Hertsmere Jewish Primary School is putting new processes in place after receiving a damning Ofsted report.
The school received a rating of ‘Good’ in certain areas, but concerns relating to safeguarding holds the greatest weight for Ofsted, which resulted in an ‘Inadequate’ judgement.
“The school has failed to maintain a positive culture of safeguarding,” noted inspectors in a stinging summary following an inspection at the end of January 2019. “Too many members of the school and wider parent community are not confident to raise concerns about pupils’ wellbeing, therefore, leaders do not know if all pupils are safe.”
They added, “At all levels, including governance, professional and personal boundaries have been allowed to blur. Appropriate confidentiality has not been maintained.”
The ‘Inadequate’ rating is a far cry from five years ago when HJPS was rated an ‘Outstanding’ school.
Writing to parents with a detailed overview last Friday, Iain Blakeley, chair of Governors at HJPS, offered an “honest and as transparent” explanation of Ofsted’s judgement.
Acknowledging weakness raised by inspectors, the appointment of a new independent Headteacher, Mrs Alak-Levi, is set to bring “strong leadership” and a “no-nonsense approach” to professional standards.
New governors have also been appointed, including independent governors with no connection to the school, staff or parent body.
While changes are in its infancy, Mr Blakeley stressed that despite the Ofsted finding, children are safe at school.
“Our staff are well trained, our single central record and safeguarding files are excellent, we have robust policies in place to ensure children are well looked after, our children say they feel safe at school and the parent survey shows this too,” he said.
“We have no child protection issues at school. This is all apparent from the report. What we have fallen down on is process and culture within the school.”
It was not all bad news for the school as Mr Blakely pointed out to parents the report was “bursting” with examples of excellent work, practices and outcomes.
Parents praised support school leaders provide for pupils with special education needs (SEND).
Other highlights included ‘good’ quality of teaching, pupil behaviour, pupils achieved well at all key stages and early years provision is a strength of the school.
“Ultimately, pupils are happy, well behaved, feel safe and are achieving above average results, preparing them well for their continued education,” he said.
Nevertheless, the report makes stark reading for parents.
The summary showed the governing body had not fulfilled its responsibilities well enough, specifically with regard to providing effective strategic leadership.
On occasion, teachers did not set work suited to pupils’ abilities or interests, some pupils lost interest and did not make as much progress as they could.
And some important records, such as behaviour logs and records of concerns raised by members of the community were ineffectively kept. Some records were also missing.
Schools judged ‘Inadequate’ are given an automatic Academisation Order.
Prior to the Ofsted inspection, HJPS had been in discussions to join a multi-academy trust as part of its strategic planning.
“80% of state funded secondary schools in Hertfordshire are academies and primary schools are heading the same way,” Mr Blakeley noted. “We see this as a big step forward for the school and are very excited for the future. We are working closely in conjunction with the Local Authority and our Foundation Body, the United Synagogue, to work through the practicalities of this academisation.”
In the short term though, in accordance with the Education Act 2005, HJPS requires significant improvement as it is performing “significantly less well” than it might in all circumstances reasonably be expected to perform.
As a matter of urgency the report calls for school leaders to ensure pupils are safeguarded by creating an open culture in which community members have confidence concerns will be managed professionally, governors maintain professional boundaries and appropriate confidentiality, records are kept in line with best practice and teachers set work matched to pupils’ interests and abilities.
Parents were invited to attend a meeting on Wednesday to hear from the school’s leadership and stakeholders about immediate actions.
By Howard Lawrence