'Zero tolerance' warning for pupils

John Roberts Education Correspondent

A FAILING academy is to adopt a zero tolerance approach to poor behaviour and will fine or prosecute parents who regularly fail to send their children to school as part of an action plan to drive up standards.

The sponsor behind the troubled Sheffield Park Academy also aims to improve the quality of teaching and pupils’ results after Children’s Secretary Ed Balls demanded changes.

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The Sheffield school became the first of the Government’s flagship academies in Yorkshire to be placed in special measures last year.

School inspectors criticised leadership, academic attainment and pupil behaviour in a damning report.

Last month Mr Balls called for the academy’s sponsor, the United Learning Trust (ULT), to deliver an urgent action plan after a follow-up monitoring visit by Ofsted found that inadequate progress was being made to improve the school.

The ULT has now given the Government a list of targets it aims to achieve to turn the school around over the next six months.

The action plan says: “All students will be told that the behaviour that was evident during the last Ofsted inspection will not be tolerated again at Sheffield Park Academy.”

The school will also aim to give students more input into the running of the academy through “learner focus groups” where pupils of all ages and ability groups will have their say.

Another target is to ensure there is consistency in the approach teachers use across the academy and that all teaching staff have external assessors.

There will also be closer tracking of pupils’ performance in class and from next month a new timetable will be drawn up which places pupils into groups based on their academic ability.

The ULT’s action plan includes a raft of measures aimed at tackling high absence levels including putting league tables on the classroom wall and offering rewards for pupils with excellent attendance. The academy will also review attendance records to see if parents should be fined or prosecuted for failing to send their children to school.

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokeswoman said: ”We have now received ULT’s action plan for Sheffield Park Academy and will be reviewing it. We want to see rapid progress at Sheffield Park and the ultimate test of the action plan’s impact will be judged by Ofsted.

“We have made clear that we will challenge academies and sponsors where progress has not been good enough and take all necessary action to ensure all schools, including academies, get on the right track.”

Sheffield Park Academy opened in 2006 to replace the Waltheof School which was never in special measures. The latest secondary school league tables, published last week, show the school is failing to hit the Government’s target for all schools of having 30 per cent of pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths. One in four pupils at Sheffield Park achieved this standard last year.

The ULT is the biggest academy sponsor in England – running 17 schools across the country, including three in Yorkshire: Sheffield Park, Sheffield Springs and Barnsley Academy.

Last year ministers told the Christian charity that it will not be allowed to sponsor any more new schools until it raises performance at its existing academies.

Both Sheffield Springs and Barnsley Academy also missed the Government’s GCSE benchmark last year with lower pass rates than Sheffield Park.

Last year David Lewis, left his post of executive director of both Sheffield Park and Sheffield Springs Academies.

The ULT’s director of school improvement, Kathy August, has been brought in to oversee the leadership of the two academies.