Downham Preparatory and Montessori Nursery’s legal battle over ‘inaccurate’ Ofsted report

Mrs Laffeaty-Sharpe cooking lunch for pupils during the cold snap earlier this year. Picture: Ian Bu

Mrs Laffeaty-Sharpe cooking lunch for pupils during the cold snap earlier this year. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Archant

A school took legal action against the education watchdog after it was branded inadequate.

Ofsted inspectors visited Downham Preparatory School and Montessori Nursery at Stow Bardolph, near Downham Market, in November.

They said leadership and management at the school, which has 114 pupils, were inadequate.

'The proprietor has not ensured that the school has kept up to date with changes to the legal requirements governing independent schools,' their report said. 'As a result, the school no longer meets all of the independent school standards.'

They added the school has breached its registration agreement. While it is registered for pupils aged two to 11 years old, five pupils are in year 7, meaning they are either 12 years old or will reach that age this academic year.

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Principal Elizabeth Laffeaty-Sharpe, who founded the school in 1984, said the findings were false and there were 17 factual errors in the report.

She obtained an injunction preventing the document from being published and was going to seek a judicial review. But the matter has now been settled out of court by the school agreeing for the report to be published on the understanding a second inspection will be carried out.

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'It's taken six months, £100,000 and a lot of sleepless nights,' said Mrs Laffeaty-Sharpe. 'We're just waiting for them to come back in now. The DfE (Department for Education) has flagged it up as urgent. We just want to get a new report. It's very damaging to us financially until we get a new report.'

In every other category, Downham Preparatory was rated good at November's inspection. At its last inspection, it was rated outstanding.

The latest inspectors' report said: 'The proprietor has created a welcoming and friendly school that pupils enjoy coming to.'

An Ofsted spokesman said: 'Ofsted inspected Downham Preparatory School and Montessori Nursery in November 2017. Publication of the report was delayed while the school pursued a legal challenge to the inspection findings, which they have now withdrawn by consent.

'When inspectors judge that an independent school has not met the independent school standards, the DfE usually commissions Ofsted to undertake a further visit to check whether it is meeting any unmet standards.'

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