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County Upper School in Bury St Edmunds rated 'inadequate' by Ofsted after police raise concerns over pupils' safety

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A leading Bury St Edmunds secondary school has been rated 'inadequate' by Ofsted after leaders 'failed to take all reasonable steps to ensure pupils' safety'.

County Upper School, which has been judged 'outstanding' since 1998, now 'requires significant improvement' following an inspection in January, which found that 'some pupils do not feel safe' on the school's site, in Beeton's Way.

A report said that police raised concerns with inspectors about pupils' safety including the anti-social behaviour of those who have been on the school's roll but educated on a part-time basis or at home by school staff.

County Upper School (8085757)
County Upper School (8085757)

It found that governors 'do not have a clear enough understanding about the significance of some local safeguarding risks, and the dangers these pose to pupils, including drug-dealing and gang-related (‘county lines’) activity'.

In its key findings, Ofsted said that:

  • Leaders have not made the required child protection referrals to the correct external agencies when pupils have been at risk. These failures have meant that pupils in unsafe situations have not received timely help to protect them.
  • Leaders’ communication and liaison with external agencies have not been effective. Poor communication has limited the ability of all concerned to understand the risks that individual pupils face and to work together to minimise these risks.
  • Some pupils do not feel safe on the school’s site. They are concerned that it is too easy for unauthorised visitors to gain access to the site and buildings without their presence being challenged quickly.
  • Governors do not hold leaders to account for standards in different areas of the school’s work robustly enough, including the effectiveness of leaders’ arrangements to keep pupils safe and secure.
  • Governors have an insufficient understanding of the seriousness of local safeguarding risks.

However, the school was rated 'outstanding' for its quality of teaching, learning and assessment, outcomes for pupils and 16 to 19 study programmes.

Ofsted found its strengths include:

  • Inspiring teaching and rigorous assessment promote pupils’ progress and attainment exceptionally well. Pupils are equipped to engage in rigorous intellectual enquiry, and in high-level discussion and debate.
  • The curriculum successfully enables pupils to make connections between what they have learned within different subjects, which deepens their knowledge and understanding.
  • Pupils’ enjoyment in adding to their stock of knowledge is abundantly evident. Pupils develop the ability to think logically and deeply. They write persuasively and with clarity.

County Upper is part of the Bury St Edmunds All-Through Academy Trust.

Stephen Boor, chair of the trust board, said: "We are naturally extremely disappointed with Ofsted’s overall judgement.

"However, to reassure parents and pupils that County Upper is a safe school, the Trust Board immediately commissioned full, independent reviews of safeguarding and of site security: neither found any areas of concern and offered their assistance in resolving with the inspectors the issues they had raised.

"These reviews provide independent evidence to support our view that safeguarding is effective at County Upper.

"Despite this, Ofsted’s judgement on safeguarding dictates their overall grade, and in consequence ‘Leadership & Management’ and ‘Personal Development and Welfare’ judgements automatically follow.

"We are pleased to note that when you read the report you will see that County Upper is still rated outstanding in many aspects of both these sections, as it is right across the other sections.

"This is the County Upper that people will recognise, and which indeed Ofsted has recognised at every other inspection since 1998.

"We will be asking Ofsted to come back at the earliest opportunity to re-inspect.

"In the meanwhile, we will continue to do our very best by every student and to maintain the very high standards for which we are renowned."

A Suffolk County Council spokesman said: "Suffolk County Council is working very closely with the Bury St Edmunds All-Through Trust, which is responsible for County Upper School to support them to rapidly address the issues highlighted in the Ofsted report around safeguarding.

"It is the role of the local authority to take the safety and welfare of all pupils very seriously, this includes those who may be vulnerable. We will continue to challenge any school where we believe the safety of its pupils is a concern.

"We will closely follow the academy’s progress in addressing the points raised by Ofsted."