Governor admits scrutiny failures as Ofsted releases damning report on free school

IES Breckland school in Brandon. Principal Alison Tilbrook.

IES Breckland school in Brandon. Principal Alison Tilbrook. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

IES Breckland Free School's leadership has admitted that failures in recruitment and scrutiny were at the root of the school's failure after a damning inspection report was released.

Ofsted's report into the Brandon school, run by Swedish for-profit education provider International English Schools (IES), found the school had the worst possible performance in every category and placed it into special measures.

IES runs the school on behalf of Sabres Educational Trust on a 10-year contract worth £21m.

The school's chairman of governors, Kate Curtis, said yesterday that the blame for the school's performance lay at IES' door and admitted it had been given too much leeway to run the school in the past.

'IES are responsible for the running of the school as the education provider.

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'We had a lot of new governors in place who were all extremely willing but there weren't robust enough systems in place.

'We now need to tighten up monitoring systems, hold the principal to account and make sure the improvement plans that have been set out are implemented,' she said.

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Jonathan Howell, spokesman for IES, said problems at the school had escalated at the start of its second year as the school expanded.

That led to an increase in staff numbers and exposed weaknesses in the school's recruitment process, according to Mr Howell.

Since then, nine teachers have joined and subsequently left the school – an issue flagged up by Ofsted as causing 'serious disruption'.

Alison Tilbrook, who joined as principal in January, after inspectors had visited, said recruitment of more experienced staff was now its priority and that 'common sense' solutions were required.

She has already recruited three members of staff from her former school, Iceni Academy in Methwold.

'We're definitely moving towards more experienced teachers. I'm not ruling out good quality NQTs (newly qualified teachers) but what I'm looking for is good quality teachers at every level.

'That's what has let the school down.

'The quality of teaching has not been what it needed to be and we need to improve it as it affects everything.

'I think we recognise that there was not a good enough recruitment process in place which has caused turbulence,' she said.

The school's poor performance has been exploited by critics, who say it is typical of the free school system's lack of oversight.

But Ms Tilbrook, who has taught for more than 35 years, denied the system was not stringent enough, despite IES Breckland's history.

'I think now there's less flexibility being part of an academy or free school.

'We have the sponsor and the governors and we are much more accountable than under a local authority. They were always less hands-on and a local authority headteacher has much more autonomy than a sponsored academy head.

'We have the freedom to bespoke what we teach and we try to ensure value for money, but the scrutiny is tighter.'

Mrs Tilbrook confirmed the school has received help from a Norfolk County Council advisor, John Woodhouse. The free school has been paying the council for his services.

Ofsted is expected to return to the school within six weeks for a follow-up inspection.

Do you think IES is capable of turning the school around? Who is to blame for the school's poor performance? Let us know by emailing reporter Andrew Fitchett on

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