Governors of Fishponds school prepare legal challenge after being plunged into special measures by Ofsted

The governors of Steiner Academy Bristol in Fishponds are planning a legal challenge after Ofsted rated it as ‘Inadequate’.

After launching an appeal for £15,000 on the CrowdJustice website earlier this week, there have already been more than 160 pledges totalling more than £7,000 towards their £15,000 target.

The governing body at SAB say they are challenge Ofsted’s approach to inspection of Steiner schools. Meanwhile a petition set up on the change.org website by parents challenging Ofsted’s report has more than 1,400 names.

The governing body say they are seeking to apply to the High Court for a ruling that the inspection process and the judgements formed are irrational and show evidence of apparent bias, and that inspection report should be quashed.

Steiner Academy Bristol is a free school which opened in Bristol in 2014. The school was inspected by Ofsted in November and the report was published this month. The education watchdog found the school to be ‘Inadequate’ and it is now in special measures. The governors say this means that SAB will be taken over by a multi-academy trust and may not continue to follow the Steiner curriculum and philosophy.

They say: “Whilst we take the report very seriously we had a number of concerns about its findings and wanted to work with Ofsted to resolve these. Unfortunately we feel that the position Ofsted has adopted throughout this process has left the board of governors with no other option than to investigate a legal challenge.

“We are therefore raising funds to mount a legal challenge against Ofsted’s decision. If you believe in maintaining Steiner education in the state sector – or just that schools should be able to offer a different kind of education – please contribute now and share this page with your friends, family and on social media.”

The legal claim will argue that the Ofsted inspection was flawed, failed to follow guidance and the code of conduct relating to inspections, and the inspectors lacked a proper evidential basis for their conclusions. It will also argue that there was apparent bias in the way that Ofsted carried out their inspection.

“In December 2018 an article in the Telegraph stated the Education Secretary Damian Hinds had written to the Chief Inspector of Ofsted demanding ‘additional scrutiny’ of all Steiner schools in a memo to the Chief Inspector of Ofsted dated 15th November 2018. We have requested disclosure of this letter, but the request has been refused.

“We believe that the inspection and judgement process suggest an apparent bias against Steiner education. We are concerned that multiple Steiner Academies were subjected to unannounced inspections over a very short time period and we are asking the High Court to make a ruling that the inspectors came into school with a pre-determined view.

“For the above reasons, we requested Ofsted carry out a fresh inspection with a new team of inspectors. We also asked Ofsted to provide us with documents to properly understand the reason for the unannounced inspection and what information had been provided to inspectors beforehand. Ofsted have refused our request so to do.

“We now seek to have the inspection process and judgements in the report judicially reviewed.”

The governors say their initial goal is to instruct their legal team (Irwin Mitchell) to prepare the case to issue judicial review proceedings and obtain disclosure of information: “We have made multiple requests, including via a ‘pre-action’ legal letter, but Ofsted have refused to provide us with the information we requested because they say it is not ‘proportionate’. With these documents we will be able to properly consider our legal challenge.”

The £15,000 will cover the estimated legal costs to prepare the case to issue Judicial Review proceedings and to ask for an order for Ofsted to disclose key documents.

SAB, which currently has 377 pupils, opened in 2014 under the free school programme. It takes children from four to 16 and is part of a group of Steiner Academies, state-funded schools that build on the ideas of Steiner education with a commitment to diversity and accessibility.

The Ofsted report says that safeguarding is not effective, with pupils exposed to avoidable risk of harm and physical intervention is used unnecessarily.

“Leaders and governors have failed to ensure that pupils receive an acceptable standard of education. They have an over-generous view of the school’s effectiveness. Governors have not held senior leaders to account effectively over time. As a result, teaching is weak, and pupils are underachieving significantly across the school.”

The inspectors also said that teachers do not use assessment well to support and increase pupils’ learning, and have low expectations for pupils’ achievement. Their report continues: “The school’s curriculum is not taught well. Consequently, too many pupils do not make the progress they should; they do not learn how to stay safe online; and they have a limited understanding of British values.

“Although middle leaders have identified what needs to improve in their subject areas, too many have not yet had an impact on pupils’ progress and attainment.”

The report highlights that disadvantaged pupils make less progress than their peers, pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities make insufficient progress, secondary pupils don’t get good enough careers guidance, and low-level disruption is common in some classes. It also says bullying incidents are too frequent and that leaders have only recently started to tackle this.

An Academy Management Committee has been appointed by the South West Regional Schools Commissioner Lisa Mannall and will be responsible for the operational management of SAB.

Cabot Learning Federation will be providing school-to-school support to deliver improvements in line with Ofsted’s recommendations.