Head praised as college retains “good” rating

Date: Friday 21st December 2018

ULLSWATER Community College headteacher Nick Ellery wins praise for his “honest and open style of leadership” in an Ofsted report which states that the Penrith school continues to be good.

Under Mr Ellery’s leadership, the college had become more outward facing, says Ofsted inspector Anne Seneviratne. He was said to be keen to take advantage of external support, including from the local authority, to help move the school forward and his honest and open style of leadership was valued by staff.

But Ms Seneviratne has identified “some priorities for improvement” which she would advise the school to address following a visit on 27th November with fellow Ofsted inspectors Alison Stott and Paul Edmondson.

It was the first short inspection to be carried out since the college was judged to be good in February, 2014, and there was no change to its overall effectiveness grade. Mr Ellery, who had been deputy head before taking up the post of interim and then permanent headteacher, was said to have a “clear understanding” of the college’s position and the areas that required improvement. Once in post, his top priority had been to address issues relating to site safety. Safeguarding was now effective.

Practical measures had been taken to prevent the public from accessing the college building, apart from via the main reception. During the school day, the site is closed to vehicles. Alongside these practical measures, Mr Ellery had worked sensitively to engage with pupils, parents and the local community to change the culture in relation to site security. He had also taken action to improve the curriculum and the way disadvantaged pupils were supported. According to Ofsted, these are students who attract government pupil premium funding — pupils claiming free school meals at any point in the last six years and pupils in care, or who left care through adoption, or another formal route.

Previously, the college’s approach to disadvantaged pupils was based on “an intervention-based model” which had not been effective in helping them overcome barriers to learning.

Parents and carers were overwhelmingly positive about the college. They valued the support that staff give to their children and particularly praised the commitment to supporting pupils with special educational needs and those with disabilities. The “very caring and nurturing ethos” was a notable strength of the college, said Ms Seneviratne.

“At the last inspection, leaders were asked to improve the overall quality of teaching from good to outstanding. There was a particular focus on ensuring that teaching stretched pupils’ thinking, pushing them to do their best, particularly the most able.

“While strong teaching does exist, this is not consistent across the school. This means that not all pupils benefit from routinely high quality teaching,” said Ms Seneviratne.

Since the last inspection, the overall absence rate had been in line with the national average until 2017, when it increased. Of more concern was said to be the high proportion of disadvantaged pupils who had poor attendance.

The figures for 2018 show that the overall absence rate and the absence rate for disadvantaged pupils saw further slight increases. The overall absence rate has decreased and is now in line with the national average. However, the attendance of disadvantaged pupils still gives cause for concern.

Poor attendance had a significant negative impact on disadvantaged pupils’ achievement last year. Ensuring that this does not happen again this year is a high priority for leaders, said the inspection report.

In the past three years, pupils who left school made broadly average progress during their time at Ullswater Community College. However, this was not the case for disadvantaged pupils. Their progress in 2018 was said to be particularly concerning, as it showed they achieved nearly a grade lower across their subjects than other pupils nationally with the same starting points. Under the school’s new leadership, action had been taken to address these issues, and a number of new subject leaders were in post and being supported to bring about improvements.

In the school’s sixth form, students valued the breadth of courses on offer, the quality of teaching and the advice available about post-18 options. Students’ progress in vocational courses is now above average, with progress in A-level subjects in line with the national average.