A SPECIAL school threatened with closure has completed an amazing turnaround by soaring to an “outstanding” rating.
Abbey School was only saved from the axe in 2015 following a long campaign by staff and students.
But the previously-inadequate school in Kimberworth is now ranked as one of the best in the borough by Ofsted, which found staff and management “share an unrelenting and common focus to ensure that every pupil in school achieves their very best”.
Head Luci Windle, praised in a previous report for her “inspirational leadership”, said she was “so pleased” with the glowing report.
She thanked parents, carers, Nexus Multi-academy Trust and Rotherham Borough Council for their support, which she said had “complemented the team ethos we have here”.
Ms Windle said Abbey was unusual as it had busy, high stimulus classrooms rather than the calmer, low stimulus areas common in special schools.
“We like the classrooms to ‘become’ whatever the pupils are learning about,” she said.
“You may come in and find children lying on the floor, for example. They choose how they want to learn.
“Every child has their own complete pathway through the school.
“This way of working takes a lot of trust, especially from the local authority, and we’re grateful for their support.
“We have a lot of great partners, including (training group) Learners First. They say it takes a village to raise a child and that’s certainly the case here at Abbey.”
Abbey was rated as outstanding in all five key areas — overall effectiveness; effectiveness of leadership and management; quality of teaching, learning and assessment; personal development, behaviour and welfare; and pupil outcomes.
It is a far cry from the scenes of 2015 when placard-wielding staff protested outside the school — then in special measures — to save it from being closed by the borough council.
Lead inspector Marian Thomas highlighted the “exceptional curriculum”, which she said was innovative and inspirational, adding: “Meticulously careful planning ensures that the needs of each pupil are addressed.”
Leaders regularly checked on staff and pupils’ progress and encouraged staff to work in different ways, she said.
Pupils were able to progress rapidly thanks to being set tasks which inspired and engaged them and teachers’ subject knowledge was strong, the inspection found.
Ms Thomas noted a mindfulness programme helped ensure children were ready to learn at the start of the day, adding: “Pupils’ well-being is at the heart of all that the school does.”
Staff were said to be “exceptionally good” at understanding and addressing the different needs of children with autism or mental health issues.
Pupil behaviour was also highlighted as outstanding, helped by a “nurturing environment” and targeted support, which parents noted rubbed off at home.
They were said to be very courteous and considerate to each other, adults and visitors and told inspectors “how much they loved coming to school and how proud they were to wear their uniforms”.
They felt listened to, particularly through the “exceptional school council”, which offered daily support at breaktime to those who felt worried and dealt with relationship issues and friendship fallouts.
“Pupils feel that bullying does occur occasionally, but is sorted out either by teachers or the school council,” Ms Thomas said, adding: “Pupils take great pride in their work and know how to make it even better.
”They are also encouraged to help improve each other’s work, through kind but frank evaluations.”
The pupil roll, which was slashed from 150 to just 60 as part of the deal to keep Abbey open, had risen back to 149 at the time of the inspection, which Nexus MAT chief executive Warren Carratt said demonstrated its success.
“Abbey School continues to push expectations for what outstanding provision can do for children and families and I’m so proud that the hard work of the children, staff, senior leaders and governors has been recognised by Ofsted,” he said.
“Over the past three years, we’ve seen the school roll increase by over 200 per cent, such is the demand for places.
“For a school to grow like this and still maintain its trajectory of improvement is nothing short of remarkable.
“What I feel especially proud about is the fact that the school does everything it can to meet the needs of each and every pupil.
“We don’t talk about Ofsted grades; we focus on making our school the best it can be for the community we serve.
“Luci and her team do amazing work every single day and I’m delighted that Ofsted have found this to be outstanding.”
The few areas highlighted as needing work include upgrading the outdoor play area to give children better chances to exercise, developing learning about other communities, building stronger relationships with parents and improving sixth-form provision.
Ms Windle said a new playground was the next major project after the narrow access road was widened and the school was aware of its responsibility to broaden students’ horizons.