Sheffield's Bradfield School: Fighting hard to change perceptions during its journey of improvement
The perception of Bradfield School is one that can only improve over time – and leaders are very much determined to make this happen.
Headteacher Adrian May openly admits that the perception of his school, in Worrall, isn’t always a positive one especially after a damning report by Ofsted inspectors branded both the quality of its education and the behaviour and leadership ‘inadequate’.
The report, coupled with concerns in relation to historic financial difficulties and a period of unrest during staff strikes over the closure of its sixth form last year, has admittedly left some parents and members of the community with a lack of confidence in the school and its ability to teach their children.
But leaders believe they are now firmly on the way to making many of these issues a thing of the past with help of the Tapton School Academy Trust (TSAT) which officially took formal control of the school on February 1.
David Dennis, CEO and director of secondaries for TSAT, said: “Pretty early doors we started to negotiate with the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to move forward the finances. The TSAT trustees, whose job is to make sure that nothing gets in the way of any of the students’ experience, were supportive of the work in supporting Bradfield and then we ended up in negotiations with external bodies.”
During this time the trust worked in partnership with Bradfield trustees, having to make some difficult decisions including a staffing restructure and the closure of the school’s once-thriving sixth-form.
Mr Dennis added: “Adrian we agreed to take out of Tapton, where he was co-headteacher, to place in Bradfield to take on the role of interim head while at the same time the Bradfield trustees were dealing with the restructure. The issues that we identified at the time were particularly around the quality of the curriculum, teaching and learning, which is what we’ve been working on.
“It’s a fresh start to look forward but not to say its a fresh start without the issues – the issues are the issues and what we want to do is engage with that.”
Arriving as interim headteacher, Mr May began making change and is determined to continue this pattern after taking up the role permanently.
He said: “The first thing I did was change the school motto; the line was ‘where people thrive’ previously and we just made that ‘where all people thrive.
“That was our letter to parents, our assemblies to the children and actually many of the staff meetings started with all because we can’t have a school where 95 or 90 per cent of our children thrive – it has to be for all because actually that 90 per cent are suffering through almost the neglect of others.”
The focus is now on the five areas for improvement identified in the Ofsted report – which Mr Dennis said both TSAT and Bradfield were already aware of and had plans in place to improve – such as creating an ‘ambitious’ curriculum for every student and providing a first-class experience for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).
This also includes making Bradfield School fully inclusive for disadvantaged pupils, ensuring it has a safe and caring atmosphere, improving attendance and securing the school site.
“There is a sixth area of focus, to make sure that the school is as effective and efficient as possible so that we don’t end up in a position of running up financial debt,” Mr Dennis added, explaining how the school is in a better financial position having not brought its historic debt forward through the transfer.
“Some of that is gained by using the trust to provide some of that support that we would have historically had to have on-site.”
This month, middle leaders have begun to take part in routine subject network meetings with other TSAT schools to share best practice and resources, develop a common programme of study, identify staff development needs, and talk about the performance of all students in their subject area.
Mr May said: “Our middle leaders have all taken around 10 special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) students each, whether they are a subject leader, pastoral leader, or senior leader, along with the pastoral team, have made contact with parents to say they’ll be their advocate in school.
“It’s about sharing that responsibility, SEND is not the responsibility of one person or even a small number of people in school, it’s everyone’s responsibility and these advocates are able to push that.”
An interim executive board of experts in behaviour, inclusion, safeguarding and SEND – such as former headteachers, educational psychologists and Special Educational Needs Coordinators – has also been introduced to drive the strategy and ensure the school is supporting all students.
Mr May and Mr Dennis are now holding one-to-one meetings in a bid to improve relationships between the school and all its parents, allowing them to voice their concerns and share ideas for improvement.
Although identifying that there is still a way to go, the pair hope Bradfield School can continue to improve and will be rated as ‘good’ by the end of 2020.