Surrey county council pauses new placements at 'inadequate' SEN school
By Local Democracy Reporting Service
19th Sep 2023 | Local News
New placements at a school for children with additional needs, the Wemms Education Centre, has been paused by Surrey county council until there is "sufficient evidence of improvement".
Surrey's cabinet member for education confirmed concerns were first raised with the school, since rated "inadequate" by Ofsted, in March.
An inspection carried out in May led to the lowest rating possible for Wemms Education Centre, where inspectors said a "culture of discrimination and inequality" went unaddressed.
They also said pupils at the Long Ditton school "fear reprisals" from some senior staff if they report concerns, in a report published on Tuesday (September 12).
Councillor Clare Curran, Surrey County Council's cabinet member for education and learning, told the LDRS the authority had decided to pause any new placements at Wemms.
This pause would be in place until there was "sufficient evidence of improvement being made through the Ofsted monitoring inspection process", she said.
Cllr Curran also said parents and carers of children and young people currently at the school had been given the option to look for an alternative placement.
In a previous statement to the LDRS, the school's chief executive, Duncan Murphy, said the school had put together a "comprehensive action plan" on the steps being taken to "amplify our strengths and target areas of improvement".
Mr Murphy, who has been in post since September 4, said: "It is no secret that the school challenged some areas of the report; now that it has been published, it is important that we focus on what matters the most – being a school that reflects, learns and ensures that every child has the best possible experience under our tutelage."
Surrey has also written to other local authorities with children placed at the school to "make them aware of the current concerns".
Cllr Curran added: "We understand the concern this may cause parents and carers, and the impact and disruption this could have on children, so we are offering support with that transition."
The school provides education for children who have been "unable to cope in mainstream education", many with social, emotional and mental health needs.
It was rated inadequate overall and in the areas of behaviour and attitudes, personal development and leadership and management.
Inspectors rated the quality of education at the school and its sixth form provision as "good", and said teachers were clear about what they wanted pupils to learn and how, with curriculum leaders having "expert subject knowledge".
Fees at the independent school are £50,000 per year, but the county council did not respond to a question about how many pupils it had on roll at Wemms, or how much it had spent in the current and previous academic year on placing children there.
The council also did not respond regarding how many complaints had been received about safeguarding or other concerns at the school.
The Department for Education requested that Ofsted inspect the school "as promptly as possible" following complaints from parents.
Cllr Curran said the county council was "committed to working with [Wemms], alongside Ofsted and the Department for Education collectively to ensure that the necessary improvements are made promptly and robustly".
She said the powers available to the county council were "limited" in the case of independent, non-maintained schools but that the council would continue to offer professional support and keep progress under close review.
The cabinet member said: "As a local authority, Surrey County Council is determined to help all of our children and young people attend a school where they can achieve, be happy and are safe.
"This council raised concerns with Wemms Education Centre, an independent special school for children and young people with additional educational needs and disabilities, in March 2023 and in May Ofsted carried out a preliminary inspection which also identified significant concerns regarding leadership and safeguarding."
Mr Murphy said: "We firmly believe that our community can once more be united behind a shared vision of excellence for those pupils who need a school like ours the most.
"It is a source of great regret to us that the essence of this aim has been misplaced since the move to a new site last year, but now is an opportunity to drive improvement and ensure a long and successful future for our school and its community."