Left in limbo: Specialist school for excluded pupils still unsure of its fate

The CE Academy's future is hanging in the balance

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The head teacher of the county’s flagship campus for excluded children says she still does not know the fate of her organisation following a bad Ofsted.

Last month the Northamptonshire Local Education Authority (LEA) told Bobby Kelly they would be removing the majority of children from the Complementary Education (CE) Academy following an inadequate judgement after a visit this summer.

The school, which was previously rated as outstanding, was judged as inadequate in safeguarding due to inspectors finding the academy, which has nine campuses across Northants, did not always check on the attendance of pupils.

But four weeks on the school is still unsure of what is to happen and despite being told by the local authority that around 60 pupils would be removed from across its campuses because they were deemed at high or medium risk, so far just five pupils have been moved to other schools.

The academy, which says the safeguarding issue was largely an admin error and that none of its pupils have come to any harm due to its practices, is still also waiting for the local education’s safeguarding director to make a visit to the school. 

They understand this is the officer who can make a recommendation to start referring pupils back to their school again. They are also yet to hear back from the area’s regional school’s commissioner Dame Kate Etheridge after sending her an action plan about changes following Ofsted’s recommendation. (The commissioner’s role is to oversee standards in academies.) 

Bobby, who has been leading the school for 20 years considers the matter a ‘stitch up’ and thinks the removal of pupils is largely being driven by financial considerations.

The LEA has been overspending in its high needs provision for many years and needs to reduce its spending significantly.

She said:

“We are in absolute limbo. We have had nothing from the regional schools commissioner - we have had nothing from anyone. The budget is £4m overspent. They have looked at us and thought that is £1m we can save”.

The CE Academy is funded by the Department for Education through an existing agreement for placements of 230 pupils and then the LEA pays top up fees (in the region of £10,000) for every student it has placed with it. Bobby says without the LEA top up funding the academy will only be able to remain open until next Spring.

The decisions appear to have been made partly by interim assistant directors of education Anne Marie Dodds and Chris Kiernan (who are both working for the authority on a consultancy rate of several hundred pounds per day) in tandem with the county’s director of education Cathi Hadley. 

Councillors have asked questions about the decision to remove students from CE Academy following our exclusive story last month as until this point the decision to remove pupils from a school which consistently outperforms other providers for academic results, had not been scrutinised.

NN Journal has seen a briefing note sent to councillors by Cathi Hadley which says the authority has had concerns about CE academy since 2020 and had raised them with the regional school’s commissioner.

It says:

“We have spoken to the RSC several times. We have expressed our considered position of no confidence in the current leadership and Governors/Board to be able to manage and resolve the safeguarding issues. We have offered our full support and wish to be part of the solution and any improvement plan going forward.”

Bobbie Kelly says she was not aware of this concern dating back to 2020 and had not been informed by the LEA of any concerns. It was only when the Ofsted report happened in September that any safeguarding concerns were raised. She says the LEA has also not offered any support and instead of checking whether the actions required by Ofsted have been made, she says instead the LEA prefers to publicly criticise her academy, which has always been rated good or above for teaching standards.

Unlike many other alternative provisions the school has specialist teaching staff and the children are taught in small class sizes with very many going on to get good GCSE grades.

It is understood a review of alternative provision in the county is currently taking place looking at the numbers of pupils who are taught outside mainstream education and new ways of working.

Currently the LEA uses 13 different alternative provision organisations to school the county’s children who are not in education, including the Lisa Lashes School of Music in Northampton, which was founded by a former international DJ.

Shadow member for children and young people Labour’s Cllr Leanne Buckingham says more answers are needed from the senior education officers.

“I think there needs to be more rationale given about their decision. If this is about cost savings, then I think they will find there will be bigger bills down the line.”

The councillor is due to meet with the director of children’s services to discuss the matter further.

In a statement to NN Journal, the LEA said Ofsted’s findings were laid out in their published report and that the West and North unitaries ‘are awaiting the RSC decision on an action plan about CE prior to confirmation of any action going forward’.

Asked why some children were still at CE Academy if it was deemed such a safeguarding risk, the LEA said ‘following a full assessment by the council on each child it was deemed appropriate for a small number of children to remain at the CE Academy.’ 

The school, which has nine provisions across the county including the Cromwell campus and Fairlawn centre in Northampton, has been overwhelmed from support from former pupils and families since it became known it could be at risk of closure.

Here are some of the letters the school has received (we have anonymised them).

