Ofsted inspectors tell UCL Academy it ‘requires improvement'

'Unique' work recognised but school is marked down on behavioural issues

Thursday, 16th June — By Harry Taylor

UCL Academy

UCL Academy in Swiss Cottage

A TOP secondary school which is the borough’s only academy has been downgraded by Ofsted over issues with pupil behaviour and leadership.

UCL Academy was landed with the “requires improvement” rating after an inspection by the government body in March.

Inspectors said pupils’ learning is affected by low-level disruption and boisterous behaviour, while some staff felt unsupported by senior leaders over behavioural issues.

But co-headteacher Robin Street has said that the school was marked down after incidents in just three lessons across 60 that inspectors sat in on. It had been rated “good” after an inspection in 2016.

Speaking to the New Journal at the school in Adelaide Road, Mr Street said: “Of course it was a surprise. We know there will be situations where students will express emotion, be human, be teenagers, and we’re here to help them, not bring them down.

“Yes there was some low-level disruption, but in one lesson it was a student going off-task and staring out of the window, in another it was someone talking to their mate, not bashing someone on the head.

“We’re proud that Ofsted recognised the excellent, unique work when it comes to our curriculum and student experience, but we’re taking it on the chin, and we’re getting on with resolving the issue they have identified and moving on.”

In response to concerns from staff in a survey and the Ofsted findings, the academy school will be having more senior leaders on hand to help with behavioural issues in lessons. It will also withdraw the staggered start it had kept since Covid, which will help teachers sanction pupils, including with detentions.

Changes from Covid were also behind an inconsistency in uniform policy that was identified by inspectors.

Currently pupils who have PE will wear their kit to school on that day, minimising time in changing rooms and potential spread of the virus.

However, this means that some pupils who were playing sport after school would have casual clothing on, in the same lessons as teenagers wearing their shirts, ties and blazers.

“It’s one of those things that we would have gone back to in time, but this has just accelerated it. It’s a case of Ofsted’s computer saying no, there’s no discretion,” Mr Street said.

The school’s quality of teaching was praised, as was its sixth form and personal development.

Its “ambitious” curriculum drew credit, as did its extra-curricular trips to the theatre and sports days. “Younger pupils value the extracurricular activities and opportunities that take them out of their comfort zone,” the report says.

UCL Academy has 1,134 pupils with 278 in its sixth form. It has a higher than average level of pupils who speak ­English as a second ­language, and the proportion of disadvantaged pupils
is “well above” the national average.

The school was set up in September 2012, linked with University College London, and was hailed as the “future of education” by Labour peer and HS2 champion Lord Adonis. Staff met with parents last night about the grading, with the report being published today (Thursday).

Part of UCL Academy’s response is giving more support to staff after 15 per cent of them told an Ofsted survey that they didn’t feel supported enough over behavioural issues.

Led by lead inspector Lisa Strong, the report says: “Leaders should act as role models in helping staff to apply behaviour sanctions consistently.”

Mr Street said: “We won’t be appealing. There is a staff voice in there, and if we appeal we are not listening to that group of staff. We must listen to all staff and support them, and we can always give more support. The survey did show that staff are happy, and we have the lowest staff turnover in our history.”

“It’s two years until Ofsted come back – bring it on. I’ll have them back tomorrow,” he added.

In a statement, governors and UCL said: “We are grateful that the inspectors recognise the many strengths of the UCL Academy, which reflects the hard work and dedication of our staff. Governors are already taking steps, appropriate to our role, to work with the academy and ensure that we continually improve whilst maintaining our strong vision and ethos.”

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