New leaders restore pride at Sutton school after damning Ofsted criticism

A heavily-criticised school in Sutton is busy regaining its pride and vision after a damning report by Ofsted inspectors.

By Richard Silverwood
Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 10:40 am
The new leadership team that is having a big impact at Sutton Community Academy, from left, Steve Lee (assistant principal), Stacey Anderson-Gilling (safeguarding lead), Richard Fegan (vice-principal), Patrick Butterell (principal), and George Coles, Lewis Taylor and Michelle Harwood (all assistant principals).
The new leadership team that is having a big impact at Sutton Community Academy, from left, Steve Lee (assistant principal), Stacey Anderson-Gilling (safeguarding lead), Richard Fegan (vice-principal), Patrick Butterell (principal), and George Coles, Lewis Taylor and Michelle Harwood (all assistant principals).

Two years ago, the government’s education watchdog branded Sutton Community Academy as ‘Inadequate’, which is the lowest rating schools can be given, and judged it to have “serious weaknesses”.

But the latest of three monitoring studies by inspectors since then suggests the 720-pupil academy is bouncing back, despite problems posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The inspectors say the school’s new leadership team is “providing real impetus for improvement”.

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Sutton Community Academy, which is recovering well after a damning Ofsted report..

And that is also the message being pushed by those leaders who, after only five months at the helm, are already restoring confidence at the school.

"The academy has faced a series of challenges in recent years,” admitted George Coles, one of four assistant principals.

"Ofsted reports can have such a devastating and detrimental impact on a school’s reputation.

"But we want to get the message out there that we are back, and we have a plan.

"This is a great school, with great staff and great students. We are now going through a period of radical transformation.

"For example, when we were inspected by Ofsted during the most recent lockdown, we were praised for how we delivered remote learning.

"We have also secured significant financial investment to improve our school site and we are recruiting staff to join us on our journey of improvement.

"Because of the changes we are making, we are seeing much higher numbers of students applying to join us in year seven.

"Furthermore, we have advertised a number of jobs and have received a record-breaking number of applications.”

The Ofsted report of 2019 made for grim reading, with the quality of teaching, learning and assessment at the High Pavement school slammed as “inconsistent”. Pupils “did not always know how to improve their work”, it said.

Safeguarding arrangements were not effective, while leaders and trustees did not ensure that staff followed school policies.

The report also said truancy was above average, bullying was not resolved well and parents’ concerns were not responded to quickly enough.

The school, which has academy status in business, enterprise and the arts and boasts a 54-strong sixth form, is part of the Academy Transformation Trust, based in the West Midlands, which runs 21 schools across the country.

At the time of the Ofsted inspection two years ago, the principal was David Mackey. But in January this year, a new leadership team was installed, led by principal Patrick Butterell and vice-principal Richard Fegan.

Mr Coles and Lewis Taylor joined two existing assistant principals, Michelle Harwood and Steve Lee, while Stacey Anderson-Gilling was appointed the academy’s new safeguarding manager.

The impact they have made was acknowledged by Ofsted inspector Rachel Tordoff after her monitoring assessment last month.

She wrote: “Leaders and those responsible for governance are taking effective action to provide education in the current circumstances.

"The school’s safeguarding culture has improved significantly, and the trust has acted swiftly to rectify previous weaknesses.

"The new senior leaders have provided a real impetus for improvement.

"They have quickly identified the critical issues that need addressing and are making plans to resolve them.”

The inspector’s report did also highlight flaws that still need to be tackled. These included the planning of the curriculum and also support for pupils “in the earliest stages of being able to read”.

However, she praised the school for offering “significant help during the pandemic”, including buying devices that enabled pupils to learn remotely, and also financing meals for disadvantaged youngsters.

Overall, the changes had resulted in staff feeling optimistic and parents feeling positive about the future of the academy.

"For the first time since the bad Ofsted report, we are confident in the strategic direction of the school, and we are keen to capitalise on that,” Mr Coles continued.

“It has been tough for the new senior leaders, joining a school described as inadequate while also managing the challenges of Covid.

"For the first two months, only the children of key workers, as well as vulnerable pupils, were in school, and we didn’t even meet the teaching staff in person for several weeks. That was a unique challenge to navigate.

"But now everyone is back, although every year-group is in its own ‘bubble’.

"We have a clear plan of what we want to do, and the direction we want to take the school in.

"We have had a difficult time, but we have done so much work to make drastic improvements, so for Ofsted to validate that has been a real boost.”

Validation has also come from the government, after a fruitful visit to the school by Nick Gibb, Minister of States for School Standards, last month.

Further improvements at the academy include the renovation of the tired-looking school building, thanks to a multi-million pound investment from the trust.

Students and teachers now have access to the best technology to improve learning, while the English department has launched an initiative, called ‘Sutton Reads’, whereby a book has been bought for every pupil in years seven to ten to read with their tutor during morning registration

As part of the revolution, the school has even created a new ethos, ‘The Sutton Way’, which comprises a set of slogans to adhere to. This is part of an attempt to improve pupils’ behaviour and to develop their characters.

The slogans range from ‘We Believe In Ourselves’, ‘We Are Kind To People’ and ‘We Are Ambitious, Resilient And Determined’ to ‘We Work Hard’, “We Listen To And Respect Others’ and ‘We Take Pride In Our Appearance And Environment’.

Proof that ‘The Sutton Way’ is the way forward.