Two south Essex schools have been criticised by Ofsted and rated inadequate.
Southchurch High School in Southend was rated “inadequate” by Ofsted in a scathing report revealing some children were “inappropriately separated by sex”, and bullying and prejudice were rife among students.
Stuart Reynolds, the school's headteacher, claimed the negative impact of the Covid pandemic is behind the disappointing verdict delivered by inspectors.
Mr Reynolds said: “Before Covid struck, Southchurch was the most improved school in Southend, with GCSE scores above national expectations and the highest number of Year 7 applications amongst the nonselective schools.
“On the day inspectors visited, in early March, the school was just beginning to emerge from Covid arrangements to ensure the safety of students and staff.
“Like many schools at this time, staff absence was still above the norm, with 18 per cent of teachers off ill.
“All this meant that the school was not able to show itself at its best.”
Gable Hall School in Corringham was also blasted by inspectors and rated as “inadequate” after an inspection in May.
Among a list of areas it needs to improve, the Ofsted report says leaders have not secured a robust safeguarding culture as staff are "not consistently following statutory guidance" to protect the "most vulnerable" students.
Following the resignation of headteacher Ceri Evans, parents protested outside the school as they called for him to ret urn to the school.
Following the education watchdog's inspection, bosses at the school insisted they are working on a rapid improvement plan and would hold “parent meetings” throughout the summer.
A school spokesman had said: "We are concentrating on drafting our rapid improvement plan to be a robust response to the concerns raised by Ofsted.
"This plan has to be submitted with 15 days and is the trust’s current priority to ensure it is meaningful and puts our school in the best possible position for rapid improvement."
What happens next?
In the case of academies, as the Department for Education warns trusts schools rated "inadequate" could have funding agreements withdrawn and could be "re-brokered".
Both Southchurch High School and Gable Hall School have been served with letters from the Department for Education warning they could be stripped of funding if they do not improve.
In both letters, the Department for Education’s regional director Jonathan Duff writes: “As regional director, I need to be satisfied that the trust has capacity to deliver rapid and sustainable improvement at the academy.
“If I am not satisfied that this can be achieved, I will consider whether to terminate the funding agreement in order to transfer the academy to an alternative academy trust.”
But the Southend school has swiftly moved to allay fears it will lose funding.
Roger Leighton, chief executive of Learning Partnership, the trust which runs Southchurch High School, said: “I can reassure parents that there is absolutely no threat to the funding provided to run the school – although the warning notice says the Department for Education may ‘terminate the funding agreement’, this refers only to the legal contract that all academies have with the department.
“Whatever happens eventually in the case of Southchurch High – whether it stays with Partnership Learning or is transferred to another trust – the money the school receives to operate will not be affected.”