Oldham school placed in special measures as racist and homophobic bullying is ‘common’ and staff are abused

A damning inspection by Ofsted has resulted in Waterhead Academy in Oldham receiving the lowest possible rating of inadequate.
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A secondary school in Greater Manchester where pupils are ‘unhappy’ and bullying is ‘commonplace’ has been placed in special measures following a damning inspection.

Waterhead Academy in Oldham has received the lowest possible rating of ‘inadequate’ following an inspection by the watchdog Ofsted, which downgraded it from its 2019 rating of ‘requires improvement’.

The watchdog slammed the education provided at the high school and said the 1,358 pupils on its roll had been ‘failed for far too long’.

The acting principal of Waterhead Academy, James Wilson, who took up the role earlier this month, said they are already working to create ‘positive change’.

Ofsted also found students at the Huddersfield Road secondary regularly truant and are sometimes exposed to ‘foul and abusive language’, name-calling and racist and homophobic language.

What did Ofsted say about the problems at Waterhead Academy?

The report states: “While many pupils behave well in lessons, the poor behaviour of a significant number of pupils is accepted as the norm by staff and leaders. For example, pupils’ behaviour on corridors, outside at break-times and at lunchtimes is unruly.

“Pupils’ learning is often disrupted because of noisy corridors and pupils’ lateness to lessons. Staff and pupils lack any confidence in leaders’ ability to improve pupils’ behaviour.”

The report adds: “Occasionally, pupils also experience homophobic and racist language. Some pupils told inspectors that they have come to accept that this type of behaviour is their daily experience of school life. Many pupils said that they are ‘fed up’ with the situation.”

While the five-strong inspection team reported that ‘overall’ pupils said they feel safe, many said they were unhappy attending the school.

“A few pupils said that bullying is commonplace,” they stated, adding that when incidents are reported staff attempt to deal with them, but not always successfully.

Staff are also subject to bad behaviour from pupils, especially around lateness and unauthorised absences, the report finds.

“Many pupils truant from lessons or choose to enter classrooms late,” Ofsted said. “This happens frequently because leaders and staff do not do enough to challenge pupils when they choose to truant from lessons. If staff do challenge pupils about their absence from lessons, they are either ignored or subjected to pupils’ disrespectful comments.”

What did the report from Ofsted say about education and leadership at the school?

The scathing report also found that leaders were not ensuring a good education for pupils, including those with special educational needs and disabilities, with many lacking the reading and maths skills they need when leaving school aged 16.

Inspectors said that in some subjects teachers lacked ‘sufficient knowledge’ to deliver specialist content with confidence, and in other subjects the work was not demanding enough. Overall the curriculum being taught is ‘inadequate’.

Ofsted said that too many pupils aged between 11 and 16 were ‘unnecessarily repeating what they have learned at primary school’.

“Added to this, teachers’ delivery of the curriculum is hampered by constant interruptions to lessons because of pupils’ poor behaviour around the site,” the report adds. “This seriously impedes how well pupils are prepared for the next stages of their education.

“Trustees, executive leaders and school leaders have overseen a decline in the quality of education that pupils receive at Waterhead Academy. Pupils have been failed for far too long. Their learning is fragile and they underachieve.

“As a result, pupils are not fully prepared to take their place in modern Britain. This is due to a legacy of low aspiration and ambition.”

Did Ofsted find any positive areas and what was the overall verdict?

The highest area of praise was for the element of personal development, which received a ‘requires improvement’ rating. Ofsted said leaders had put in place ‘effective plans for pupils’ personal development’.

The school had also recently begun initiatives supporting pupils that struggle to read and improving spoken communication and pupils were ‘beginning to benefit from the growing range of extra-curricular activities available to them’.

However, overall inspectors stated they were of the opinion that the school requires special measures because it is ‘failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and the persons responsible for leading, managing or governing the school are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement in the school’.

What has Waterhead Academy’s response to the Ofsted report been?

In response to the report, acting principal James Wilson said: “Waterhead Academy is a thriving school community with talented and creative young people. My first act as principal was to undertake an honest appraisal of the school and understand its strengths and weaknesses.

“The assessment informed a 100-day plan that is already under way to make significant improvements to all areas of the school.

“The recent Ofsted inspection raises several issues that we are quickly addressing. We are working with all key stakeholders to provide a high-quality education for our students both within the classroom and beyond so that students can achieve the best academic and broader outcomes to achieve their ambitions.

“Things are changing for the better at our school, and we’re working closely with parents, carers and students to create positive change.”

In a letter to parents Mr Wilson also said that a restructure of the senior leadership team and additional support had been ‘actioned’ since the inspection, and they were aiming to get to a ‘good’ rating.