I have recently been in contact with the County Council Cabinet Member for Education & Skills, Councillor Zahir Mohammed, and the office of the Secretary of State for Education to see what might be done for Penn School. Councillor Zahir has been working closely with officials, meeting parents on Monday. I have also pored over the School’s inspection reports.
I know the situation is causing substantial anxiety and it is clear why.
At the inspection of 8-9 May 2013, the school was found “Inadequate” when it had previously been found “Good”. The following strengths were found:
- Pupils feel safe at school. Students report that there is no bullying. They are confident staff will sort things out for them.
- The school’s nurturing approach helps students who have been unhappy in other schools to settle well and begin to enjoy school life.
Given that the school teaches some of the most vulnerable students, with communication difficulties associated with hearing impairment, autistic spectrum disorder or speech and language difficulties, it is obvious why a school with these strengths should be so beloved.
Unfortunately, the inspection report also found groups of students were underachieving with more able students not being challenged enough. Those with the most complex needs were not making enough progress. Teaching was found inadequate and information about progress was not accurate. Actions to make improvements were too slow and ineffective. Accommodation was found unsuitable, failing to “provide for basics such as privacy”. The school was not meeting 20 of the national minimum standards for residential special schools. Criticisms were made of senior leaders and governors.
The school was rightly placed into special measures. As late as 26 March 2015 (PDF), the school was “making reasonable progress towards the removal of special measures.” The inspection report of 6-7 May 2015 moved the school from “Inadequate” to “Requires improvement”.
After the school went into special measures, pupil numbers dropped to a level where it was no longer financially viable. I understand there are restrictions on sending children to schools which are not meeting certain standards. Too few pupils were due to attend the school from September.
Penn school is a private, non-maintained school: I am advised neither the Department for Education nor the County Council have a remit to use taxpayers’ money to save an independent school with poor performance and low pupil numbers.
The decision to close Penn School was taken by the Governors and Trustees after discussions with the Department of Education and Bucks County Council found no solution to enable the school to continue operating. It was evidently an exceptionally difficult decision to take.
The school will close at the end of July: this means the 50 pupils will be able to start at new schools at the beginning of a new academic year. The Education Funding Agency would be content to use the remaining funds in the school to provide additional cash to local authorities to help the transition process: that should be done if at all possible.
The wellbeing of the children and young people must be everyone’s priority in this exceptionally sad situation. Officials from the Department are now working with the local authorities representing all the students to find the best possible alternative placements for every child and young person. Every effort will be made to ensure alternative and suitable schools are offered to the pupils and their parents.
I deeply regret that Penn School is to close as a result of financial constraints following a period in special measures. It is a difficult and emotional time but the over-riding priority now is to focus on ensuring the best future for every pupil in alternative provision, in time for the new term.
Tags: Education, Penn School, Wycombe
OK, so reality bites. And yet…
Interesting to note the guilty parties you list:
1. The Governors and Trustees
2. The Department of Education
3. Bucks County Council
But why was there not more consultation with parents at an earlier stage?
Seeing the passion now on view do you not think it conceivable that we’re capable of meeting that funding gap through charitable works of our own?
It feels like Penn has been somewhat betrayed by the eagerness of the above parties to close it down.
Whatever warm words are now used about finding “suitable” provision for next term, all of the parents know it will not meet the terms of the Statements as well as Penn.
Maybe local and central government think that is just a price worth paying… to coin a phrase.
The fight continues: Save Penn UK!
Paul you are absolutely correct… my points to add to yours are as follows.
The thinking that schools are readily available for our most vunerable students is beyond understanding.. Most of the suggested schools are so far away that travel for non boarders is impossible and completely unaffordable. Not only that, the schools some people have been offered have stated that they are full when contacted by parents. It is a sham to think that Autistic children will be able to attend a school that is full to capacity.
Steve, and other people involved in this should be in attendance on days like today… the children had a circus in the school. Simple things such as recieving a balloon from a teacher was reducing these children to quivering bundles of joy, no other school will be able to provide this level of interaction.
Who is helping to prevent the tears of these children when faced with losing the only place that has ever understood them?
Who is helping us stop these children running away and self harming?
Who has taught these children how to speak, express and understand all of the emotions inside them?
Not you, not other MP’s, not doctors or even their own families have been able to succeed where Penn School has.
The teachers and the staff have helped my sister learn to read, write and talk to us. She stopped running away from home and school. Now she is being pulled away from the only place that could help her. She asked me ‘do I have to go back into the safe room?’
