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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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Call for decisions on future of tiny Cumbrian school

Ofsted says decisions must be made over the future of a tiny school near Penrith with just five pupils.

Milburn primary, which was put in special measures earlier this year, has been visited by inspectors in their first monitoring report.

The school, which has no headteacher, is overseen by an executive head from a nearby primary until this September. A new executive headteacher has been put in place and two supply teachers are covering classes because of long-term sickness.

During the visit, inspectors met the executive headteacher, the chairman and members of the governing body and a representative of the education authority.

Inspector Leszek Iwaskow noted that the school’s five pupils were “happy and well cared for”.

“A degree of stability has been introduced to their learning and the very small numbers in each class mean that they benefit from individual support,” he said.

“They enjoy visiting their partner school where they are taught some subjects, such as physical education and modern foreign languages, because the partner school is better placed and equipped to deliver these aspects of the curriculum.

“Pupils’ personal and social development is less secure, since they have very limited opportunities to socialise and learn with a wider range of pupils, including those of their own age.”

The inspector said that “little further can be achieved until the immediate future of the school and staffing is clarified”.

“If the school is to remain open, the long-drawn-out staffing issues need to be resolved as a matter of priority to enable improvements to take place,” he said.

A statement of action put in place by the local authority was “not appropriate”, because it did not meet the immediate and unique needs of the school.

“All staff are temporary and any investment in training and support is not cost-effective and may not benefit the school in the long term,” he said.

“The plan lacks specific detail and, given the current circumstances, any milestones for improvement are unrealistic. As a result, the greater majority of issues identified during the inspection are not being tackled with sufficient rigour or urgency.

“Currently, there is no coherent school action plan in place, as it is incomplete.

“Capacity to sustain any improvement is also limited by the uncertainties that prevail about the school’s future and the complete lack of any permanent staff.”

The short term solutions now in place would be both unsatisfactory and unsustainable in the longer term, he said.

The school’s chairman of governors, Russell Clark, said the new governing body and leadership understood the concerns raised by Ofsted.

“Although Ofsted recognises the current temporary teachers are working hard and are positive and this is encouraging pupils’ personal and social development, we do understand that temporary staff, albeit long term, are unsustainable.”

However, he said, the school could now permanently fill one of the teaching posts which had recently become vacant. Also, a new executive headteacher, Angela Hill, from St. Catherine’s, Penrith, had been appointed to build on the progress made by the current executive head, Mrs Key. He thanked Mrs Key for her hard work and leadership.

“This means we are now looking positively to the next monitoring visit as we have progressed the main concerns raised by Ofsted. The education, wellbeing and safeguarding of the children will continue to be paramount to the leadership and management of Milburn School as well as the long term future of the school.

“We would welcome inquiries from prospective parents who are interested in a small and friendly school with a varied and creative curriculum, personalised learning, forest school and all in a unique village setting.”

VBrenan@cngroup.co.uk

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