Special school told to improve by Ofsted

March 24 2017

A SCHOOL for children with special needs, which faced closure a year ago, remains in need of improvement, Ofsted says.

A SCHOOL for children with special needs, which faced closure a year ago, remains in need of improvement,  Ofsted says.

Inspectors visited St Christopher’s school on The Downs in Westbury Park and ruled that leadership, the quality of teaching and pupil outcomes all needed to get better.

The independent school teaches 27 children with severe and complex learning difficulties, including autism spectrum disorder, global developmental delay, epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

Most of the youngsters, who are aged between five and 19, also live on site in residential buildings.

Principal Louise Tully-Middleton said: “It is still less than a year since Aurora took over ownership of St Christopher’s and in that time good progress has been made to raise the quality of care and education provided, but more still needs to be done.

“When Aurora decided to acquire St Christopher’s School the school was losing money and was heavily in debt and had slipped into Inadequate rating with Ofsted and the trustees had decided to give notice to parents and local authorities of closure in March 2016.

“We knew when we took over that there were challenges and that it would take time, investment and we would need to make significant changes to turn the fortunes of the school around.  

“This new report recognises that we are on a clear pathway to success and highlights important issues that need to be addressed.”

The school was taken over by the Aurora Group, which runs seven special schools across the country, and since then a redevelopment programme has been underway to modernise the school and residential buildings. So far £700k has been spent in the last seven months.

As well as bespoke classrooms, the £79k-a-year school boasts a hydrotherapy pool, climbing wall and sensory garden.

The Ofsted inspectors spotted many positives about the school, with the report stating: “Pupils receive some very exciting and suitably demanding teaching. However, this is not consistently the case.

“Staff care about the pupils in the school and get to know their characters. They work hard to help pupils who are anxious or distressed.”

But the report also noted that maths and English tuition wasn’t good enough, and that pupils are helped too much and not given enough chance to do things for themselves. Inspectors also heard that some parents were not happy with changes at the school since the Aurora Group took over.

Mrs Tully-Middleton said: “We are confident that the ambitious improvements we are currently implementing will lead to the delivery of an Outstanding rated school. 

“The Aurora Group has already committed £4.5m investment to improving the infrastructure at St Christopher’s with renovations and improvements to the teaching and residential accommodation and the outdoor space.  Sea Mills House, formerly the closed Alveston House, is now open and occupied and sets the bar for the quality of accommodation children will be living in.

“We’ve allocated a further £500,000 for staff training and development which is essential to being able to meet needs and enable the children to achieve their full potential and prepare them for adulthood.

“Since September, we have welcomed 37 new care staff to St Christopher’s and although Ofsted noted an over-reliance on agency staff which we agree with, we’ve reduced this in January to 7.6% of total hours from 10% in December.

“Our training programme has been developed to include awareness and specialist training relating to special educational needs, with particular focus on the areas of designation for the school.”