School given two weeks to come up with a rescue plan
GOVERNORS at an under-performing Derby primary school are to be given 15 days to come up with a plan for improvement – or face being removed.
The governing body of troubled Hardwick Primary will become the first school in the city to be issued with a warning notice within the next couple of days.
The 550-pupil Normanton school is one of 21 in Derby considered by the city council to have "unacceptably low standards of pupil performance".
And as there are up to seven schools in the city among the bottom 200 worst-performing in the country, the council confirmed there could be more warning notices issued over the coming months.
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The council undertook a five-month investigation into the Hastings Street school after union allegations of "bullying and coercion" of staff and a breakdown of confidence in the school's leadership.
But, following the results of the probe being released yesterday, which revealed news of the warning notice, a spokesman for the governing body said: "We feel that Hardwick has been unfairly singled out when there are other schools not performing as well. It is likely we will appeal and fight the warning notice."
Andrew Bunyan, city council strategic director of children and young people's services, denied the warning notice had resulted from the unions' grievance, and said it would have been issued anyway because of under-performance.
He said: "The investigation gave us a chance to look at the school and recommendations were made which I have accepted.
"These included issuing the warning notice in the next couple of days, delivering a plan for the school that is sustainable and will help it to move forward and to implement an audit of professional standards among staff at the school."
The investigation report reveals deep divisions among Hardwick staff, with assistant head teachers "seemingly" supporting the grievance and the head, Sushma Sembhi, and deputy head, Rani Sandhu, "acting together".
It also states that there is a "widespread strength of feeling from complainants, although support for leaders has also been voiced".
Keith Venables, president of the Derby branch of the National Union of Teachers, welcomed the report and said "we believe we were right to submit a collective grievance".
He said: "We say the city council needs to ensure there is now a much-needed new leadership that can motivate staff and support children in their learning."
Also under investigation as part of the complaint about the leadership of the school were chairman of governors, Lloyd Newby, and vice-chairman Carol Dover, who are both waiting for the council to notify them of the outcome of the grievance. But according to the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which has staff at the school, the findings of the report mean that the chair and vice-chair of governors have been exonerated.
Dave Wilkinson, NASUWT executive member, said: "The situation there needs sober reflection, not knee-jerk reactions and rash statements. We will consult our members on any next steps we intend to take."
Since the submission of the grievance, Mrs Sembhi, who currently remains as head teacher but who was unavailable for comment, has voluntarily removed herself from the school and two acting heads have undertaken her duties jointly. Mrs Dover, who resigned from the governing body several weeks ago, said that at the time of the grievance being submitted, the governing body was instigating an independent review into the school as part of an action plan to drive up standards.
She said: "The grievance came about after some staff objected to the review and unfortunately, in the interim, pupils at the school have still been subject to standards of teaching which should be better."
Councillor Evonne Williams, city council cabinet member for children and young people said: "My priority and focus is on making sure we work in partnership with our schools, including Hardwick Primary, to raise attainment as quickly as possible."