The safe room was a room the size of a cupboard, with only a light in it. No desk, no shoes, no chair, no education… she ate her lunch off of the floor like an animal. How can I promise her that she won’t end up back in that room?
How can I look at her and tell her that she will be safe, and cared for?
The only way I can promise that is by saving Penn and making sure that she starts there in September, like she is meant too!
These children are vunerable and are being punished because the trust didn’t make any changes to the school two whole years ago. Where is there punishment? Why close a school, and throw 60 young lives into turmoil? Why not force the trust to change, reasses and save this school?
Why not use the power that you have to make these people answerable? Please help us.
We need you, we need more help in our fight to save Penn School.
Listening to our MP with such apathy is very disappointing. What you have written made it sound like it was a sensible decision to close the school. But have you ever considered how important the school is to the pupils and students it is serving and is yet to serve? If you have read half the comments that parents and past students has written you would have a better idea about that. Yes Penn school is considered a private institution, however it is not a profit making company and have proven to serve well within the community for many years. The only reason why the school is underachieving and is closing is due to the incompetency of the senior management and the fragile financial structure of the school. An institution with such a long record of great achievements should not be allow to abolish by a few years of poor management by a handful of incompetent people. An institution as specialised as Penn School takes years to assemble and one it is lost it cannot be easily recreated in this day and age of austerity. Trustees and governors concerned should know full well that the school needed a management overhaul and cannot survive two consecutive “special measure” OFSTED report and yet they have not done anything to change the management personae. It is also clear that the bursar or whoever is in charge of the forecast of funding and cash flow has a serious oversight about financial stability of the school and has not done enough to strength the financial backbone of the school. The school was destined to close more than 10 years ago and yet it was considered important enough to bring back. It will not be any different this time round!
Terence Chung says – This is my response to him: Listening to our MP with such apathy is very disappointing. What you have written made it sound like it was a sensible decision to close the school. But have you ever considered how important the school is to the pupils and students it is serving and is yet to serve? If you have read half the comments that parents and past students has written, you would have a better idea about that. Yes Penn school is considered a private institution, however it is not a profit making company and have proven to serve well within the community for many years. The only reason why the school is underachieving and is closing is due to the incompetency of the senior management and the fragile financial structure of the school. An institution with such a long record of great achievements should not be allow to abolish by a few years of poor management by a handful of incompetent people. An institution as specialised as Penn School takes years to assemble and one it is lost it cannot be easily recreated in this day and age of austerity. The trustees and governors should know full well that the school needed a management overhaul and cannot survive two consecutive “special measure” OFSTED report and yet they have not done anything to change the management personalle. It is also clear that the bursar or whoever is in charge of the forecast of funding and cash flow has a serious oversight about financial stability of the school and has not done enough to strength the financial backbone of the school. The school was destined to close more than 10 years ago and yet it was considered important enough to bring back. It will not be any different this time round!
This is a Specialist school that (in my mind) should have received more attention and empathy. The children that attend it at the moment should have been given a voice to comment too. Inspectors can have tunnel vision & I cannot understand why the parents of these children were not given an opportunity to fight their corner. What will the government do about the displaced children? Absolute waffle.
Hate to say this, but …..is the land it sits on more valuable to build multi million pound properties? All very sad I’m afraid.
I totally agree that the biggest problem is that information wasn’t shared. The chance to fundraise because of the knowledge that we now all have has shown that had we known this a year ago this problem may not be here now. I have worked at Penn for 8 years now and I as well as many others have offered ideas on how to bring money into the school and the common response from governors and trustees has been ‘who is going to manage and staff it?’
So I then went with the idea 2 years ago to the hard and the chair of goveners to open then school during the school holidays to offer the parents restbite and the first reply I got was ‘who is going to run it?’ I told them I was qualified to do so, they then asked where I would get staff sto I asked the staff in the school and I found the staff.
Although they said it was a good idea especially as the governor was a parent of a student at the school nothing ver happened.
I think all of the staff feel like me that we were exhausted with being asked to come up with ideas and coming up against a brick wall so we gave up. Had we had the parents support with their knowledge of the situation things may have been different now!!!
Penn has not let my child down He has made very good progress academically and socially over five years. He has not been provided with a suitable alternative by our Local Authority who feel that a placement on a school for moderate learning difficulties would be appropriate. If you think that all tgevpupils will have suitable placements by September then you clearly have no idea about the complexity of these children and the impossibly difficult task of placing them.
I dare you go to read every comments people has made in the petition site. Hopefully you won’t regret the closure of Penn school under your watch after reading all of the comments.