In response to the public letter issued by the staff body of The Whitehaven Academy, the Trust wishes to ensure that the facts around some of the issues raised are more accurately represented.
The Whitehaven Academy was inspected by Ofsted in October 2016. At the point of writing this letter the official Ofsted report* has not actually been released and therefore we are not legally able to comment on the outcome of the inspection until the report is published.
However, as this is now being raised in a more public forum we can only respond to the concerns raised.
Whilst we are disappointed with the outcome of the Ofsted inspection for The Whitehaven Academy, it is one we will accept and from which we will move forward.
There is no doubt that the school has faced many historic challenges, which date back to before the school joined Bright Tribe. The Trust will be the first to agree that the infrastructure and classroom environments have meant that we have not been able to make the advancements in teaching and learning which we are achieving in our other schools. This is a source of great disappointment and frustration to us. The inherited condition of the school estate is an area we have been relentless in lobbying for support. One of our biggest challenges remains raising the capital to build a new school.
To date the Trust has applied for multiple grant funding schemes from the Education Funding Agency, all of which have been rejected.
Despite these setbacks the Trust have overseen a number of building improvement projects. Due to the poor state of the base facilities at the point of transfer to the Trust, these improvements have predominantly been focused on ‘invisible’ works to ensure basic statutory compliance. These include; DDA compliance, safe gas systems, boiler replacement and refurbishment, replacement of collapsed drainage systems, updated asbestos surveys and registers, canteen refurbishment, improvements to sports pitches (which had been water logged and unusable for years) as well improved site security and installation of fences to support safeguarding of children on site.
These are not projects which will radically change our school learning environment but have been absolutely necessary to create a safe and secure environment for our students and staff. Because of these works we are fully statutory compliant. This has been validated by recent site audits from the Department for Education.
This investment to date is in the region of £400,000. Other major works are planned over the Christmas period and will shortly commence on site, and this includes the window replacement and roof works. This will see a further investment of £500,000 in building improvements over the next 12 months. However, whilst these works are necessary and will lead to visible improvements, we continue to champion the case for the radical premises investment clearly required at the school.
It is disappointing that the images shared as part of the staff body’s letter are misrepresentative. The majority either show areas of the school which have been closed due to decreased pupil numbers to proactively save school funds in maintaining unused areas of the school site, or are of windows which will be replaced as part of a phased plan commencing next month.
Instead of ‘damning’ the Trust we urge our colleagues to recognise the facts outlined above and work together to address the real issues identified in the Ofsted report.
When we first brought the school into the Trust it was made clear that this would be a 5-year turnaround challenge. The Ofsted review recognised the many improvements recently made, and feedback was given that we have ‘moved mountains’ with regards to establishing a good foundation for success in all areas.
Our new Principal Warren Turner was highly praised during the Ofsted review for his inspirational leadership, the significant progress he has made, his engagement with parents and the improvement to staff morale. Mr Turner has expressed his full gratitude for the support the Trust has provided to him and the school, and he has every confidence in us to improve teaching and learning and give the children and the community of Whitehaven the great school they deserve.
Many of the improvements made have seen huge impact already. Since the start of the new academic year, in six weeks alone, attendance is the highest in seven years and well above national average. There has also been a clear focus on improving behaviour and safeguarding across the school and implementing systems to monitor impact and quality at all levels.
The Trust and Principal recognise the areas of improvement identified in the Ofsted review and have rigorous rapid school improvement plans in place to begin to tackle these issues.
It is encouraging that our staff agree wholeheartedly with the Ofsted findings so that they too can address concerns around the quality of teaching and learning, clear curriculum and evidence of progress for students. New performance arrangements for staff are robust and we hope this is welcomed by staff so that they can support continual improvement in the standards of teaching.
It is clear that our staff are passionate about our school and its need to improve, however, we are disappointed that staff have chosen this forum to express their concerns. The success of the school improvement journey for The Whitehaven Academy is not down to one entity or individual. It is down to the commitment and performance of our whole Trust, school leadership, teaching and support staff. We must all take personal responsibility and pride in our role in raising standards for our students. This is something we must all be held to account for. This is especially true for those members have staff who have been at the school for a number of years.
Moving forward, under the leadership of Warren Turner the school is improving. With the support of the Trust and our school team, we must all give an absolute commitment to improving standards and outcomes for our students.
In other areas of the Trust and our sister Trust, Adventure Learning Academy Trust, we continue to make rapid progress on our school improvement programme as evidenced by improving GSCE and primary results, and most notably this year with Alde Valley Academy (based in Leiston in Suffolk) being recognised as the most improved school in the county.
We have an excellent team across the country supporting our schools and strong leadership and staffing structures in place within each academy. We are seeing huge progress in these schools with many now seen as the school of choice in their areas.
We are using expertise from these schools to support our work in Whitehaven.
We urge our staff body at The Whitehaven Academy to take stock of the facts and direct their concerns to the Principal rather than waste time and resources which could be focused in supporting the school improvement activities, which are clearly starting to already make an impact.
Both the Principal and Trust will continue to progress and implement whatever changes are necessary to provide all our students with opportunities to reach their potential.
Mr Turner has made himself available to discuss these matters with staff.
Chief Operating Officer
*The Whitehaven Academy’s Ofsted report was subsequently published on 25th November 2016 at 15:00PM.