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The Journey From Inadequate to Good - Reflections on Ofsted

Downsbrook joined Schoolsworks in 2018, following an inadequate inspection as a local authority school in 2017. Since then the school has been totally transformed, achieving the rare ‘double-jump’ to Ofsted good in Spring 2022. Just Jeffrey, Head of School at Downsbrook Primary, reflects on the school’s journey from inadequate to good, all achieved against the backdrop of the pandemic. 

Back in 2018, when I first visited Downsbrook, it’s fair to say that the school was now unrecognisable to what it is now. It was clear then that wholesale change was necessary, and when Downsbrook became an academy and joined Schoolsworks the much-needed fresh start became a reality. Before I joined in September 2018, the interim board, supported by Schoolsworks, took great steps in steadying the ship, focusing on safeguarding, teaching and learning, premises and compliance. 

Vision and Values
Academisation created a sense of an opportunity to reset and move forward. My first job was sharing a revised vision and values, with staff feedback encouraged. Equality, diversity and inclusion was emphasised giving the children the opportunity to embrace their individuality and personal development. It was vital that pastoral provision was a core focus; children must be happy and safe before they can learn, and we prioritised wellbeing. Encouragingly, Ofsted recently recognised this, noting our efforts were outstanding. We’ve now recruited our first totally pastoral position – a Mental Wellbeing Lead role to support the children and also awarded all staff with a wellbeing day this past academic year. 

Using Our Space
Physical changes were important. We moved my office, and the SLT offices, into the heart of school, with our rooms opening onto a large shared space. An open door policy was introduced, and all children encouraged to pop in with work, worries or to chat. The quality of the learning environment needed attention, as many areas felt neglected so bright, engaging displays of the children’s work were added, with clear expectations set for teachers (including a PowerPoint presentation and handbook!) detailing best practice. 

Another significant step was to name all classes after famous artists; art enriches and creates an aspirational tone, and making art accessible introduces real creativity. Not all children thrive on English and Maths, and it’s the bread and butter of good primary schools to offer experiences across subjects. This led us to open back up some of our wonderful facilities which had been mothballed – a food tech room, music suite, art and design room, kiln and a fully-equipped science lab. When the Ofsted framework was revised, with a greater focus on foundation subjects, we felt well placed to respond. 

An Inspiring Curriculum
Long-term projects have included redesigning the curriculum with inspiring themes introduced; our Windrush and freedom fighters topics have allowed children to explore civil rights, global citizenship and the importance of standing up for yourself. High quality texts which embrace equality, diversity and inclusion are inspiring our children and ensuring they see themselves represented. Whole school topics have created a sense of team and community, with our post-pandemic focus on journeys seeing us explore all we’ve been through over these strange few years. 

Facing Challenges
Surprisingly, the pandemic helped us. We turned our attention to wellbeing, establishing a Food Bank at school and managing deliveries of food, clothing, books and other supplies. Social media and online assemblies became vital, and each member of staff went above and beyond, each and every day. Our reputation as a strong and caring school radiated across the community. 

Of course, there have been challenges along the way. Early on some parents were frustrated with the school and inspection outcome, with a few withdrawing their children, and we had to work on resetting expectations and relationships. Some staff were scarred from their experiences and needed fresh starts elsewhere. All this gave scope to welcome new teachers, who shared their passion and energy without the legacy of what had gone before. Now, our teaching staff have had the opportunity to create a vibrant, inspiring environment, and our children today have a completely different energy with a strong sense of pride, and they are happy, calm, respectful and kind, engaging well with each other and our staff team. 

When the call came from Ofsted in March 2022, it’s fair to say there was a sense of anxiety. Some of our senior team were taking maternity and paternity leave, and our SENDCo was on long term absence. We considered a deferral but there was a sense that we were ready, and wanted to share everything we’d achieved in a relatively short space of time. So the decision was made to bring it on! 

Thankfully the whole experience was enjoyable and positive – our teachers shone, our parent community were supportive and upbeat about the changes and the children did us proud. And of course it really is a team effort. The support I’ve received from the heads across Schoolsworks, and from Cathy Williams along with other trust leaders, has been amazing and invaluable. Without their input the challenge would have been even greater. 

So where do we go from here?
It almost goes without saying that I’m filled with immense pride whenever I think or talk about Downsbrook, our wonderful staff and of course the children! It’s clear our focus on equality, diversity and inclusion sets Downsbrook apart from many other schools, and our forward-thinking approach has caught the attention of parents outside our catchment; we’re welcoming 10 children into other year groups in September and our Reception numbers are so strong that we’re back to two-form entry. And although results aren’t always our primary motivation, our work on teaching and curriculum has been reflected in some amazing SATs results with a combined score at KS2 above national average. 

All this means that September 2022, with our good rating secured, now gives us scope to reset again, to move ourselves towards outstanding. And this wonderful school, with its creative, ambitious and happy sense of self, is now ready to do just that. 

 

Just Jeffrey, Head of School, Downsbrook Primary School