Sunderland primary school told it 'requires improvement' by education inspectors

A Sunderland school has been told it “requires improvement” by education watchdogs.

By Gavin Ledwith
Thursday, 18 July, 2019, 16:30
Willow Fields Community Primary School, Sunderland. Picture by FRANK REID

But the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) inspection at Willow Fields Community Primary School, in Witherwack, Sunderland, has also praised current head Lindsay Robertson and said “pupils’ outcomes and the quality of teaching are improving”.

Former head Jonathan Twidle was banned from the profession for life in January after a string of financial irregularities were uncovered both at Willow Fields and his previous Stockton school.

While Mr Twidle, who was banned by the Department for Education following a Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) disciplinary hearing, is not mentioned by name in the new report, Ofsted does acknowledge “considerable staffing turbulence” and “events at the school”.

Praising Ms Robertson, who took over in 2017, its findings conclude: “Her honest evaluation has enabled her to face very difficult challenges with grit and determination.

“She has dealt with the most pressing priorities and managed considerable staffing changes with resilience and professionalism.

“Despite the many difficulties she has faced, she has brought much needed stability to the school.

“She has raised expectations and aspirations successfully and has instilled a strong sense of belonging and belief in the school.”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Other strengths noted during the two-day June visit were the school’s “cohesive curriculum” and pupil safety.

The report also notes: “Pupils in all year groups demonstrate positive attitudes to their learning.”

Areas requiring improvement included above national average absence rates for pupils and below average combined outcomes in reading, writing and mathematics.

Simon Marshall, director of education at Together for Children, which runs children’s services on behalf of Sunderland City Council, said: “It is pleasing to receive recognition from Ofsted that Willow Fields Primary is making positive progress.

“The headteacher, Ms Robertson, has high expectations and she and her team work hard to achieve good outcomes for pupils.”

Mr Twidle, 53, was in charge of Willow Fields from 2011-16 and resigned four months after he was suspended following concerns raised by staff.

Six counts of engaging in financial mismanagement were proved with the TRA panel concluding: ““Mr Twidle has been responsible for dishonesty in relation to his mismanagement of public funds, including for his own benefit, over a significant period of time.”.

The school was rated as “requires improvement” and “good” in two Ofsted inspections during his reign.