'Children in Ellesmere Port deserve better', the town’s MP insists.
After an Ofsted report branded the flagship £25m University Church of England Academy inadequate and placed it in special measures, MP Justin Madders (Lab) is calling for Government action to return the troubled school to the borough council.
His concerns are destined for education secretary Justine Greening’s in tray after the school received its second inadequate finding from education watchdogs in only four years.
The MP is calling for responsibility for the school to be removed from the University of Chester Academies Trust (UCAT) – which itself has been criticised by Ofsted – and returned to Cheshire West and Chester Council.
Pointing out there has been ‘a clear deterioration in standards’ since a ‘requires improvement’ report in 2015, Mr Madders explains that unlike UCAT, which has only one ‘good’ school in the seven it controls, more than 90% of Cheshire West and Chester schools are ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and none are ‘inadequate’.
Mr Madders said: “I am extremely disappointed that parents and children in Ellesmere Port have been failed yet again following a second ‘inadequate’ report in just four years.
“What concerns me most is the fact that the University of Chester Academies Trust has shown itself to be completely incapable of turning struggling schools around.
“I do not believe that they have learned anything at all from a succession of poor reports into the schools that they lead and I am left with no confidence in their continued leadership of the academy in Ellesmere Port.”
He emphasised: “I know that there are a number of excellent and very committed teachers at the school who are working extremely hard and doing their best for the children that they teach.
“Sadly they have been let down by frankly indefensible failings in leadership. We were very fortunate to receive significant investment in a newly built school but modern buildings are not enough if the standard of teaching within them is not up to scratch.
“Enough is enough – children in Ellesmere Port deserve better.
“I believe that the time has come for the Government to intervene and oversee some significant changes in the way that the school is led including returning it to the local authority.”
'Systematic and enduring failings'
In his letter, Mr Madders tells the secretary of state: “There have been systematic and enduring failings in leadership, both within UCEA and more widely within the University of Chester Academies Trust.
“Regrettably, the issues that have been identified in successive Ofsted reports have significantly deteriorated rather than showing any signs of progress.
“It is therefore clear that as long as the current governance arrangements remain in place, children attending the school will continue to be deprived of the opportunities that they should be entitled to.”
He describes the recent Ofsted report as ‘completely unacceptable in every area’ and adds: “Worryingly, the report also confirms that some sixth form classes only have one pupil which raises question marks about the sustainability of further education for young people in my constituency.”
In June 2015 UCAT, was ranked at the bottom of a league table compiled by the education secretary’s department for England’s 20 large academy chains, says Mr Madders ‘and I have seen nothing to indicate that this position has improved’.
He concludes: “If this was the record of a council, I have little doubt that your officials would already be on the scene preparing for academy conversions.
“So the question has to be – how many more times does this trust have to fail in its responsibilities to our children before we say that enough is enough?
“Failing to act would be to fail another generation of children in my constituency, something which I am not prepared to accept,” insists Mr Madders.
He says he would welcome the opportunity to meet with the education secretary ‘to discuss this matter further’.
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman believes the smaller than average secondary school is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and those at the top, including governors, are not able to make the necessary improvements.
Ofsted inspectors concluded the school and its main features are all inadequate apart from the sixth form which requires improvement.
On the other side of the coin there are pockets of good practice in teaching and in those subjects which are taught well pupils enjoy learning and make good progress.
The watchdog believes the school should take action on 20 aspects to improve and should undertake two external reviews.
What the academy says
In a statement, the academy referred to ‘a joint approach to delivering better results’.
It said: “The University of Chester, as sponsor of the University Church of England Academy (UCEA), is addressing the need for rapid and sustained progress, following the Ellesmere Port school’s latest Ofsted report.”
New executive principal Cath Green, a former vice principal at Whitby Road who arrived five days before the Ofsted inspection, wrote to students, staff, parents and carers and governors saying: “UCEA has considerable potential.
“Although the Ofsted headlines make difficult reading we know from experience with all the other secondary schools across UCAT, which are showing real signs of improvement, that positive change is possible.”
She added: “I will work relentlessly alongside the staff at the academy to ensure that every young person has the right climate for learning so that they can realise their potential.”