Downham Market school sponsors told: ‘Improve standards or go’

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Urgent action is needed to raise “unacceptably low” standards at a West Norfolk secondary school, senior education officials have warned.

Bosses of the Downham Academy have been ordered to draw up an action plan to address its weaknesses, or risk having their sponsorship of the school terminated.

The full extent of the academy’s troubles has emerged following the publication yesterday of a letter from the Department of Education to the school’s sponsors, the CWA Academies Trust.

Tim Coulson, regional schools commissioner for the East of England, wrote: “The Secretary of State considers that the standards of pupils’ performance at Downham Market Academy are unacceptably low.

“Unless the matters on which our conclusions are based are remedied to the Secretary of State’s satisfaction within a reasonable period, we will move to issue a Termination Warning

Notice.”

That means that a new sponsor would have to be found for the school.

The letter follows a visit to the school by officials in October, which highlighted concerns about weak leadership, improving student performance, weak marking of students’ work, assessment of progress made towards targets and staffing needs.

It called for an action plan to be drawn up to address the problems and for the trust to consider whether a new sponsor should be found.

Trust chief executive David Pomfret said today: “The Trust leadership acknowledges the regional schools commissioner’s (RSC) concerns about standards of pupil performance at Downham Market Academy and recognises that progress towards improving standards in the past two years has not been sufficient.

“As a result, the Trust is putting in place a detailed action plan and additional resources to address the issues raised by the RSC, particularly around concerns about the quality of leadership, weakness in marking, assessment and feedback, poor behaviour for learning and weak teaching and learning.

“The Trust is fully committed to supporting Downham Market Academy to become a successful school where parents can be confident their children will be supported and inspired to achieve their academic potential, and I believe the plan we are now implementing will deliver this.”

The publication of the warning letter comes only weeks after academy principal Jon Ford stepped down from the role.

Phil Hearne was appointed interim principal for the remainder of the academic year in his place.

Mr Pomfret said: “Phil is a very experienced educational leader with an impressive track record of transforming under-performing schools and delivering significant improvements in exam results.

“I am confident that he will provide strong and inspirational leadership for staff and students.”