Watchdog blasts school for inadequate learning

Tuesday 9th August 2022 4:00 pm
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AN independently-run school for children with special needs may be told not to take any extra pupils after inspectors said youngsters’ learning, safety and well-being were “inadequate”.

Estyn visited Talocher School in Wonastow, which has recently changed hands, and found it had made “slow progress” on meeting national requirements while facing “persistent” staffing problems.

The school near Monmouth was recently taken over by Aspris Children’s Services, part of the private equity investment Waterland group, and looks after up to 60 youngsters with “social, emotional and mental health needs” and children with autism, aged seven to 19.

Inspectors visited the school unannounced in July with a particular focus on the ability of the school to manage pupil behaviour and the impact of this on its provision of an appropriate curriculum.

And in their report, they noted that while staff are “caring and patient in their work with pupils”, recommendations from a core inspection in February 2020 still hadn’t been fully implemented.

“Persistent challenges associated with the recruitment and retention of staff limit the pace of progress,” it said.

Noting that Talocher, which currently has a roll of 50 pupils, still didn’t “fully comply” with the Independent School Standards (Wales) Regulations, “the quality of leadership and management has been unable to drive sufficient improvement”.

“The school does not have a defined or co-ordinated approach to the provision of therapeutic support to meet the needs of pupils…” inspectors found.

“This means that many pupils are not receiving the therapeutic support they require or are entitled to.”

They also noted “limited opportunities for staff to access relevant professional learning to strengthen their skills and understanding of the complex needs of pupils across the school”.

Many lacked previous experience of supporting education for pupils who face these barriers to their learning, added the report.

“Online training modules provided by the company often have little direct relevance to the roles of teaching and learning support staff.

“This means that staff at the school rely on their own understanding of how best to meet individual pupils’ needs, based on their personal reading, interest or experiences.

“As a result, practice across the school, particularly in the area of behaviour management, is inconsistent and not matched well enough to the individual needs of pupils.

“In turn, too many incidents of low level disruptive behaviour continue to impact negatively on the learning and well-being of others.”

The report further highlights “significant challenges around the recruitment and retention of suitably qualified and experienced staff”.

And following the recent transfer of ownership, it says the new proprietor’s policies are “too generic, do not reflect practice at the school and do not meet Welsh Government requirements… including the quality of the curriculum and policies to safeguard and promote the welfare of children at the school”.

“These shortcomings mean that pupils’ progress in learning, as well as the safety and well-being of pupils and staff, is inadequate and a cause for concern,” the inspectors added.

“Given the slow progress against the recommendations from the core inspection and the increase in the areas of non-compliance with the Independent School Standards, the Welsh Government may wish to recommend formally to the school that it should not accept new pupils at the school until these matters have been addressed.”

Estyn has made six recommendations that the school:

Complies fully with the Independent School Standards (Wales) Regulations 2003;

Strengthens the quality of leadership and management at all levels;

Strengthens the recruitment and retention of staff to ensure a stable and supportive learning environment for pupils at the school;

Extends the provision of a co-ordinated therapeutic approach to include all pupils at the school, not just to those whose statement sets out the entitlement to specific therapeutic interventions;

Implements a professional learning programme that enables teaching staff and learning support assistants to develop consistent approaches to supporting pupils and managing behaviour across the school;

Ensures that school policies refer appropriately to Welsh Government guidance and guide practice at the school.

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