One of the country’s biggest academy chains has had a school rated less than "good" by Ofsted for the first time, in a report which raises concerns about “inappropriate” mass entry into an EAL qualification.
Inspectors have judged Harris Academy Orpington as "require improvement" in a report that raises concern about low attainment in some subjects and a lack of consistently good teaching, behaviour or outcomes for pupils.
This is the first time a Harris Federation school has not been judged "good" or "outstanding" but is still an improvement on the predecessor school, which was rated "inadequate" at its last inspection.
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Inspectors found that an initial improvement in results at the Harris Federation school were linked to the very high levels of pupils being entering into a computing skills qualification.
This is understood to refer to the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) which counted as the equivalent of a two-year GCSE until it was removed from performance league tables last year.
Inspectors said that strong progress seen by the end of Year 11 in 2017 at Harris Academy Orpington was not sustained last year, with the proportion of pupils attaining a standard pass in both English and maths declining from being close to national average to being 9 per cent below.
The watchdog also raised concerns about "inappropriate" mass-entry into an English language qualification.
The report, dated June 2019, states: "Last year, however, virtually all pupils in Year 11 were entered for an English language qualification marketed clearly as a qualification for pupils or adults who speak English as an additional language. This was despite the fact 95 per cent of the cohort spoke English as their first language. Year 12 students who took the qualification last year said they did not know why they were entered and received little teaching in preparation. Current leaders acknowledge that the mass-entry to this qualification, initiated by leaders who have left since the academy, was inappropriate. Governors have ensured that this practice has stopped."
Ofsted’s report into Harris Academy Orpington also said that too many pupils are temporarily excluded, including pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
The proportion of permanent exclusions at the school, though reduced, was said to be higher than average.
Ofsted also found that some groups of pupils, including those with SEND and disadvantaged pupils, do not attend school regularly enough and that a "considerable numbers of parents" have moved their children to other schools or chosen to educate their children at home.
Leaders told Ofsted these decisions were made without pressure from the school.
The report says that leaders are determined to improve the life chances of the pupils the school serves and have made clear improvements to the quality of education provided by the predecessor school, which it took on in 2016.
A spokesperson for the Harris Federation said: “We are pleased that Ofsted has concluded the school is no longer failing, for the first time since The Priory School was judged ‘inadequate’ in March 2016.
“Uniquely among large multi-academy trusts, this is the first time in our history that one of our schools has got less than a ‘good’ in an Ofsted inspection.
"Of 23 Harris secondary academies inspected by Ofsted, 19 are ‘outstanding’ and we are confident Harris Academy Orpington will secure the improvements it needs.”