The inspection was carried out by one Additional Inspector.
Description of the school
The school opened in September 2004 following the local authority review of special education. It is an amalgamation of four former schools. It operated on a number of sites until April 2006, when the new building was complete. The school is co-located with a mainstream primary school, a private nursery and other children's services. The majority of pupils have severe or profound learning difficulties. At over one third, the proportion of pupils with autism is increasing. A few pupils have moderate learning needs. Attainment on entry to the school is well below that expected of pupils of this age. Almost all pupils are of White British heritage. A very small number are looked after children or from travelling families. Since the re-organisation, there has been a high staff turnover.
Overall effectiveness of the school
This is a satisfactory but improving school that provides satisfactory value for money. Since amalgamation, it has gone through considerable upheaval. Initially, when the school was on three sites, the accommodation was inadequate and its progress was slow. During this time, the newly appointed headteacher had to work extremely hard to gain the confidence of all involved in the work of the school. Since the move to a permanent base, the rate of progress has improved considerably and is now good. There is good capacity to continue to improve at the same rate, although the school's own view is more cautious.
Staff and pupils are already reaping the benefits of the school's location and new accommodation. Though academic links are informal, pupils' social development profits considerably from being alongside pupils in the mainstream primary school. In addition, daily access to a range of medical therapists, and before and after school clubs, contributes well to pupils' well-being. Staff from the mainstream school report they are increasing their skills, especially when working with pupils who learn more slowly, because of the close links with Hob Moor Oaks. The formal links providing support for pupils from other York primary schools are good and contribute well to the achievement of these pupils.
Standards are well below average because of pupils' learning difficulties. Nevertheless, achievement is satisfactory, as are teaching, learning and the curriculum. Young children in the Foundation Stage achieve well because of the good provision and shared activities with the mainstream Reception classes. The school underestimates the effectiveness of the arrangements for these children, judging them to be simply satisfactory. In Key Stages 1 and 2, there are differences in the achievement of pupils of different capabilities. Though they move forward in small steps, the rate of progress for pupils with severe and profound difficulties is improving. Higher attaining pupils do not always achieve as well as they should because they are not sufficiently stretched. The achievement of pupils with communication difficulties is affected adversely by the lack of a coherent programme to meet their needs.
Teachers and support staff have had to become familiar with how pupils of differing needs learn. Their expertise is now improving, as a result of new appointments and staff training, but there is still a way to go. Where teachers are experienced, teaching is good, but overall the quality of teaching is inconsistent and this is reflected in pupils' learning.
Pupils enjoy school. They are well behaved and make good gains in their personal development because of the good provision for their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Joint activities with 'partner' mainstream classes, for example, in music and wheelchair dancing, increase pupils' confidence, independence and maturity. Pupils are helped to adopt safe practices and are encouraged to consider a healthy lifestyle. Attendance is good. Most absences are through ill health. Pupils receive satisfactory care, support and guidance. Parents have mixed views of the school. Most are pleased with the new arrangements, but a few do not have full confidence in the leadership. The governing body and local authority are currently dealing with their concerns.
The quality of leadership and management is satisfactory. That of the senior team is good and is moving the school forward. Tough decisions and resistance from staff and parents have had to be dealt with, but after a long, hard journey, most now say they feel valued and pleased with how things are progressing. The leadership team know what the school does well and where action is needed. Good systems are in place to take the school forward.
What the school should do to improve further
- Extend the range of methods used to enable pupils with communication difficulties to make better progress.
- Provide work that stretches higher attaining pupils.
- Ensure greater consistency in the quality of teaching and learning.
Achievement and standards
Good assessment systems now provide a clear picture of pupils' achievements. Achievement overall is satisfactory. In the Foundation Stage it is good, especially in personal and social development, and in communication and language. Following a whole-school focus on developing the provision for those with severe and profound difficulties, these pupils are now making better progress and achieving well. While not unsatisfactory, the achievement of higher attaining pupils could be better. This is because some of the activities provided do not make them think and reason. Equally, opportunities are missed to reinforce targets in individual education plans. Some higher attaining pupils attend schools in their home area for one session a week, but these links have limited academic purpose. With the move to the new site, plans are being made to accommodate other higher attaining pupils in the mainstream primary school, in order to boost their learning. The pupils with communication needs, who use a picture exchange system (PECs) to make their needs known, achieve well. However, others with communication difficulties do not do as well because there is not enough emphasis on other forms of communication.
