The New Elizabethan School in Hartlebury, Worcestershire, once hailed as the new hope for special needs education in the UK, is now for sale, after a critical report of a recent emergency inspection conducted by Ofsted, and obtained and reviewed by Sunday Mercury, was made public. Ofsted, which inspected the school three times since it's been opened, found discipline and administrative problems at the NES, and condemned administrators for failing to adhere to the rules and regulations governing independent schools.
The report lists 17 areas of concern, including:
– Ensuring there are proper measures to prevent pupils harming themselves and others.
– Ensuring that staff training on safeguarding has been carried out.
– Carrying out enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checks on staff employed at the school.
– Making sure there are adequate security arrangements for the grounds and buildings.
– Providing a safe outside play area.
– Keeping a full record of their admissions.
– Keeping a full record of any complaints made against the school.
Ofsted also found that lack of adequate oversight led to a higher than normal number of student accidents resulting in physical injury. Combined with high rate of staff turnover, inspectors reported that the faculty were lax in insuring child safety, and overall school security.
"The school's policy to promote good behaviour is not implemented effectively," said inspectors.
"This is evidenced in the very high volume of incidents and accidents at the school in the last and current academic year, and the school's inconsistency in dealing with them as evident from the records."
It has also emerged that Wyvern Education Services Ltd – the firm which runs the school – was almost liquidated after creditors called in thousands of pounds of debts which it could not pay, only to be saved in a last-ditch deal.
The school is also being investigated by Wychavon District Council over whether it paid the correct business rates as part of a general review of firms in the area by the local authority.
The is a long way down for a school that, even before opening its doors in 2007, was thought to represent the future of special-needs education. The plans for the new independent school were considered so revolutionary, that the BBC filmed a series documenting the process of getting NES up and running.
Although plenty of parents were willing to sign up their children and pay the 11,000 GBP in tuition, the school ran into financial difficulties only a few months into its first school year. However, at the last minute, the NES found a savior on one of the school's parents Annabel Goodman, whose 13-year-old son had shuttled between nine other schools before finding a home at New Elizabethan.
Writing in 2007, the Daily Mail profiled Goodman and her efforts to raise money in order to purchase the school to save it from closure.
The 35-year-old barrister has set up a limited company to manage the New Elizabethan School in Worcestershire and cover its £120,000-a-year running costs.
Yesterday Miss Goodman, who is a single mother of two, said she felt taking personal control was the only way to guarantee that Jacob ? who is also mildly autistic and has a spelling age of eight ? receives the education he deserves.
Now, Goodman is facing questions over her stewardship of the New Elizabethan. A group of parents and staff sent anonymous complaints about the way the school was run to Midland politicians, such as an allegation that the school staff weren't being paid, and that conditions at the school were generally unsafe for the students.
A number of them have now banded together to fully investigate Goodman's tenure as school principal and overseer. The group released a letter outlining their concerns:
"Such is the level of worry amongst parents, staff and local authority bodies that an action group has been formed to seek answers to fundamental questions about how fit Miss Goodman is to run a school for vulnerable pupils.
"Our bringing this matter to your (the MP's) attention is not based in any way on seeking retribution but for the health, safety and welfare of the pupils of the school, to whom we owe a duty of care.
"The parents of the school are rightly alarmed by matters that have come to light recently; their concern is that their children are primarily safe but also educated. Many of them have struggled to place their children in larger schools, and they felt that NES had the answers."