By Jen Smith
A South Gloucestershire specialist school which takes funding and pupils from Bristol, has been given a rating of ‘Requires Improvement’ by Ofsted.
Autism specialist SGS Pegasus School, failed to impress inspectors in March this year. They found the quality of education and the leadership and management of the school was not good enough.
Ofsted said the communication between school and parents was not ‘clear and successful’ which leaders must improve for the ‘benefit’ of the children.
They blasted the curriculum for being ‘weak’ in some subjects leading to ‘gaps in pupils’ knowledge’.
School leaders were found not to have ensured staff had ‘up-to-date and relevant expertise and knowledge to deliver an ambitious curriculum.’ This, they say causes the curriculum to ‘not’ be implemented well enough in some subjects.
Approaches to early reading were ‘not sufficiently developed’ meaning younger pupils are not learning to read ‘consistently well.’
It’s the first full Ofsted inspection the school has had since it opened in September 2017. All pupils attending the school have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and are autistic.
Since opening, the school has had three permanent headteachers and several interim heads. But how does Ofsted’s findings marry up with the experiences of pupils who have attended the school?
We are in a unique position to comment directly on this story. In September 2020, my son started at SGS Pegasus School having won a place at the setting through Sendist tribunal. After a previous secondary mainstream placement fell apart due to him experiencing disability discrimination, it was the new start for year 9 we hoped would be positive.
My son was on roll until September 2021. Just two days into the new academic year, the placement fell apart after many months of discrimination, incompetence and a failure to implement the contents of an EHCP by the school.
Initially, the placement went well. The Year 9 class tutor was an amazing educationalist who managed to get my child back into school pretty much full time after he missed most of Year 7 and Year 8. It was all looking hopeful despite some blips on the way regarding the wider management and ethos of the school.
There was a whole incident around the school’s ethos that autism is only a small part of a person – illustrated by a dot in the head. Despite my child explaining that using ‘with autism’ was offensive to him and that he was autistic, the school tried to quiet and minimise his concerns.
However, the much-loved teacher left in the March of 2021. But the school did not communicate this to parents. Students who were returning after lockdown restrictions were lifted were confused to find the tutor missing, eventually being informed that the individual no longer worked at the school. It was a confusing and upsetting time. For anxious autistic pupils, members of staff who could be relied upon, trusted and upon whom were able to engage and motivate pupils to learn are rare and valuable members of the teaching profession. She was very much missed by both my child and myself.
What followed in the teacher’s absence was a disastrous chain of teachers who either quickly left or who – as one teaching assistant told me – did not understand the needs of the pupils.
Critically, it soon became apparent that the provision in my child’s EHCP was simply not being delivered – by the school’s own admission. As the placement began to fall apart, the only path to ensuring provision was in place was to threaten Bristol City Council with a Judicial Review to implement it.
It was a genuinely difficult decision to make. I have always valued the work my son’s caseworker and subsequent caseworker in charge of the EHCP has done. I’ve never been able to fault their work. But caseworkers – or senior inclusion officers as Bristol City Council calls them – are simply not miracle workers. If a school does not want to put in the provision, despite every attempt by the SEN team to make schools do so, you just can’t force it other than remove funding.
Ahead of subsequent legal action I took against SGS Pegasus School, I had to use Bristol City Council’s complaints system. Initially, they took the word of the school, but after pushing it to Stage 2, they eventually upheld my complaint. They found that the school was not implementing the EHCP nor putting in Reasonable Adjustments.
SGS Pegasus School was more than able to meet the requirements of the EHCP. It was more than able to put in the Reasonable Adjustments. They just didn’t want to. My feeling was that it was a blend of supreme arrogance and supreme incompetence.
When taking legal action against the school, I was clear that although people complain about Bristol City Council all the time, in this instance, I did not blame our caseworkers who had worked very hard to make the placement work.
But it was difficult when the school refused to follow things like the Graduated Response correctly, refused to implement the EHCP, refused to apply for further Top-Up funding if needed and instead, attempted to block my request for a Personal Budget for my child so they could keep his funding despite not educating him.
An emergency Annual Review ran for three hours, was attended by two senior inclusion officers and a Local Authority Educational Psychologist (EP). But it was a blood bath. I could see exactly why my child did not want to go to school. I had already experienced some of the school’s rudeness and condescension in a previous meeting between the LA and school. A member of the Senior Leadership Team began rolling their eyes and making faces when I started speaking.
During the time my child was on roll, the school failed to abide by laws around equality, Education Health and Care Plans and Subject Access Requests. Their failure led to me having no option but taking legal action. This found failures around the school making reasonable adjustments for my child, including a failure to ensure he was supported with EHCP specified Occupational Therapy. Off rolling was also found to have occurred.
The whole experience was really quite horrific. It had a terrible impact on my child’s health and wellbeing. He only managed two days in September 2021. Despite his history of anxiety based extended non-attendance issues and an in-depth EP report with specified and quantified provision for maths, my child was forced to do algebra which was so far above and beyond his level it would have been laughable had it not triggered a crisis.
After this point, he was unable to return to the school and never did so. He was also not allowed to attend the school camp with his class, something I had hoped might be a catalyst for one last ditch attempt to save the placement.
The school made it clear through attempted off rolling following the Annual Review process in the summer that they didn’t want to implement provision or make adjustments, informing the council that they wanted him gone as soon as possible. After missing a whole term in 2021 because of their incompetence, Bristol City Council stopped funding the place and my child ended up with nothing.
During this time, I had been told by an Educational Welfare Officer for South Gloucestershire Council that I could be fined for my child’s non-attendance. This was quite frankly ridiculous considering I had tried every avenue to make sure my child was able to attend school and the only barrier had been the school itself.
Fining parents for non-attendance because a school has deliberately discriminated against their disability does nothing but prop up institutional disability discrimination. As well as targeting a disadvantaged Minoritised group, it makes the lives of Send (special educational needs and disabilities) families utterly miserable and traumatises the child or young person at the heart of it.
The Multi Academy Trust – South Gloucestershire and Stroud Academy Trust, is as much to blame as the individual school. They were complicit in letting this dire quality of education carry on and were well informed of issues, despite the school deliberately failing to forward on a complaint I had made to the governing body.
In the entire academic year from 2021 to 2022, I think my child has had four, maybe five maths lessons. This all resulted from a school absolutely determined not to put in Reasonable Adjustments to allow my child to access education. In this respect, the Ofsted inspection did not delve in any way deep enough into the full extent of the school’s failings.
Last spring, my son wrote to People Scrutiny Commission at Bristol City Council about his experiences. He said: ‘My EHCP is not working out. The school hasn’t followed it really at all. They’re pushing me out of school, off rolling me for no apparent reasons. The Annual Review meeting was stressful and annoying and full of lies from the school. They said horrible things about me.
‘They are removing things that would help me in my EHCP which leads me to be stressed, angry, most likely to have a meltdown. Then the school say they can’t do anything about it. Then attempt to off roll which is disgusting due to this happening before at a different school. I think it’s quite bad and the expectations are very low, especially when it comes to GCSEs.’
When it comes to disability, Send and Ofsted, I don’t believe inspections go deeply enough. Ofsted inspectors are also not perfect beings and can be caught up with their own prejudices and discrimination – as we have experienced in another case.
A lot more requires improvement at SGS Pegasus School, along with the quality of the curriculum and the leadership of the school. It needs to understand the very fundamental basics of Send provision so they are no longer allowed to further traumatise some of Bristol’s most vulnerable learners.