School lifts veil on substandard leadership

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AFTER weeks of ‘extreme distress and anxiety’ Beaulieu Convent parents have finally been told why the headmaster stepped down and another senior teacher left the school unexpectedly at short notice.

The veil was lifted at a meeting convened by the school’s trustees on Thursday evening where parents were told about the damning findings of a inspection carried out in November. It found that, while the school had a ‘caring and supportive culture and ethos’, teaching and leadership standards were well below where they should be.

The inspection’s report also criticised the school’s staff safety checks, which it said were inadequate.

‘Leaders’ records of the checks made on staff, volunteers, directors and trustees to ensure that they are safe to work with children do not meet requirements. This needs to be resolved urgently. Similarly, not all of the required policies are up to date and made available on the website for parents,’ the report said.

The departure of the popular head of school Andrea Firby just before Christmas sparked an outcry and backlash on social media as parents demanded to know what was going on at the £7,500 Catholic school. More than 1,000 people signed a petition calling for her reinstatement. Former long-serving head teacher Chris Beirne was replaced and is currently on sick leave.

Sister Geraldine, a school trustee, apologised to parents for the shocking way trust had been lost and said she was ‘deeply sorry’.

‘Pupils’ behaviour for learning is variable across the different years. Strong leadership in early years, coupled with a clear vision for learning, ensures that the youngest children get off to a flying start and achieve well by the age of five. Typically, in Key Stages 1 and 2 the pupils are encouraged to blossom,’ the report said.

However, the inspection raised serious concerns about the quality of learning in Key Stages 3 and 4, the years for pupils aged 11 to 16.

‘Inconsistencies in the quality of teaching’ were found, with some teachers not checking pupils’ previous attainment and not tailoring lessons to their needs. Consequently, the report said, high-achieving students were not being pushed and were failing to reach their potential.

‘As a result, there are too many lessons where pupils sit passively whilst their teachers talk,’ inspectors said. ‘This inhibits the level of challenge for some pupils, whilst others can struggle to keep up.

‘Pupils’ GCSE attainment at the end of Year 11 is higher than the UK and Island average. The school is to be commended for having an inclusive sixth form provision which flexibly offers students places on a wider range of A-level courses by working in partnership with other local schools. However, A-level grades are slightly below the Jersey average. Senior leaders agree that too few pupils with high prior attainment achieve the highest grades possible at both GCSE and A-level.

‘Although leaders make checks on the standard of teaching, their self-evaluation is over-generous. Leaders’ monitoring and improvement activities are not sufficiently robust. Consequently, they have not ensured that all areas of the Jersey curriculum are securely covered in the primary school or that all teaching is consistently good within and across subjects in the secondary school.’

The JEP learned of the damning report and the circumstances of Mrs Firby departure early in the new year and asked Education on 3 January to release the report so parents understood what was happening and to end the speculation rife on social media, much of which was inaccurate. Those requests were rejected.

In a statement, Sister Geraldine, one of the school’s trustees, said: ‘Right from the very beginning, parents were invited to be involved in Beaulieu, so it is all the more shocking that recent events have shaken our mutual trust and saddened us all. We, the trustees, are deeply sorry that we have failed to provide sufficient reassurance and information at this difficult time and that this relationship has been damaged.’

She added: ‘Over the past six months, it had become increasingly clear to the trustees and directors that all was not well. We recognise that we have not held senior leaders sufficiently accountable. For whilst we have regularly received lengthy reports and feedback on all aspects of school life, too much was taken at face value and not sufficiently challenged. Our commitment to you going forward is that this will no longer be the case.’

She informed parents that an initial review by accounts and change consultants BDO would take place during the Easter holidays and that findings and recommendations would be shared. That statement may well concern parents amid widespread suspicions that the school is not in a strong financial position.

‘We wish to reassure all parents and staff that the trustees have always sought the best for Beaulieu and our intention is to be as open and transparent as possible with you all, both now and in the future,’ she added.

Marina Mauger, negotiating secretary for teaching union NASUWT, also addressed parents at Thursday’s meeting at St Mary and St Peter’s Church.

She said: ‘Beaulieu Convent School has unfortunately suffered a series of events which have caused extreme distress and anxiety to the whole school community. Jersey is a difficult place [in which] to live during such times due to the unprecedented media attention such events generate occurring only in such small communities.’

She added that plans were in place ‘to reassure staff, parents and students that Beaulieu is committed to returning to be a school of excellence, where all of the community can feel safe and supported’.

In a letter sent to parents yesterday, chair of trustees Bernadette Cooper said: ‘My fellow trustees and I hope that last night’s briefing can be the start of a new beginning for all of us at Beaulieu, in partnership with you and your daughters and sons. We hope to now take the necessary steps to move forward positively and with great optimism, as we work together to rebuild trust and confidence in Beaulieu for the future.’

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