The inspection was carried out by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors.
Description of the school
Situated north of the centre of Brighton, the school is larger than average, and serves an area of both privately owned and rented housing. The proportion of pupils who have a statement of special educational need is similar to the national figure, but the number who have learning difficulties is significantly above the national average. Most pupils are of White British heritage and very few speak English as an additional language.
Overall effectiveness of the school
Many parents choose to send their children to Downs Infant School because, 'It is a wonderful school, at the heart of our local community.' The vast majority believe it is outstanding; they are right!
The main reasons for the school's success are the outstanding leadership and management and the excellent quality of teaching. The school is highly self-critical and the governors hold it to account rigorously. The school knows its strengths and weaknesses very well and responds robustly when it identifies an issue needing attention. Because it is a school that is always seeking to be better, the senior management team is too modest in several of its judgements about the school's work.
Learning underpins all activities and all staff are constantly looking for ways to help all pupils learn better whilst taking into account that the learning journey should be interesting and exciting. Pupils become increasingly independent in their learning due to the carefully crafted and targeted interventions by staff in the Reception Year. This excellent start is built on exceptionally well as pupils move up through Years 1 and 2. The result of the school's excellent work is that pupils of all abilities make outstanding progress, culminating in well above average standards. Pupils' achievement is outstanding.
Pupils show that they enjoy their education tremendously through what they say, by their considerate behaviour, and by their outstanding attendance. The enjoyment of learning manifests itself in the superb and diverse displays around the school. The vast majority of parents agree. One such example is the comment of a parent that, 'My son thinks school is great, wants to wear school uniform because he is proud to belong and cannot wait to do his homework.' This is not surprising because the pupils are responding to circumstances where much is on offer to motivate them and meet their needs, and much is expected of them.
The school's strong emphasis on personal, social and health education, as well as pupils' increasing proficiency in basic skills, ensures that pupils are prepared extremely well for their future lives. Pupils vote through an election system to appoint the school council. They know this is a genuine opportunity, amongst others, to have their voices heard. This is part of a curriculum that gives great attention to spiritual, moral, social and cultural education, with the result that outstanding developments are achieved.
All members of the school community have a voice and help to shape the school improvement plan. For example, the teaching assistants drove the development of making this a 'signing school' where the use of Makaton signing along with signs and symbols helps all pupils learn and understand better. This also links with the multi-sensory approach to the very creative curriculum as witnessed during the inspection with the 'monster rumpus'.
The impacts of initiatives are monitored effectively but the school recognises the need to refine further the processes they use in evaluating their contribution to pupils' learning. Also, despite the very good evidence to demonstrate that the achievement of pupils with learning difficulties or disabilities is outstanding, the school is aware that it could make this more accessible to visitors.
The school is set to improve even further because of its outstanding leadership, committed and hard-working staff, strong parental support and the positive attitudes shown by its pupils.
What the school should do to improve further
- Sharpen the measuring of the impact of individual initiatives on pupils' learning.
- Be in a position to easily demonstrate the learning journey that pupils with learning difficulties or disabilities make.
Achievement and standards
The school rightly judges this aspect of its work as outstanding.
Pupils start school with skills that are broadly average, but many children enter the Reception Year knowing very few letter sounds or words. They are largely unable to write their names, and are unable to count accurately. In all three year groups achievement for all pupil groups is outstanding and standards are well above average by the end of Year 2. The challenging targets that the school sets are met and the bar is raised annually. The vast majority of parents have witnessed this, for example the parent of a pupil new to the school wrote, 'Since joining the school there has been an immediate excitement in her work and a rapid improvement in writing, reading and maths.'
Personal development and well-being
This area of the school's work is outstanding.
Pupils develop an exceptionally good understanding of the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise. Pupils who take advantage of the school lunch are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the quality provided for them, a typical comment being, 'They are great and really tasty; you know they are low in fat too!' Accommodation restricts some of the physical activities that the school would like to enhance, but it creatively uses innovative ideas such as 'brain gym' to get pupils moving about in class as much as possible.
Quality of provision
Teaching and learning
The school rightly judges the quality of teaching and learning to be outstanding. Adults play to their strengths but work as a coordinated team with a shared vision. Teachers have high expectations and sharply match teaching to the needs of different pupils. Pupils questioned about the school consistently mentioned their 'great' teachers and teaching assistants. Parents also speak highly of the teaching; one parent wrote, 'Downs Infants is a very nurturing school where my child has received excellent care and teaching.'
Very good use is made of teaching assistants to offer support to pupils who need it. Parents of children with learning difficulties shared that they were very appreciative of the sensitive and respectful way that their children have been enabled to succeed.
Curriculum and other activities
The curriculum is outstanding. It has strong coherence because it is underpinned by the school's values. It enlightens and prepares pupils from a monocultural school extremely well for life in the wider, diverse community. It covers the requirements of the National Curriculum thoroughly but it has been tailored so that creativity permeates all areas and cross-curricular links are exploited. Examples of this are the breathtaking 3D owl sculptures created in art supporting literacy, the beautiful singing (acapella and in the round) and the Mexicolore.
The school offers a satisfactory range of extra activities such as ballet through its partnership with different groups. It would like to offer more activities of its own or allow for greater numbers such as for the samba band but the growth is restricted by accommodation issues.
Care, guidance and support
The care, guidance and support given by the school are exemplary. Pupils say they feel safe and the arrangements for safeguarding them are highly effective.
Personal, social and health education has been shrewdly developed and underpins the caring and inclusive ethos of the school. Because the curriculum is thought through in terms of skills to be developed as well as knowledge to be gained, both within and outside of school, the personal development of students of all abilities is taken forward exceptionally well.
The school tracks pupils' achievement very closely and analyses the data on pupils' performance both by the individual and by groups, such as ethnicity and gender. Pupils are told clearly what they need to do to improve their work. They know that they will get help when they need it, but they are also helped to develop a real sense of responsibility for their own learning.
Leadership and management
Leadership and management, at all levels, including governance, are outstanding. There is a shared ethos that permeates the life of the school, setting high standards and expectations. The impact of this leadership at all levels can be seen both in the exceptional test results and in the confident, happy children that the school develops. The impacts of initiatives are monitored effectively but the school recognises the need to refine further the processes they use in evaluating their contribution to pupils' learning. The school provides outstanding value for money.
There was a very high response to the parental questionnaire sent out prior to the inspection. The vast majority of parents support the work of the school and tell stories of the very positive impact that the school has on their children's personal development and achievement. However, they and the school are concerned about the planned building works for a waste transfer facility near to the school and feel that this and the demolition of the existing site could potentially jeopardise the children's learning and safety. Parents are confident that the school will minimise this, but feel that the local authority could have been more supportive in asking the council to reconsider its decision.