Trust recovering from £1.2m deficit earns 'good' Ofsted rating for schools
PUBLISHED: 12:04 09 July 2019 | UPDATED: 13:21 10 July 2019
An education trust teaching vulnerable and excluded pupils across Norfolk is finally seeing a change in fortune after a period in which it was criticised by inspectors and rocked by financial problems.
The Short Stay School for Norfolk - which caters for pupils who have been excluded from mainstream schools and those with emotional and behavioural problems - has been judged to be good by Ofsted, with inspectors praising the pace of change under new leadership.
Run by the Drayton-based Engage Trust, the school comprises nine bases including the Douglas Bader School in Badersfield, Brooklands School in Gorleston, Locksley School in Norwich and the Compass, a partnership between Norfolk County Council and Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) which provides education and therapeutic support for children with mental health needs.
Following their latest visit in June, Ofsted inspectors said school leaders had "hastened the process of change" in the past year, bringing consistency to teaching and learning, improving results for children with special educational needs and disabilities and successfully returning more pupils to mainstream or specialist schools than ever before.
It has also managed to bring its rate of NEET (not in education, employment or training) school leavers down to zero.
Pupils told inspectors they felt listened to, safe and secure, while more were said to be developing a positive attitude to learning.
Glyn Hambling, interim chief executive of the Engage Trust, said the Short Stay School for Norfolk had been through a transformation since its previous inspection in 2017, when it was judged to require improvement across the board.
"It [the new report] is acknowledging that everything we have done to get us to this point has been done because it is best for the pupils in our provision," he said.
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"This is a springboard. This gives us the momentum to drive and continue with our successes.
"We are all in a really challenging educational climate but we are nimble enough to be able to respond."
Katrina Warren, head of Norfolk Short Stay Specialist Schools, and Rachel Thornberry, head of Norfolk Short Stay Schools said in a joint statement: "We have an incredible team of leaders and staff in each school who, day in, day out, come to work to make a difference to each of our pupils and give them a positive educational experience.
"The complexities and challenges of working with a number of pupils with a variety of needs should not be underestimated. We are proud to lead such a dedicated team of staff and together with them have been able to move the school forward since the last inspection."
In 2017 the Engage Trust was shaken by an investigation which found its former business director and chief executive had down-played a £1.2m hole in its finances.
Mr Hambling said that, while the aftermath of the investigation had been a difficult time, the financial strain had not affected its teaching or support for pupils.
Mr Hambling said a current priority for the Engage Trust was to increase its efforts to share best practice with mainstream schools on dealing with children who have been or are likely to be excluded.
"We accept there are financial pressures which make it difficult to strengthen your curriculum for everybody's needs but there is not a school out there that is not thinking creatively about the support for those children," he said.
"Children need leadership but they also need someone to care for them and advise them."