‘an increased sense of vigilance across the school.’

The report adds: ‘The board of trustees, led by a knowledgable chair, are proud to represent the school and the local community. They show a firm commitment and determination to support and challenge leaders so that standards improve. They are resolute that the most appropriate and beneficial external support will be sought so that standards improve at a much-needed rapid pace.’

On teaching, inspectors note that ‘weaker teaching and inconsistencies remain and continue to hinder pupils’ learning.’

To address, this senior leaders have introduced a coaching programme so that individual teaching staff access bespoke support and guidance.

Observations of teaching indicated that, in the main, time is not used well enough.

‘As a result, pupils do not make appropriate gains in their learning or the progress they are capable of, particularly the most able pupils,’ the report states.

‘In some instances, the level of challenge for pupils in their learning is not high enough. This is particularly the case for the most able and the most able disadvantaged pupils.’

Intervention strategies are being put in place, particularly for Year 11 pupils, ‘so they have every opportunity to achieve success in the summer 2019 examinations.’

On pupil development and behaviour, inspectors report: ‘A large number of pupils work hard, try their best and show positive attitudes to learning. Staff praise this well and reward pupils appropriately.

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‘Unfortunately, there are still a minority who choose to misbehave and disrupt their own and others’ learning.

‘Leaders acknowledge that the proportion of pupils that have been excluded on a fixed-term basis is far too high.

‘Pupils’ absence remains a considerable concern. It shows little sign of improvement.’

Reporting on outcomes for pupils, inspectors conclude that ‘by the end of Year 11 in 2018, pupils’ outcomes, in the vast majority of subjects, remained inadequate’

‘Disadvantaged pupils’ outcomes, particularly in English, modern foreign languages and humanities subjects, are inadequate and of grave concern.

‘The (acting) headteacher and the assistant headteacher with responsibiluty for pupils’ outcomes are under no illusion that there is a lot of work to do so that pupils’ outcomes improve. The intervention strategies starting to take shape are credible and necessary. However, leaders are all levels are clear that they must monitor and evaluate the impact of such strategies so that long-term improvements are sustained.’

Berwick Academy was placed in special measures after Ofsted inspectors branded it inadequate in January 2018. Headteacher Alexis Widdowson resigned shortly before the report was published. Her deputy, Steve Wilkes, took on the acting headship until December when Mrs Hush assumed the role.

It continues to receive specialise external support in a number of areas and, in the longer term, Northumberland County Council has announced plans to invest £15million in new school buildings.

Mrs Hush, in a letter to parents, said: “The school is on a journey of improvement, having had some well documented difficulties. Real and genuine improvement takes time and a lot of hard work, and with your support I am confident that we will become outstanding at Berwick Academy.

“We know that there are still challenges ahead, with one or two areas still preventing us from moving out of special measures.

“Whilst the overall judgement is not what we would have wanted the report does make clear that the previous instability in leadership is the reason for the slowed pace. It also acknowledges that there has been a new momentum and the pace of change has quickened.”

Cath McEvoy-Carr, executive director of adult social care and children’s services at Northumberland County Council, said: “Turning a school around is not a quick process, and Berwick Academy is making good and positive progress in order to move towards educational excellence.

“We are certainly seeing some green shots of improvement after a lot of hard work by the newly formed board of trustees and the newly appointed head and her management team - all of which have been acknowledged by Ofsted.

“There are still challenges ahead but school leaders have a good awareness of these and the actions that are needed to address them. The inspector has said that the school’s improvement plan is fit for purpose and this along with a new action plan are ensuring that progress is made.

“The council is pleased to be providing support to the school on its improvement journey, working with the governing body and the Regional Schools Commissioner with the aim of significantly improving outcomes at Berwick Academy.

“The school has the potential to be a provider of great education for young people in Berwick and the council is committed to helping to achieve this.”