“I found the support given to my daughter, my husband and myself by Bobby and her staff outstanding and was extremely grateful for it all. At a time when my husband and I felt our daughter's life was on the decline and could see very little light forward, Bobby and her staff reassured us that they would offer our daughter encouragement and support to fulfil her potential. They followed through  and I am pleased to be able to say my daughter is working on commencing her PHD. This remarkable school remains in my daughter's life in positive ways.”

“I attended the Fairlawn Centre after being expelled. I had always struggled with mainstream education right back from primary school days being excluded in Year 4 for the first time and unable to attend any school outings or trips due to my unmanageable behaviour. My view on school and education was simpIe I didn't like it and I wasn't going to do/participate with any educational activities.

“After being expelled from mainstream school I believed that was it. No education, no stability, what future could I possibly have? I was then offered a place at The Fairlawn Centre where they opened my eyes to my potential and changed my view on education completely.

“It wasn't easy at the beginning but they never gave up on me. They made me see I could do well, I could have a bright future and I was capable. I just needed that little bit of extra support. All of a sudden I believed in myself. After so many failings and put downs within the mainstream sector I finally attended a place I felt I belonged, one where I could push myself along with meeting some of the best girls that I still have contact with to this day (15 years later!) 

“The path I was on was destructive, drinking and doing drugs at 14 years old. No respect for authority, no ambition and being arrested every other weekend. Without the help and access to the Fairlawn Centre I am pretty sure my path was going to be prison. The headmaster of the mainstream school I was expelled from often told me that was where I would end up.”

“I attended the Fairlawn centre for around three years.

The school and the teachers helped me more than I could have imagined - if it wasn't for that school I wouldn't be where I am today. I learned so much more in my time there than I did the whole time in any mainstream school, we were given the time and the support that we needed instead of being lost in a class full of 30 children . We were cared about and our problems spoken about and addressed instead of being made to feel useless like we were in  a mainstream school.

“I had my first experience with cooking at the Fairlawn centre and really enjoyed it and learned so much which made me follow a career in cooking and now I am a fully qualified chef.

“There are so many people like myself who need a little extra help in school and to take this away from people will mean they will be lost in a mainstream school, they will be pushed to the side and not given the time of day or the help and support they need and it's very sad. The staff at the fairlawn centre were not just our teachers they were like family, it was an amazing place to learn and I really hope it can continue to be for many more years to come.”

“My son started at Spring Garden's halfway though year 7 due to him being permanently excluded from mainstream school due to his behaviour.  My son is diagnosed with ADHD, ODD and Social, Emotional and communication difficulties.

“When he started at Spring Gardens, he did have a rocky start, but the staff really got to understand his difficulties and where he needed help.

“My son soon developed a bond with his tutors, and he was staying in school and getting work done, not every day was great, and he did push his boundaries, but the staff coped with him and gave him the space he needed and prevented him from being sent home.

“My son's aggression was almost zero by the end of year 8 and when he moved to the London Road campus in year 10, he was a completely different child all because the staff had put in so much effort to learn his needs and how to deal with his behaviours.

“My son left this year in June and has gained seven GCSE's and is now doing an apprenticeship in painting and decorating. I could not be prouder of him, and I can't thank the staff at CE Academy enough for all the effort and time they put into making sure my son got an education.  My son would not be where he is today without the CE Academy, and it would be a huge loss to the county if this provision was to close.”

“During my time attending Fairlawns, I met some of the most influential people I've ever met in my life. I made life-long friends and have never had anyone who could understand me and get though to me more than the teachers could.

“As a troubled teenager coming from a dysfunctional background, it wasn't very often that I would trust or listen to anyone.

“But I trusted the teachers and respected, them which is something I don't believe I could have grasped in life if it wasn't for Fairlawns. As soon as I'd get into school I felt secure and safe which is something every young person should feel all the time. I have nothing but fond memories. I had a good education. I learned life skills. I learned how to communicate and how to control anger.

“If it wasn't for Fairlawns teaching me life skills as well as education, I would have been in so many dangerous situations. I am so grateful for them and I can tell you now, if it wasn't for this place I would not be where I am now. There are so many problematic, young ladies now and in the future who will need this kind of school to benefit them in the future. I am now successful, happy and I truly believe Fairlawns massively contributed. 

“A far cry from the girl I was when I first started there. In the two years I spent there, they changed my mindset and brought the best out in me. They made me see my potential and my worth. They educated me and showed me what compassion and kindness was.”

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