Ofsted praise for ‘inadequate’ Norfolk special school

Acorn Park School, Banham

Acorn Park School in Banham. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Ofsted inspectors have said a Norfolk special school has made progress in tackling weaknesses that left parents accusing it of failing their children. 

After its last full Ofsted inspection in February 2020 Acorn Park School in Banham was rated ‘inadequate’ with the quality of teaching said to be “not good enough”.

Inspectors said while children enjoyed attending the school, the quality of the curriculum was “weak”, leaders had “given little thought” to how they progressed, and pupils completed “disconnected tasks and activities” with reading not prioritised.

The findings saw 13 parents, whose children have complex autism disorders, raise concerns related to high staff turnover and a 'lack of professionalism' by management at the independent residential and day school.

Following a progress monitoring inspection in February 2021, Ofsted inspectors said progress had been made in tackling failings since new leaders had been appointed in September. 

The school had “recently implemented a more ambitious and systematic approach to the curriculum for all pupils” and the teaching of reading had been given a higher priority, they said in a report.

Acorn Park School, Banham

Acorn Park School in Banham. - Credit: Sonya Duncan


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Since the previous Ofsted visit, a planned restructuring saw a number of staff leave the school but staffing is now “more stable” with fewer leaving in the 2020 autumn term than “has been the case for some time”.

The report added: “The many changes in leadership and staff had been unsettling for pupils, parents and staff. Interim leadership was in place at that time.

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“New leaders have the necessary skills and expertise to lead the school forward. They have quickly implemented a new curriculum which aims to meet the needs of pupils well.

“Senior leaders understand what needs to be done to improve the school and are taking the necessary actions.”

Chris Snudden, director of learning and inclusion for Norfolk children's services, part of Norfolk C

Chris Snudden, director of learning and inclusion for Norfolk children's services, part of Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Julian Claxton Photography

Acorn Park, which provides specialist care for pupils with autism, Asperger's and related disabilities via local authority placement, currently has 82 pupils with annual fees for day pupils, paid by local councils, starting at £62,500.

Following the previous report, dissatisfied parents joined forces with national special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) activist and consultant Janet Willicott to produce a report urging Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils must do more to hold the school to account.

Norfolk’s director of learning and inclusion Chris Snudden said the council closely monitored the quality of all specialist education provision and “works with schools to address any areas of concern”.

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