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Ofsted Report Response from the Principal Camilla Thornalley

17 February 2020
Ofsted Report Response from the Principal Camilla Thornalley

Following our recent Ofsted inspection, as a team across the school and trust, we have reflected on the report and its findings. I believe it's important to respond to the report, offer an insight into our plans for the future, and recognise the support we have received from the community.

Whilst I was encouraged that inspectors recognised the improvements we have made at John Madejski Academy since their last visit, and that the vision of the school and The White Horse Federation is driving this improvement, I am aware that there’s still a way to go in reaching our desired outcomes as a school.

Our students deserve quality-first teaching across all subjects, groups, and stages. As a school, we are committed to ensuring all our young people leave the school as happy, confident, and ambitious individuals; equipped with the skills they need to build their careers and achieve their aspirations. The development of leaders throughout the school is key to achieving this goal.

The Challenges Identified in the Report

In order for us to make rapid progress, we must continue to address the areas in which improvements are required.

A significant challenge faced by our school, and one which was highlighted in the Ofsted report, is recruitment in particular subject areas. Both presently and historically, it has been difficult for our school to recruit teachers in specialist subjects such as music, IT, and design technology. This challenge has made it difficult for us to provide the breadth of curriculum our students deserve.

In the UK, the recruitment market for teachers is highly competitive, and in an area such as Reading, we face competition from a large number of other schools, including private and selective schools.

I am very pleased with our current team of staff, who are working extremely hard to further improve outcomes for our students, and it is encouraging that the rate of staff turnover at our school is reducing. As the Ofsted report states, many of our staff, especially middle leaders, are new to the school. While they have already begun to instigate improvements, the full impact of their expertise will be seen in the months and years to come.

We are committed to making sure that they have the opportunity, with the support of the school and The White Horse Federation, to continue developing into teachers and leaders that consistently deliver a first-class education. Through a supportive approach, we are also confident that the rate of retention will continue to improve.

Recently, Ofsted published a report entitled: “Fight or flight? How ‘stuck’ schools are overcoming isolation: evaluation report.” In the report, Ofsted identified schools with a resistant and embedded culture finding it difficult to escape cycles of poor performance. At JMA, we have an ambitious and fresh cohort of staff which means our school, unlike those considered ‘stuck’, is well positioned to improve.

Other important issues identified in the report are attendance, the progress of our students with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND), and the opportunities available for our 6th form students to improve their experience of the world of work.

The Actions Being Taken

It is encouraging that the report recognises the strategies we have initiated in order to further progress, especially in areas we had already identified as requiring action.

Attendance

Poor attendance has been an ongoing barrier to student achievement. Our self-analysis shows that students with less than 95% attendance achieve, on average, one full grade less than students with more than 95% attendance. With these statistics in mind, we have undertaken a number of initiatives that I am pleased to say have already improved overall attendance.

Each student receives a weekly attendance action. We have a praise and reward programme for students whose attendance is above 97% or whose figures are improving, and a supportive action is provided for those whose attendance is low or dropping. To remove barriers to attending school, we have organised a minibus service for students in key groups to be visited if they are absent, and a minibus pick-up service in the mornings. We are also working closely with parents to encourage attendance, and we are extremely grateful for their commitment to tackling this issue. While these measures have already made a positive impact, we continue to strive for all students to have over 97% attendance and for attendance overall to be at least in line with students nationally.

SEND Support

An issue raised in the Ofsted report was the performance of our SEND students. At JMA, we have a high number of SEND students. In order to help them achieve to the best of their abilities, we have recently appointed a new speech and language therapist who provides crucial support to help our students progress in their learning. All students with a SEND need receive wave two or three intervention. However, provision in the classroom is not consistent enough, and we continue to strive to improve this and eliminate variation. In addition, we are continuing to work with local primary schools to improve the student transition process into secondary school.

Middle Leaders

The Ofsted report recognised that some of our key leaders are very new to the school. While I am very pleased with our current staff, and those who have recently joined JMA, I acknowledge the challenge this can create. Consequently, we are undertaking a number of measures to help our leaders hold their departments to account and drive improvement.

Both John Madejski Academy and The White Horse Federation have invested in a consultant who is leading a development programme for our middle leaders. Since its inception, the programme has received positive feedback among staff, and we are seeing an impact.

While the Ofsted report mentioned that our curriculum intent is fit for purpose, we understand how important it is to work with our middle leaders to ensure implementation is effective across all departments. To ensure this is the case, our educators are observed teaching every week and are given fortnightly goals. They also receive ongoing support and training, of which the impact is regularly monitored and quality assured to ensure it has the desired impact.

As part of this support, we are operating a leadership and teaching coaching programme for staff, which involves weekly observations and feedback from a trained coach. We think it’s really important for us to continue developing leaders at all levels, both to make in-school improvements and enhance our offer to new recruits.

Breadth of Curriculum

With the support of The White Horse Federation, we are continuing a sustained recruitment drive as we search for specialist IT and music teachers. We have also made changes to our curriculum which will see more time allocated to technology and the arts from September 2021.

Role of the Community

At JMA, we are extremely fortunate to receive exceptional support and continued collaboration from our local community. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the following partners for their invaluable support:

  • The University of Reading, for their continued work with us on Aspiration in Whitley, a sustained research project involving students and community members that is helping to identify the support the community needs to transform aspirations, a model that other areas now want to utilise.
  • Deloitte, for the resources and mentoring they have been offering our students, as well as their sponsorship of the sports hall rebranding.
  • Reading Football Club and Reading Rockets basketball team, for their support with our sixth formers and hosting our reading intervention. It is great to see them working with our students on subjects outside of sport.
  • The Whitley Community Centre, parent and community governors, and parents in the wider community, for working closely with us to encourage more parents to get involved with the school. The Whitley Community Centre also works with families in crisis and has helped provide support for families in our community facing financial difficulties.
  • The outdoor education centre, Ufton Court, for providing us with free use of their facilities. This has helped us deliver revision sessions, team-building activities, and residentials for our students.

How Parents Can Get Involved

The continued improvement of our school can only be achieved through collaboration with the entire school community. It has been amazing, therefore, to witness the growth of the JMA Parent Forum in the last year, with membership increasing from 6 to 106.

I would encourage any parent or carer with a child at JMA to get involved in the Parent Forum and take the opportunity to have their say and contribute to the leadership of the school.

Additionally, we have recently begun a partnership with the Lets Localise project. Lets Localise is a website that helps people get in touch with and support local organisations through donations and volunteering. In the short time we’ve been involved in the project, Lets Localise has already helped us raise funds for revision guides.

Let’s Localise offers a number of opportunities for parents and members of the community to get involved and help JMA be the best it can be, and your participation in the project would be greatly appreciated.

By continuing the improvement strategies I have outlined, and through the continued enthusiastic participation of the whole school community, I am confident that John Madejski Academy is well on the way to being the excellent school our students deserve.

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