Ellesmere Port’s flagship £25m University of Chester Church of England Academy has again been labelled ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.
The troubled school, which has just over 750 pupils, had the same rating in 2013 and has been placed in special measures by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman.
Ms 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.
The school, at a prominent gateway to the town centre, was intended to offer the prospect of a brighter future for students when it replaced Cheshire Oaks High School and the Ellesmere Port Specialist School of Performing Arts.
Then principal Kevin McDermott said: “I’m really excited about the fantastic educational opportunities that the academy will offer the young people of Ellesmere Port.” It had 950 pupils four years ago.
Executive principal brought in
Five days ahead of the inspection the school brought in an executive principal, Cath Green, principal of the University of Chester Academy Northwich and a former vice principal at Ellesmere Port, to work with head Iain Robinson.
At the Northwich academy’s most recent Ofsted in December, 2015 the school was said to require improvement although there were good aspects including leadership.
The academy has also published a pledge to students in response to the findings.
Ofsted inspectors concluded the school and its main features are all inadequate apart from the sixth form which requires improvement.
They say: “Leaders, including those responsible for governance, have not translated the vision and ambitions of the multi-academy trust into sustained or substantial improvements to the quality of education.
'Standards have deteriorated'
“The vast majority of areas for improvement identified in inspections since 2013 remain weaknesses. In some of these areas quality and standards have deteriorated.
“The quality and impact of senior and subject leadership are inconsistent across the school. Across most subjects too many pupils make slow progress and fall well behind other pupils nationally who achieved similar results at the end of Year 6.
“The actions taken by leaders and those responsible for governance to improve the achievement of disadvantaged and most-able pupils has made too little difference.”
Senior teachers have not placed sufficient importance on the development of basic literacy and numeracy skills across the curriculum and ‘far too much teaching and learning is ineffective’ failing to provide enough challenge, particularly for disadvantaged pupils and the most able.
Ofsted says: “Too many pupils do not attend school regularly enough. They miss important opportunities to learn and achieve their full potential.
“The behaviour of some pupils is poor and a significant number of lessons is disrupted.”
Pockets of good practice
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.
Senior teachers have a ‘realistic view’ of pupils’ outcomes and rates of progress and school leaders, including governors, ‘are under no illusions’.
“They recognise that the school is inadequate and that extensive change is needed to secure rapid improvement,” says Ofsted.
The watchdog believes the school should take action on 20 aspects to improve and should undertake two external reviews.
Last year, the school was found by Ofsted to be ‘coasting’ due to pupils’ weak progress over the previous three years.
There were only eight responses to Parent View, Ofsted’s online questionnaire and five other comments from parents were considered. There were only three responses to Ofsted’s online staff questionnaire.
Ofsted says that due to an administrative error by the school pupils were unable to complete Ofsted’s own questionnaire. Instead, inspectors considered responses to the school’s own questionnaire for pupils.
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.”
In response, it has strengthened UCEA’s senior management team by approving the appointment of an executive principal who will ensure the implementation of systems and processes which have moved the other three secondary academies in the University of Chester Academies Trust (UCAT) forward.
“Cath Green, principal of the University of Chester Academy Northwich (UCAN), is now in post and will work with leaders at UCEA and across UCAT to advance the improvements needed at Ellesmere Port collaboratively.
“In addition, subject experts from the university’s faculty of education and children’s services will be working with departments within UCEA to provide professional development for teachers.
“They will also work in partnership with UCAT staff to recruit and retain teachers for the multi-academy trust from the talent pool being generated within the university’s student body.”
'UCEA has considerable potential'
Writing to all students, staff, parents and carers and governors at the academy Mrs Green said: “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.
“My pledge will help to give us the incentive to achieve that change together as a community. It is a personal commitment to all pupils and their families at UCEA.
“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.
“My pledge is intended to drive the academy forward with alacrity.”
Linda Rowe, chief executive of UCAT, which was itself criticised by Ofsted earlier this year, added: “Ofsted acknowledges that UCEA and its governors recognise that ‘extensive change is needed to secure rapid improvement’ and that there are ‘pockets of good practice in teaching’, in which pupils ‘enjoy learning and make good progress’.
“I have every confidence that Cath, with the support of principal Iain Robinson and the senior leadership team, can apply those systems and standards consistently across UCEA that have led to improvements in the other schools within our trust.”