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Parents ‘outraged’ at Ofsted report into a West Norfolk school

A West Norfolk school has taken legal action to overturn the findings of an Ofsted report it says were “flawed” and “irrational”.

Leaders of the Downham Preparatory School and Montessori Nursery say they have been “overwhelmed” by support after it was deemed inadequate by inspectors.

The report only came to light following a settlement between the school and the inspection body.

General view of Downham Preparatory School (2430175)
General view of Downham Preparatory School (2430175)

Court documents show the school obtained an injunction preventing publication while the action was ongoing and had been allowed to seek a judicial review.

Although the settlement allowed Ofsted to release the report, the body also agreed to seek permission to conduct a new inspection of the school.

Principal Elizabeth Laffeaty-Sharpe says she only accepted that because of the cost of continuing the case, and has called for the new assessment to be done quickly.

She said: “So far, this has cost me £100,000. If it had gone to judicial review, it could have been £500,000. I can’t afford to find half a million pounds.

“Until we get that new report, there will be terrible damage to our reputation.

“We gave our parents copies of all legal documents and our official complaint. They are outraged.

“One parent is setting up an online petition. We have been overwhelmed by their support and kindness.”

The fee-paying school had been rated as “outstanding” following Ofsted’s previous visit four years ago.

But the latest report, which was published last week after an assessment carried out last November, gave it an overall rating of “inadequate”, even though all but one of the assessment criteria were classed as “good.”

It criticised safeguarding arrangements and claimed the school was in breach of its registration.

But Mrs Laffeaty-Sharpe said the latter finding was false and claimed the report contained a total of 17 factual inaccuracies about the school.

She said she decided to take legal action after a formal complaint to the inspection body was rejected.

Court documents, which the Lynn News has seen, show the school secured an injunction preventing the report from being published while legal proceedings were ongoing, after a judge said she was satisfied there would be “irreversible prejudice” to the school if it was released.

The school says it was also given permission to seek a judicial review, but accepted a settlement put forward by lawyers acting for Ofsted because they could not afford to pursue the case, which could have cost up to £500,000. Mrs Laffeaty-Sharpe says she has already spent £100,000 in legal fees.

In its settlement proposals, Ofsted said it would settle the case and agree to a new settlement if the action was dropped, though the current findings would remain in place until a new inspection is completed.

They said earlier proposals could not be accepted because Ofsted “must have impartiality and independence in the manner in which it is commissioned to carry out inspections.”

An Ofsted spokesman said: "Ofsted inspected Downham Preparatory School and Montessori Nursery in November 2017. Publication of the report was delayed while the school pursued a legal challenge to the inspection findings, which they have now withdrawn by consent.

"Ofsted does not have the power to determine if and when we inspect independent schools. Ofsted inspects independent schools at the request of the DfE (Department for Education).

"When inspectors judge that an independent school has not met the independent school standards, the DfE usually commissions Ofsted to undertake a further visit to check whether it is meeting any unmet standards."

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