Holgate Meadows: Sheffield SEND school now a 'calm place to learn' 18 months on from 'Inadequate' report

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But there is still much work to do at the special school, which is reportedly at least £3m in debt.

A Sheffield special school once scolded because its  pupils “do not feel safe” has been complimented as calm place in which to learn

It has been 18 months since the damning Ofsted report that cast Holgate Meadows School, in Parson Cross, from its rating of ‘Good’ to ‘Inadequate’ in all areas and dropped it into special measures.

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Holgate Meadows School in Parson Cross, Sheffield, has been complimented as a "calm place to learn" 18 months on from a scathing Ofsted report.Holgate Meadows School in Parson Cross, Sheffield, has been complimented as a "calm place to learn" 18 months on from a scathing Ofsted report.
Holgate Meadows School in Parson Cross, Sheffield, has been complimented as a "calm place to learn" 18 months on from a scathing Ofsted report.

The blistering write-up by inspectors in June 2022 criticised seemingly every aspect of the school’s ability to care for its SEND children, who said they “did not feel safe” amid reports of bullying, racial abuse and too many incidents of staff using physical restraint on students.

Now, a new report by the education watchdog has complimented Holgate Meadows for bringing its standards back in line - but there is still work to do, and it remains in special measures.

The report, published on February 1, reads: “Leaders have made progress to improve the school, but more work is necessary.

“The school is now a calm place in which to learn… Incidents of poor behaviour are reducing. Pupils feel safe in school… Leaders and staff are genuinely determined to improve the school. They are making considerable progress towards this ambition. Most staff are proud to work here.”

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Changes include teachers supporting children to enjoy books with time set aside every day for reading or listening to stories, to a new ‘Green Room’ for pupils with high anxiety, to “good-quality pastoral care” from “trusted adults whom [pupils] can talk to in school if they are worried.”

A photo of sports day 2023 at Holgate Meadow School shared by NEXUS MAT.A photo of sports day 2023 at Holgate Meadow School shared by NEXUS MAT.
A photo of sports day 2023 at Holgate Meadow School shared by NEXUS MAT. | NEXUS MAT

The list of new measures now in place bear comparison to report in June 2022, and in many ways imply what was shockingly lacking before at one of Sheffield’s largest SEND schools.

Inspectors write:” Pupils now get the right support and guidance to manage their anxiety and emotions.

“Leaders have continued to strengthen safeguarding arrangements. There is a strong culture of safeguarding. Staff receive suitable training.”

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The report was not without criticisms. Pupil absence remains a serious issue, and students have difficulty accessing the curriculum. Perhaps most notably, teachers were criticised for not using pupils’ Education. Health and Care Plans (EHCP) to support learning.

However, inspectors note: “Leaders are not complacent. They have redoubled their efforts to tackle pupils’ absence.

“They have revised and redesigned the curriculum content. This new curriculum will be implemented from the beginning of the spring term.”

Because it was only a monitoring visit, Holgate Meadows remains formally rated ‘Inadequate’ in all areas, and will stay in special measures.

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Notably, the report acknowledged “significant” ongoing support from NEXUS MAT, a multi-academy trust specialising in SEND schools.

Efforts for Holgate to join NEXUS have been delayed in the past year due to the school’s “significant financial difficulties”, and the inspectors have now ordered “essential maintenance work to the school building is to be undertaken” before it can proceed.

Indeed, a statement by headteacher Sarah Storer about the latest report was shared by NEXUS’ press office.

She said: “We are pleased to see the report highlight some of the positive changes that have already taken place at Holgate Meadows. It is encouraging to receive confirmation that we are moving in the right direction, but we recognise there is always more to do, and are committed to furthering this trajectory with pace and purpose. We’re thankful to our counterparts at Sheffield City Council, as well as colleagues at Nexus Multi Academy Trust for supporting us on this journey in ensuring we improve outcomes for our staff and pupils.” 

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Warren Carratt, CEO of Nexus Multi Academy Trust, also said they were “resolute in our dedication to ensuring we achieve swift and lasting improvement” at Holgate.

It comes after The Star over the last six months how Holgate Meadows and its sister school, Heritage Park, are reportedly in over £5m of combined debt, a figure that a source close to the school called “unpayable.” and led to a raft of redundancies for teaching assistants.

Sources say Sheffield City Council is planning to write off the multi-million-pound figure for both schools, with no guidance yet if it will be reimbursed by central Government.

£5m is more than the council's entire annual school maintenance budget. It is not known which trust Heritage could join.

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It comes four years after an 'Interim Executive Board' was appointed to both schools by the city council in 2019 - when both schools were rated 'Good' and Holgate Meadows even had a surplus of £350,000.

In the four years since then, Holgate Meadows has not only spent that £350,000 and gone into the red by £3m.

Inspectors have previously heavily criticised said Interim Executive Board for not having a “clear vision”, but the new report now notes that “members of the transition board who act for the interim executive board continue to fulfill their role well.”

It is believed the huge debts run up by Holgate Meadows and Heritage Park are swollen by the overuse of alternative provision, in which children are not educated at the school and are, for example, taught at home for a number of hours a week by tutors. This is not reimbursed or funded by Sheffield City council, and reportedly has previously cost £4,000 a week.

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However, other costs not outlined in the letter include the £400,000 paid to the school’s former headteacher, Tony Middleton, between 2019 and 2023, while he was suspended ahead of a disciplinary hearing in February when he lost his job. He is understood to be challenging the decision.

Three interim executive headteachers and three principals were also paid salaries during those four years.

Other methods of support by the council for Holgate have included the funding of 19 "ghost pupils". This is where Holgate this year only has 76 children on its roll and should therefore receive less funding, but receives full funding from the local authority as if it had a full roll.

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