Special school with yearly £60k fees told it ‘requires improvement’
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A small independent school near Ipswich has been told it “requires improvement” for the second time running after inspectors raised concerns over its management.
Acorn Cottage, a private school in Elmsett with annual fees of £60,000, caters for just seven students - all of whom have social, emotional and mental health needs.
The special school, which is owned by care home provider Care Focus, was rated "good" by education regulator Ofsted in 2012.
However it saw its ranking drop to "requires improvement" five years later after inspectors found leaders' self-evaluation and planning was "not focused enough".
Now, following the most recent inspection in June, the school has been rated "requires Improvement" again - with inspectors blaming leaders' "overgenerous" view of the quality of management, poor documentation, and failure to follow school policies.
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The quality of teaching, behaviour and welfare and outcomes for pupils are all judged to be 'Good' - with the effectiveness of leadership alone bringing the school's rating down.
The inspectors criticised the management for a "lack of clarity" between leaders and proprietor Care Focus, regarding their "different roles and responsibilities in maintaining the independent school standards".
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"There are significant inconsistencies between sites about how complaints are being identified and recorded. While all concerns are dealt with effectively, there is no clarity about when these are being recorded as complaints," the inspectors said.
"Leaders' management and oversight of risk assessments lack rigour. While diligent staff update and improve risk assessments according to the needs of pupils, leaders are not routinely reviewing whether these are appropriate, or where leaders need to act to ensure that these risk assessments are enacted appropriately."
However the headteacher, Gary Cotter, was praised for his work to "address several areas of weakness identified in the previous inspection".
"He has implemented essential basic checks on the quality of teaching, learning and assessment. Staff now receive routine line management meetings, regular observations with feedback and appropriate appraisal," the report said.
The inspectors also praised the "diligent and hardworking" staff, who they found "work collaboratively to ensure that pupils receive truly holistic welfare support that meets their needs".
The report added: "Positive relationships between staff and pupils mean that most classrooms are supportive learning environments.
"Despite weaknesses in leaders' formal monitoring and mapping of the curriculum, staff routinely explore wider social issues related to democracy, mental health, the rule of law, bullying and much more.
"Teaching staff work collectively to provide effective, bespoke support to pupils, which ensures that personal development, behaviour and welfare are securely good."
Care Focus said it did not wish to comment on the report.