Staffordshire University Academy: No sour grapes over inadequate Ofsted report
“It does not feel like a school in special measures.”
That was the view of one teacher as they walked around Staffordshire University Academy, and it is difficult to argue otherwise.
Walking into the modern reception and being greeted by friendly smiles and warm hellos, it feels like a school at the higher end of the Ofsted ranking table, not the lower.
But regardless of how it feels, SUA, on Marston Road in Hednesford, is a school that has been rated inadequate - the lowest rating possible. It joins the likes of Willenhall E-Act Academy, dubbed the worst school in Britain, in the special measures category.
“We are dead proud of the progress we are making,” headteacher Rowena Hillier tells the Express & Star after inviting the paper in for a sit down chat as part of the 600-pupil school’s open doors policy.
Dead proud of what? The cynics might ask. Dead proud of the inadequate teaching? Or maybe dead proud of the inadequate behaviour of pupils? Dead proud of taking the school from requires improvement to special measures?
No, what Mrs Hillier is ‘dead proud’ of is a surge in the success of results.
Basics, which is the number of pupils at GCSE achieving A*- C in both English and maths, has gone from 29 per cent in 2015 to 48 per cent last summer.
Progress 8, the measure of a pupils average GSCE grade across a set suite of eight subjects, has moved from -0.36 to -0.18, while progress 8 for disadvantaged pupils has gone from -0.93 to -0.55.
Ofsted might have noted in its report that pupils were throwing missiles and using homophobic slurs, and it might have rated the school inadequate in every category bar one, but what it does not give is context. Context to these incidents and context to the report itself.
As Mrs Hillier explains: “Two years ago we were inspected and that was when I was new to leadership as headteacher. I joined four years ago as deputy head but it was two and a half years ago I was made headteacher.
“Roughly five months into me being headteacher we were inspected, and on that occasion we got a requires improvement judgement overall with a good judgement for leadership. Nothing has changed in the senior leadership team since then apart from one colleague who has joined us. Because we had had two requires improvement judgements in a row we couldn't be given a third. The feeling we got from the inspection team is that we still require improvement and we aren’t really an inadequate school.
“We are particularly concerned by the behaviour judgement, as it is not a fair reflection of the children’s behaviour. The inspection happened on the second day after a two-week Easter break and by my own admission to the lead inspector I was concerned there might be some disruption while children were getting back into routines.
“In the report it talked about missiles being thrown and that was a glue stick and a ruler being thrown in one maths lesson.
“The homophobic slur mentioned in the report was a throwaway comment. The teacher dealt with it immediately and reprimanded the pupil in front of the whole class. They set a detention and spoke to the class about how unacceptable the comment was. It was a one-off and is absolutely not typical of the children at this academy. The children at this academy are inclusive and look after each other.”
So everything is fine at the school and it should be at least rated good? Not by any stretch. Mrs Hillier freely admits the school needs to improve and has put a raft of measures in place to see the improvement.
She said: “We have always said that our outcomes, although improving, need to be better. We want to improve the life chances of our youngsters.
“Maths is going to be our focus as it is still not good enough. All our documentation is very honest about where we are, although we are making lots of progress there are some areas where we need to put more support in.
“We have made some changes to our senior leadership team. We have taken on an additional vice-principal whose focus will purely be on achievement and intervention, which is key to the report because it talked a lot about disadvantaged children and their progress.
“We have two directors of learning who have responsibilities for continuing our drive forward for learning.
“Both us and the trust have commissioned the work of Challenging Education, which will be working with the senior leadership team looking specifically at data and working closely with the middle leaders of the academy.
“We have already got our review of governance underway, which was one of the recommendations in the report, and we already have in motion the pupil premium review, which will happen early September. We are fully staffed for September and that is very important.
“We have been very pro-active.”
These changes are on top of a new parent forum meeting and a new heads of year system being put in place.
But is the school just doing all of this because Ofsted has told it to? The answer is a clear no.
As Mrs Hillier points out: “There is some comments in the report about ‘almost no music or drama’ being taught but irrespective of that we had already appointed an outstanding head of faculty for creative arts before the inspection, who will be joining us in September.
“The cynic might think we are doing all these things because of Ofsted but we were doing them anyway.”
Despite what will appear to many as an incredibly harsh Ofsted report, Mrs Hillier pledged there are ‘no sour grapes’, saying she and her staff accept Ofsted's judgement, but vowing the school will be out of special measures ‘as quick as physically possible’.