Struggling Thetford free school likely to stay in special measures

Des Reynolds, CEO of Engage Trust. Picture: SUBMITTED

Des Reynolds, CEO of Engage Trust. Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

Managers of a struggling free school for challenging pupils have been told by inspectors it is unlikely to be lifted out of special measures by next year without 'further prompt action to secure better behaviour'.

A report published by Ofsted this week found that The Pinetree School in Thetford, which has been in special measures since September 2015, was having improvements in teaching, learning and assessment 'undermined by significant weaknesses in the management of pupils' behaviour'.

The school, which caters for challenging pupils, opened in September 2013 as part of the government pioneering free school project and was supported by Elizabeth Truss MP, but was judged 'inadequate' in a report published by Ofsted two years later. It was taken on by the Norwich-based Engage Trust in March 2015.

After its latest monitoring inspection by the education watchdog in June, Her Majesty's Inspector John Mitcheson concluded that its leaders and managers 'are not taking effective action towards the removal of special measures'.

The latest report noted the 'unwillingness' of some of the most challenging pupils to 'respond positively to staff, adhere to school rules and apply themselves to learning'.

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It added that 'establishing clearer procedures for securing pupils' good behaviour remains the

school's top priority'.

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The report often attributed this bad behaviour and disruption to 'a small minority of pupils' with 'little regard for the school rules' who 'refused to engage in learning'.

Mr Mitcheson praised the school's headteacher Dr Tawanda Madhlangobe, for providing staff with 'clear, committed leadership' and her efforts to build relationships with pupils.

He added: 'Expectations of staff are higher. Your leadership is enabling them to grow in confidence and competence, and increase their effectiveness.'

Improvements in teaching were attributed to Dr Madhlangobe's regular monitoring and feedback.

Des Reynolds, CEO of Engage Trust, said: 'As a trust, obviously we were disappointed to read the comments in the most recent report, but we think it is really important to put those comments into the context of the journey of improvement for the school.

'Improvement is a challenging task, and when you lay on top of that working with some of the most complex young people in the local authority, it makes the task even more challenging.'

Mr Reynolds attributed much of the 'challenging behaviour' referenced in the Osfted report to a small group of new pupils who were still adjusting to the school.

'We feel that it is not truly reflective of the progress of the school over time, or of what the students, staff and parents experience on a day-to-day basis.

'We have considerable improvements to make at the school over the course of the next year, but we are still expecting that it will be on a trajectory to come out of special measures in the next 12 months,' he said.

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