A STEINER school which closed last month left children ‘at risk of serious harm’ and the school’s principal described its culture as ‘toxic’, Ofsted inspectors found.
Wynstones Steiner School, an independent boarding school in Whaddon, closed in January following an inspection by education watchdog Ofsted earlier that month.
In a damning report published today, Ofsted said leaders did not address or challenge staff behaviour ‘that is unacceptable and places pupils at significant risk’.
Children in kindergarten aged between three and four years old were also ‘at risk of significant harm’ as child protection issues were not dealt with ‘in line with statutory safeguarding requirements.’
According to the report, child protection records are ‘not kept effectively’ and leaders are ‘unable to explain the actions they have taken or describe the outcomes’.
The school’s single central record of checks on the suitability of staff to work with children meets current requirements, the report said.
The report also said the school’s principal described its culture as ‘toxic’.
A representative of the school’s Trustees has apologised for its failures and is ‘addressing the shortcomings’.
The school teaches a range of mixed pupils aged three to 19 years old, and annual fees cost as much as £10,225.
‘BULLYING CONCERNS CAN’T BE SHARED DUE TO RELATIONSHIPS’
Wynstones School was visited by Ofsted on January 21, 2020, and closed down one week later.
In the Ofsted report, inspectors found concerns about bullying and safeguarding.
They said: “There are behaviour and anti-bullying policies published on the school’s website.
“However, these policies do not promote good behaviour or prevent bullying among pupils. There is little evidence to suggest that staff follow, implement or understand these policies well enough.
“Records of complaints show that some parents have little confidence in the school’s approach to reducing bullying.
“Many families leaving the school have cited safeguarding concerns or bullying as the reason.
“Some parents report that they have not been able to share concerns that their child is being bullied due to the relationships that exist between other parents and/or staff.”
The report added leaders had provided pupils with external guidance to reduce bullying, however no evidence was found that it led to fewer bullying incidents.
‘CHILDREN’S SAFETY IS SECONDARY TO VESTED INTERESTS’
The report also said: “The principal summed up inspectors’ description of the school’s culture as ‘toxic’.
“Relationships between staff and parents and carers have led to a situation where children’s safety is secondary to vested interests.
“The staff body is divided and those who want to change are intimidated by other staff and a body of parents who want to retain control over the school.
“Children are at risk of serious harm and are not protected when they should be.”
It continued: “There is no impartial oversight from trustees. They are all directly connected to the school, staff or parents.
“There is no one who can consider complaints or allegations against staff with any objectivity as they are all – in the word of school leaders – ‘contaminated’.”
WHAT THE SCHOOL’S TRUSTEES SAY
A school spokesman said: “The Trustees of Wynstones School accept and apologise for the failures highlighted in Ofsted’s report dated 21 January 2020. We are addressing these shortcomings already and robust action is underway to tackle these issues swiftly.
“Our steps towards change will enable the school to re-open safely and include staff training on teaching, safeguarding and first aid.
“Safeguarding specialist Jan Pickles has been engaged to advise teachers and leaders.
“A new Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo), who will work with experts to instil an anti-bullying culture within the school has been appointed, while we are actively recruiting a new Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) to address the required improvements to safeguarding practice.
“We are also making provision for an independent hearing panel and working closely with a senior recruitment specialist to appoint a new Headteacher to lead Wynstones School forward with the support of two new senior leaders with a proven track record in turning around underperforming schools.
“Our teachers and parents are aware of their role in enforcing the necessary changes Ofsted has clearly set out for us.
“As a board of Trustees, we will rebuild trust in our school and bring the positive aspects of a globally revered Steiner education back to our pupils.”
WHAT THE STEINER WALDORF SCHOOLS FELLOWSHIP SAY
Executive director of Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship Fran Russell said: “We support the plans for change at Wynstones School, which are in-line with the comprehensive action plan of further improvement and modernisation we are promoting across all Steiner schools in the
“The Fellowship fully supports the trustees at Wynstones School as it addresses the failures highlighted in the report and will do all it can to uphold the necessary changes.
“While there is work to do at Wynstones School, other Steiner schools have made good progress and shown both the capacity and capability to embrace positive change. Wynstones School is much-beloved by its families who experience a kind and nurturing learning environment they would recommend to others.
“The Fellowship’s focus remains on continually improving safeguarding, leadership, assessment, our curriculum and staff training across all its schools.
“Keeping children safe and well-educated is the number one priority.”