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Staff abuse rose after pandemic, says school

“A small number” of “negative interactions” with parents have caused some distress to staff at a local secondary – and led to the formation of a Parent Charter in Cheshire East.

The annual report for Sandbach High School and Sixth Form College for the year ended 31st August 2023 said that such abuse “sadly appears to be common across many schools in the aftermath of the covid pandemic”.

The report said schools had sat down together and created the charter, which been rolled out across Cheshire East at the start of the 2023-24 academic year.

The report said trustees and senior leaders took the protection of staff well-being and from harassment “very seriously”.

However, the school said it continued to enjoy “incredibly positive relationships” with parents and “excellent parental engagement” in school events.

The trust said it had recruited a cover supervisor in 2022-23 in order to reduce the pressure on teaching staff to cover colleagues’ lessons and this had had “a positive impact”.

There was better news elsewhere: many schools had been impacted by the discovery of RAAC (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) in buildings following the requirement for building reviews and changes in guidance provided by the Government in the summer but no RAAC had been found within the trust’s estate.

“Given the age range of the buildings, with most construction having taken place between the early 1960s and late 1970s we consider ourselves incredibly lucky not to be impacted by the use of this construction material,” said the report.

The age of the buildings is a problem in a more general sense: a “great deal” of work had gone on during the year to improve the trust’s premises, from large projects to replace worn out roofing and sections of 1960s single glazed windows, to the refurbishment of design and technology and photography rooms funded by a Wolfson bid and a donation from the school PFA to smaller improvements such as automatic doors at the front entrance and the resurfacing of the netball courts.

Some of the changes were not immediately visible, such as the major replacement of IT cabling, servers, and cabinets, but they will have a noticeable impact on a wide variety of lessons and will be built upon in the coming year by the purchase of new PCs and laptops, the school said.

Years seven, eight and nine have had their toilets fully refurbished and the school has refurbished a number of classrooms and offices as well as reconfiguring the rooms within the music block to make better use of the space.

The report noted that windows in the main school building dated from the early 1960s and were beyond economic repair as well as extremely energy inefficient. Many of the windows had been fastened shut to prevent them falling out and thus the temperature of classrooms was impossible to control.

Rooms with new windows were better insulated, with the windows being opened to improve air flow and they had better protection from the glare of the sun.

A “significant” amount of the flat roofing still did not meet current insulation requirements, creating high running costs and low energy efficiency, said the report. There were also multiple leaks that were beyond economic repair.

Many classrooms were in a poor state of decorative order. Most of the lighting was not compatible with LED bulbs creating high running costs and low energy efficiency.

The trust also needed to invest in several upgrades to fire doors and alarm systems. The cost of such upgrades was “substantial” and impossible to meet from normal funding, said the report.

The trust had received funding for phase one of the fire safety upgrades and work had begun.

One new purchase that had been in “huge demand” was the school minibus, which had barely arrived before it headed out on a Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition packed with students and their hiking kit. The minibus had been out and about to a variety of sporting fixtures and had been “crucial” to one of the big sixth form college changes, Enrichment Wednesdays.

In the classroom, the trust was inspected by Ofsted in October 2022, and the outcome under all sections of the review was categorised as good.

The school started the 2022-23 academic year with a new house structure running through the main school and sixth form college.

This ran alongside a change in pastoral care with the introduction of pastoral leads and pastoral assistants for each house based in the new pastoral hub. Each house is named after an inspirational woman as voted for by the students – Lovelace, Malala, Angelou and Parks.

The restructuring saw a move away from year group achievement co-ordinators who also provided pastoral support. An additional team of colleagues called the Achievement Team had been created to support the academic achievement of all students but with a particular focus on students who were disadvantaged or had special needs.

The houses are four families that will care for the child throughout years seven to 11 and when siblings join the school, they join the house of their existing sibling.

Priority admission falls to girls living in the catchment zones of partner primary schools: Elworth and Elworth Hall primaries, Offley Junior, Sandbach Community Primary, Sandbach Heath St John’s CE Primary, Wheelock Primary, Haslington Primary, The Dingle Primary, Rode Heath Primary and girls living in the parishes of Arclid and Hassall and most of Betchton Parish.

The house structure had also enabled the school to run house assemblies and inter-house sports events and other competitions, said the report.

The trust said it had already seen a positive impact on student attendance (95.3% in 2022-23), behaviour and attitude to learning as well as allowing more proactive pastoral links with parents and carers.

Attendance was “significantly above” national average, bucking the trend and ranking first out of the 20 schools registered on the data dashboard in Cheshire East.

The trust had continued to provide places for students from refugee families as and when requested by the local authority. These students did not come with any funding, but they had provided both staff and other students with “valuable experience” of English as a second language, alternative methods of learning (when English is not spoken) and cultural insights.

“They have proven a rewarding part of our student body for the short time that each student is generally with us,” said the report.

The report said that over the previous three comparable exam seasons (2018, 2019, 2023), the average points score for A-level qualifications had improved year on year. Applied general qualifications remained “significantly above” national figures over the last four years.

The current Progress8 score (0.43) was in the top three for Cheshire East and this put the school into the department for education’s “above average” category. When compared to both the national average Progress8 (-0.03) and the average for schools in Cheshire East (-0.12), students at Sandbach High School made almost half a grade more progress per subject entry on average.

Its Ebacc figures were “significantly higher” than both national and within Cheshire East.

Financially, the year to 31st August 2023 saw an increase in revenue reserves of £66k from £1m in 2022 to £1.12m.

During the year ended 31st August, the academy had restricted general funds income of £8m and associated expenditure of £8.4m (excluding pension costs).

The school paid out wages and salaries of £5m, more than £6m when social security and pension costs were added.

The average number of people employed by the academy trust during the year was 155; 93 teachers, 54 admin and support and eight management.

The trust operates an academy for students aged 11 to 18. It had a student capacity of 1,500 and had a roll of 1,400 in the school census in January 2023.

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