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Inadequate Meopham school criticised by Ofsted over lack of safeguarding

PUBLISHED: 07:00 18 March 2019

Helen Allison School in Meopham is a specialist school for children with autism. Photo: Google Maps

Helen Allison School in Meopham is a specialist school for children with autism. Photo: Google Maps

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A specialist school for autistic children has been graded as Inadequate by Ofsted with inspectors saying students are not being kept "safe".

The education watchdog sends inspectors into schools to come up with assessments in several categories.

The Helen Allison School in Longfield Road, Meopham, was rated inadequate in effectiveness of leadership; personal development, behaviour and welfare; sixth form provision; and overall experience and progress of children and young people in the residential provision. Inadequate is the lowest of Ofsted’s four levels.

It was rated as good in quality of teaching and outcomes for pupils.

This is down from an overall Outstanding from previous inspections in 2016 and 2012.

The Ofsted inspectors’ latest report has harsh criticism, concluding its “safeguarding culture is weak. Leaders do not challenge each other to make the best decisions to keep pupils safe.

“Recordkeeping and monitoring are poor. The proprietor has failed to ensure that systems are in place to keep pupils safe.

“The proprietor has lacked capacity to support and challenge the school effectively in recent years.

“Pupils’ personal development and welfare are inadequate as the school does not take effective steps to protect pupils from the risk of harm. This also applies to sixth form students.”

The proprietor is the National Autistic Society.

Ofsted says: “Some staff have little faith in the ability of leaders to improve the school. Other staff feel unsupported by leaders, especially when dealing with pupils’ challenging behaviour.”

It adds: “There are significant weaknesses in the leadership of the residential provision. The school does not meet the national minimum standards for residential special schools.”

There are positives too. Inspectors noted: “Assessment information is used well to plan teaching that meets the needs of individual pupils. Pupils generally make good progress from their starting points. However, the most able do not achieve as well as they could.”

And: “Pupils transfer successfully to a range of providers for the next stage of their education.

“This is because they are well prepared by a very strong and effectively planned curriculum. Pupils’ behaviour is good overall. They mostly enjoy school and attend regularly.”

Ofsted supplied a list of recommendations, including the need to “urgently improve safeguarding procedures”, plus “ensure that the proprietor effectively challenges and supports the school to improve by developing clear lines of accountability and governance”.

It should also “improve leadership and management”.

The school takes mixed gender students aged between five and 19.

The report says there were 81 students on the school roll, including three boarders.

Fees for boarders are between £45,000 and £219,000 a year.

In response, Kirstie Fulthorpe, the National Autistic Society’s new director of education, said: “Everyone involved in the school is deeply disappointed that we’ve fallen short of the high standards we, our students and their families expect.

“The safety of our children and young people has to be the foundation of everything we do. But, as the report highlights, there were unacceptable weaknesses in the school’s safeguarding systems and processes.

“We kept children safe, but inadequate recording and reporting meant that we weren’t doing everything we should have been to reduce the risk that they might come to harm.

“Despite identifying many strengths regarding the pupils’ learning, progress and our curriculum offer, these weaknesses meant that the school is currently judged to be inadequate.

“We took immediate action to start addressing the concerns raised by Ofsted and make sure that there is a strong culture of safeguarding for everyone at the school. This included reviewing and updating all our systems and processes.

“We always want to be as open as possible and reached out to the parents, carers and students as soon as we could to explain what we’re doing to improve.

“We have a strong community of staff, students and their families at the school. Together, we are determined to make sure we are a great school.”

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