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Melksham schools to leave academy trust after ‘cloak and dagger’ closure

PARENTS have criticised the lack of information available following the news that the Academy Trust of Melksham (AToM) is to close following ‘difficulties’ after last year’s damning Ofsted reports.

All eight schools – Melksham Oak, Seend Primary School, Bowerhill Primary School, St Mary’s in Broughton Gifford, Shaw Primary School, St. George’s Primary School, The Manor Primary School, Forest and Sandridge Primary School – will leave AToM by the end of the summer and will join The White Horse Federation, a Multi Academy Trust based in Swindon which already oversees other schools in Wiltshire and further afield.

The ‘difficulties’ experienced by AToM are said to have started after the publication of Ofsted reports last year in April, which heavily criticised teaching standards, leadership and management in six of the schools. Seven of the eight AToM schools were inspected by Ofsted with two rated ‘inadequate’, four rated ‘requires improvement’ and just one rated as ‘good’.

The White Horse Federation have held meetings at several of the schools but as of yet, there appears to be no official statement issued by The White Horse Federation, or the old AToM, leaving many parents in the dark.

Parents have struggled to get more information and it is unclear what the ‘difficulties’ are, which have caused the breakdown of the academy trust.

At the time of going to press, there is nothing on the White Horse Federation website about the Melksham schools joining, and Melksham News has been unable to get a comment.

The CEO of the Federation, Dr Nick Capstick, is also the interim CEO for AToM. Melksham News has reached out on a number of occasions to Dr Capstick and the federation for comment. An employee of the federation told us, “The enquiry is with Dr Capstick and our press team and it is up to them whether or not to release a statement.”

One parent told Melksham News, “It’s all very cloak and dagger – the Academy Trust of Melksham should have officially told all parents and reassured us that everything will be OK.

“The Academy Trust was set up to benefit Melksham children but has failed large numbers of children from Melksham, which has been  highlighted by Ofsted. This new academy trust has schools all over Wiltshire, Gloucester, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. How do we know Melksham children will be its priority?

“I do feel let down by the Academy Trust of Melksham; they should have come out with a statement explaining what they are doing and why and issued it to all parents in Melksham in the schools affected.”

Melksham News tried to contact the CEO of  AToM listed on the academy trust website, Anna Willcox (headteacher of Forest and Sandridge), for more information but was told that Mrs Willcox is no longer the CEO of the  academy trust.

Ofsted reports – what’s happened next?

It’s been 14 months since the Ofsted reports graded Seend Primary School as ‘good’; Bowerhill Primary School, Melksham Oak,  St Mary’s in Broughton Gifford, and Shaw Primary School as ‘requires improvement’  and St. George’s Primary School and The Manor as ‘inadequate’ placing them into ‘special measures’.

Forest and Sandridge Primary School was last inspected in 2014 by Ofsted and was rated ‘good’.

According to Ofsted, the schools graded as ‘requires improvement’ will usually have a full re-inspection after around two years. Whilst schools rated ‘requires improvement’ are subject to monitoring inspections until the school can be removed from ‘special measures’ and a full inspection can be scheduled.

Melksham News approached St George’s Primary School and The Manor Primary School – which were deemed inadequate –  for an update on their progress since the Ofsted reports – and Melksham Oak as Melksham’s only secondary school.

This is what they had to say:

Melksham Oak

Headteacher of Melksham Oak, Stephen Clark, said, “It has been a year full of hard work and challenge for Melksham Oak after the Ofsted in April 2017.

“We introduced the Year of Pride and Progress in June 2017 which focused on our pupils consistently producing their best work. We are certain that both pupils and parents could comment positively on the impact of this initiative, Visits by a number of external agencies have also confirmed the positive impact of this and we are building on this in the academic year 2018-19.

“Despite the Ofsted judgement, our year groups did well and as in five of the six previous years, the Year 11 pupils who left us in the summer did so having achieved above national average progress for their GCSE results, which in 2017 placed us 12th in all secondary schools in Wiltshire.

“Our sixth formers also did themselves proud, especially those who had applied through the UCAS process for university places, with all of those students securing a place at either their first or second choice university.

“We have maintained our focus on our students’ personal development. It’s been a fantastic year for pupils who have taken part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme. At the end of the summer term over 45 students successfully completed their Bronze or Silver expeditions and over 60 new students have signed up to complete their Award over the next year. As well as completing the expedition, students volunteered over 370 hours of their time, helping out in the local community.

“On the Performing Arts front, the school’s production of ‘Disco Inferno’ proved a huge success. Seeing more than fifty pupils, from all years, dancing, singing and acting their way through a raft of 70s disco classics was wonderful for parents and staff. It is events and productions such as this which showcase the superb range of talent that we have amongst our pupils and gives them opportunities to be a part of a new and different experience that they will remember for many years to come.

“We have also experienced great success on the sports fields, athletics tracks and indoor arenas. Amongst our pupils we have area, county, regional and even national champions in sports as wide-ranging as football, athletics, cross country and taekwan-do.”

St George’s Primary School

Headteacher Jackie Chalk, who is also the head of Seend Primary School, joined the team in September last year to help steer the school in a new direction. Since publication of the report, the school has had two monitoring inspections by Ofsted.

Mrs Chalk reports, “The staff at St George’s have worked extremely hard this year to try to address the concerns raised in the Ofsted report that put the school in ‘special measures’. As all teaching staff were new, it was a matter of quickly forming a team, and an agreed approach so that we could raise expectations and deliver targeted learning to fill in the gaps.

“We are encouraged that our efforts have been acknowledged by the HMI inspector in our two monitoring visits so far with comments like, “Leaders’ vision and appetite for improvement are relentless. The headteacher and senior teacher continue to show the tenacity and ambition to tackle weaknesses and secure the necessary improvements in teaching, learning and assessment.” And, “Pupils have positive attitudes in lessons. They are happy, keen and motivated.. Pupils say they feel safe. They are fully aware of what bullying is and are confident that this is not an issue in the school. Pupils and parents continue to be proud of their school.”

“The report has clearly highlighted two areas that need to be improved which is the teaching of phonics and the provision for SEN children and this is already being addressed.

“All SATs and assessments have been completed this year and it looks like we are going to be at least in line with National expectations (and in some even higher) in most if not all areas. This is in sharp contrast to last year when the Early Years data for example, was the lowest in the county!

“As of September, Mrs Hunt, the current year 5/6 teacher, will become head of school and will be responsible for the day to day running of the school whilst I will be taking an executive headship role, setting the strategic direction of the school and ensuring agreed polices and approaches are adhered to.

“This will also allow me to spend a little more time back at Seend School than I have this year. We have also secured the funding to run a 4th class for a second year, meaning that no classes is currently higher that 24. Our number on role in September is predicted at 86 which is a 10% increase compared to this year, which has already seen a 10% increase despite being in ‘special measures’. We have a full complement of 15 coming in September and I am already showing parents round for the following year!

“We are confident that next year, our continued determination and hard work will see the school come out of ‘special measures’.”

The Manor Primary School

No update was received direct from The Manor Primary School before the paper went to press.

But The Manor has had two monitoring inspection visits since last April and their latest inspection report, published on the Ofsted website on Friday 29th June says, “Leaders and managers are taking effective action towards the removal of special measures. The school’s improvement plan is fit for purpose.”

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