Under Ofsted's new framework, which came into effect in September, it is now much harder for schools to achieve the top rating. Indeed, a number of schools inspected this term have seen their ratings fall under the tougher and more challenging framework.
Westside School has bucked the trend with a highly positive report in which it is judged Outstanding in every category. The inspectors who spent two days at the school began their glowing report by simply stating that students "get a great deal" in the school.
As an AP, many of Westside School’s students join the school having been excluded from other schools. Many encounter significant barriers to learning and have struggled to settle in mainstream education.
The inspection found that on arrival at Westside "a dramatic shift starts to happen" with most students rediscovering "their love of learning". The school has an excellent retention rate with the majority of students staying until Year 11 allowing them to achieve a wide range of academic GCSEs and practical qualifications. Importantly, all move on to further education, training and apprenticeships – something that would have been highly unlikely if the students had stayed in their previous settings.
As well as strong academic provision, the inspectors praised the quality of welfare and safety. They described behaviour as "impressive" and said the opportunities to build students’ "confidence, self-esteem and resilience are wide ranging and purposeful".
Inspectors put the school’s success down to staff's "thorough understanding of pupils' needs and what makes them tick". While the school has a small cohort of students, every effort is made to offer a wide range of subjects – even if that means there is only one student studying a subject. At Westside, what is important is that students study the subjects they want and are taught by qualified teachers who are subject specialists. This means that students are highly motivated resulting in excellent attendance.
Carol-Anne Alcock, Headteacher of Westside School, said:
“At Westside School we are determined to provide our students, most of whom have lost their way in a large mainstream environment, with an Outstanding education. We seek to give them the same high-quality education, the same breadth of opportunities and the same encouragement as mainstream schools. We have set the standard of what can and should be achieved to promote learning for all."
“We are relentless in our belief that every student deserves the very best education and every minute of the day is spent pursuing this aim. What the inspectors described as a "dramatic shift" in students’ attitudes to learning is not miraculous; it is achieved by having the very highest expectations of everyone within our school – students, staff and families.”
“I very much hope that our report will serve as a reminder to all those working with young people that we must not give up on those struggling in mainstream education. As we have shown at Westside, it is possible to provide these students with alternative choices to the ones they are currently making which could ultimately be life-changing. Joining Westside is a step-change for these students; it is a chance for them to leave their past struggles behind, embrace new opportunities and embark on a new positive and rewarding future.”
Caroline Clark, Chair of Trustees at Westside School, said:
“When Westside School was founded, the aim was to re-engage young people in education and give them the opportunity to make a success of their lives. Under Carol-Anne Alcock’s superb leadership, not only has the school enabled students to continue their education, it has given them the belief that they have a bright and successful future ahead."
“This Ofsted report is a validation of everything we have always said about alternative provision. Providing a safe, calm and inclusive place to learn and socialise is exactly what these children need. Whatever difficulties they have encountered in the past, our warm and supportive environment has enabled every single student who has passed through our doors to quickly re-engage in learning and achieve the qualifications they need. I am constantly amazed and astounded by their positive attitudes, their work ethic and their determination to succeed.”