Personal development and well-being
Pupils are well behaved and enjoy school. They have coped exceptionally well with the move to new premises because of careful preparation, such as the compilation of 'On the Move' books. They say they especially enjoy taking lunch and playing with new friends from the mainstream primary school. Through good provision for their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, pupils have an awareness of diversity. Attractive displays produced jointly with the mainstream primary school, for instance, of 'Peace One Day', give pupils a sense of pride and community. Pupils are gaining an awareness of other cultures through links with schools in India. They have a growing understanding of the need to keep safe and healthy, reminding staff that they have to clean their teeth after lunch.
Quality of provision
Teaching and learning
The quality of teaching is improving, but there is still too much that is mediocre. Teachers now plan to a common format and aim to provide different tasks for pupils of differing needs. Where teachers are confident and knowledgeable, this works well, but too often the work for higher attaining pupils lacks challenge. Similarly, where teachers are familiar with how pupils of differing needs learn, then progress is good but again this is not always the case. This is especially so in providing for pupils with communication needs. Some teachers confidently use PECs, so pupils make good progress. The use of signing to support the spoken word is patchy, as is the use of symbols. Currently, two commercial symbols packages are used and this is confusing for both adults and pupils. Teachers have built up an accurate picture of pupils' achievements through a good range of assessment procedures. These are now being used to focus on gaps in learning.
Curriculum and other activities
The school's leaders recognised that in the past the curriculum did not meet the needs of many of the pupils and have made various changes. Subjects other than numeracy and literacy are being taught under topic headings. This has been carefully planned and checked against National Curriculum requirements, but it is too soon to judge the impact of the initiative. The curriculum for pupils with more severe and complex needs is being developed and is already contributing to their improved progress. The new building and high quality resources have opened up numerous learning opportunities. Every pupil now works alongside pupils from the primary school. Though for many this is informal, these links are already making a considerable contribution to the pupils' personal development.
Care, guidance and support
Following the move to the new accommodation, a health and safety check was undertaken and most of the identified faults have now been remedied. The way pupils are moved and handled has been reviewed recently and high quality care plans are now in place. Child protection procedures have been made known to all staff. Pupils with medical needs are provided for well. Links with therapy support agencies have improved considerably, as a result of being together on the same site.
Links with parents and carers are variable. Most have come to terms with the move to the new building and are appreciative of the opportunities that have opened up for their children. Despite numerous initiatives introduced by the leadership team, some parents are finding it difficult to cope with their child being part of a much larger school and with new staff. The inspector received letters of concern that have been passed to the responsible safeguarding officer. The governors and local authority are also looking into these concerns.
Leadership and management
The leadership team were all new appointments when the school opened. They acknowledge it has taken a while to 'get things right'. They have faced sizeable challenges as well as coping with constant change. Nevertheless, following consultation with staff, parents and pupils, they have secured a high quality building and resources. Staff and pupils are now familiar with routines and systems so school improvement is accelerating. All acknowledge there is much to be done, particularly in subject management. Even so, staff are rising to the high expectations of the leadership team. Good checks on classroom practice have already led to significant improvements. A detailed analysis of pupils' achievements has focused on what needs to be done and made target-setting more realistic.
Many of the governors are new, but are keen to become more involved in the work of the school. Anxious to bring parents on board, the governors have encouraged each of the parent representatives to link with a particular class. This is reported to be working well. Alongside the headteacher, they have made some good appointments that are aiding improvement. This is especially so for pupils with profound and sensory difficulties. Under the visionary leadership of the headteacher, the school is beginning to settle and is looking to the future with anticipation and enthusiasm.