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Classes of 120 and no hot food: RAAC impact revealed

Pupils at a RAAC-affected school had to learn in classes of 120, had no access to hot food and have seen their attainment fall behind by a full grade, a report revealing the potential impact of the crumbly concrete has revealed.

Meanwhile, an Ofsted inspection at a separate school has signalled how RAAC has hampered improvement efforts and been “unsettling” for staff and pupils, affecting behaviour.

Nick Hurn, the boss of Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust, expects to write to education secretary Gillian Keegan next week to demand allowances for GCSE and A-level pupils at St Leonard’s School in County Durham.

“If we get no response … then we’ll have to look at our other options, see if there’s a legal route we could take, because we can’t do nothing and allow our children to be disadvantaged,” he told Schools Week.

A report commissioned by the trust concluded that the academy’s youngsters are “around a grade lower than expected” in English and maths, having been moved to classes of 120 children.

No hot food and sweltering classrooms

Hurn believes secondaries like his have experienced “above and beyond what you’d reasonably expect to happen to a school”.

Nick Hurn

“I expect the Department for Education to intervene and direct Ofqual and JCQ to look at us as a special case … because what’s currently in place isn’t adequate. This is massive disruption to around 300 students over an extensive period – it’s been 17 weeks now.”

In a bid to convince exam boards, Hurn commissioned Durham University professors Stephen Gorard and Nadia Siddiqui to examine the extent to which education has been impacted at St Leonard’s since September.

The study, published this morning, calculated that timetable changes have “resulted in a 20-minute reduction in the curriculum time for each subject”. Some students “with free periods reported not attending school at all”, as there was no space to revise between classes.

In some subjects, year 11 and 13 cohorts are reported as behind in curriculum time by at least three weeks.

“For half of the [autumn] term there was no hot food. Many rooms had no desks, and some had temperatures as high as 27C.

“In English and maths … pupils were taught in groups of 120 for seven weeks, with no access to specialist texts for the full first half-termIn recent internal assessments, students are reported by the school to have achieved an average of around a grade lower than expected.”

Pupils did not have access to specialist equipment, such as in art or science. They also had no sports hall or playing fields, which were being used as classrooms.

Teacher fatigue is said to have increased, with leaders reporting “a noticeable increase in staff absences, which have been covered by supply teachers, not always satisfactorily”.

Second RAAC school calls for help

Current guidance for special considerations [for exams] suggests an inflation of 5 per cent of marks, the report said.

But it added: “Given the length and depth of the disruption described above, the inflation could be greater (perhaps 10 per cent), and dependent to some extent on the nature of disruption for each subject.”

In October, Hurn enquired about potentially reintroducing lockdown-style teacher assessed grades for impacted children, who he argued shouldn’t be “disadvantaged through this unprecedented situation”. His question fell on deaf ears.

Bosses of Scalby High School in Scarborough – which sealed off two-thirds of its site following the discovery of the dangerous material – added to calls for a return to pandemic marking two months later.

In a letter to government, seen by Schools Week, its headteacher, Christopher Robinson, stated it would be “extremely unfair” for his pupils “to have their life chances removed through no fault of their own”.

Behaviour slipped as concrete issues destabilised school

Meanwhile in Suffolk, Stowupland High in Suffolk was ordered to improve by Ofsted after inspectors found disruption caused by the crumbly concrete had unsettled staff and children – and even impacted behaviour.

This comes as Stowupland High School, in Suffolk, was issued a ‘requires improvement’ grade by Ofsted. The report cited the secondary’s issues with RAAC as a cause of significant disruption.  

They found more needed to be done “to stabilise the staff body”, with this “not helped by the school’s buildings containing” the concrete.

“As a result, important sections of the site are closed. Leaders and staff have
shown determination and considerable effort to keep the school open to all pupils.
However, the disruption has been unsettling for staff and pupils. This has affected
behaviour.”

It was first visited by inspectors in January last year, prior to the discovery of the dangerous material eight months later. But it was deemed more evidence was needed to come to a judgement, so inspectors returned in December.  

DfE: ‘Not possible’ to make other changes

A spokesperson for the John Milton Academy Trust, which runs Stowupland, said “huge efforts” have been made “to limit any disruption to pupils”. The chain “has reviewed the way it supports the school and will be putting into action our plans for improvement”.

Responding to Hurn, the DfE stressed special consideration is only used when something happens at the time of an assessment. It is “not possible” to make other changes “to address the impact of variable disruption to teaching for some groups of pupils”.

 “Alongside Ofqual we have worked with awarding organisations to help facilitate discussions with affected schools,” a department spokesperson added.

“We have asked awarding organisations to, where possible, agree longer extensions for coursework and non-examined assessment.”

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