SCHOOLS in Cumbria are having to fork out tens of thousands of pounds to heighten security in an effort to stop them falling foul of Ofsted’s inspection process which has seen two previously-good secondaries placed into special measures.
In recent weeks both The Queen Katherine School (QKS) at Kendal and Kirkby Stephen Grammar School (KSGS) have been deemed inadequate after inspectors discovered shortcomings in their safeguarding measures.
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Both schools are investing to put up fences around their sites to alleviate inspectors’ concerns and extract themselves from special measures. But the fall-out is now being felt at other schools, even in the absence of a recent inspection, with heads at Dallam and Dowdales instead taking pre-emptive steps to avoid similar circumstances.
William Bancroft, head teacher at Milnthorpe’s Dallam School, said those reports were directly responsible for convincing him and the school’s governors to pay for fencing at their site.
Mr Bancroft expects fences to channel visitors from the car park to the back entrance of the school, rather than allowing them through playgrounds, to be erected over the Easter period.
“I’m afraid it is (a direct response to the QKS and KSGS reports),” he said. “We’re doing it because of the adverse judgements that other schools in Cumbria have received about site security and we do not wish to be in a position where there is a suggestion we don’t take safety seriously.
“We’re a good school and we don’t want to jeopardise that by not being seen to comply with safeguarding arrangements.
“I don’t know why Ofsted have made the judgements they have and I think they’re harsh and unfair but I do think we all have to take safety very seriously.”
Dowdales School at Dalton-in-Furness is another school in the process of erecting a perimeter fence. School governor David Lysons said: “They’re putting up a fence around the site with controlled access gates.
“It’s to make the site more secure. Prior to this, of course, the site has been completely open and there’s nothing to stop anybody walking on site at any time.
“It’s all tied in with Ofsted. Ofsted are keen to ensure that everybody looks after their children.”
Clare Feeney-Johnson, Cumbria County Council’s cabinet member for schools and learning, has questioned Ofsted’s tough stance on safeguarding measures in schools. She believes given the rural locations of the schools failing inspections and the low crime rates in their localities, inspectors should take a more collaborative approach to assess each school depending on its own circumstances.
“The government and Ofsted are holding safeguarding of children across the country as a matter of upmost importance – which it is – but I feel each school and its area needs to be taken into account.
“When inspectors come to a town like ours they need to do a bit of research and look at what the likelihood of something happening is.”
Mrs Feeney-Johnson raised further issues about the emphasis on safeguarding, saying the need to invest large sums on heightening security was seriously impacting already-strained resources.
She said: “Across the whole of the north west schools are spending a fortune on additional security because of the demands of Ofsted. School budgets are extremely stretched. In real terms they have gone down in the last five years.
“Schools across the country are struggling to get the best educational outcomes for children. To then take money away for fences seems very unreasonable.”
Mr Bancroft also questioned the logic of schools having to pay out for additional measures. He said: “I certainly think there should be a decision about whether spending money on site security is more of a priority than putting teachers in front of kids.”
Students from KSGS meanwhile have taken it upon themselves to write to Ofsted expressing their outrage at the findings.
“The bottom line of our dispute is our school has not been fairly represented,” state the pupils in their letter. “The school they have described as ‘inadequate’ is not the school we see on a daily basis. They have overlooked the many positives of our school and unfairly judged us in a context which simply doesn’t seem applicable to our small and friendly rural school.”
The students told Ofsted they felt “valued, inspired and appreciated; unsafe is something we never feel”. They went on to say: “A member of our sixth form remarked ‘everybody knows everybody in Kirkby Stephen’ and this same community ethos is reflected in our school, an ethos which would be changed for the worse by the severe security measures Ofsted would like us to put in place.”
Chair of governors Simon Bennett told the Gazette it was ‘really heartening’ to know how safe the pupils felt.
“The fact they’ve felt moved to write really speaks volumes about how passionately they feel about their own school,” he said. “That in itself is a glowing endorsement of the teaching and learning here, so we are very proud of them.”
The Westmorland Gazette approached Ofsted to ask if a new emphasis had been placed on safeguarding when inspectors visit schools given the verdicts delivered to QKS and KSGS.
A spokesperson said: “Ofsted does not set the standards that schools have to meet on safeguarding. We inspect against the standards and statutory guidance set by the Department for Education.
“During an inspection, inspectors will look at a wide range of evidence when evaluating the effectiveness of safeguarding in schools, and they will not normally find safeguarding to be ineffective because of a single shortcoming, such as the presence or height of fences.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said statutory guidance for schools on maintaining school premises, including the necessary safety measures, was last updated in March 2015, but another South Lakeland head teacher has said there has been regular changes to legislation in recent years.
Phil Hyman, head of Kirkbie Kendal School, where more fencing works are taking place to meet safeguarding criteria, said: “In the last 18 months there has been more legislation and guidance on safeguarding than there has in the last 10 years.
“It’s not just in Cumbria, there’s been a nationwide increase.”