VULNERABLE pupils at an asbestos-hit school have been failed by an ‘unacceptable’ culture of bullying, absence and poor teaching, Ofsted has said.

Northfield School in Blackbird Leys has been given the watchdog’s worst rating of ‘inadequate’ in all assessment areas, and placed in special measures.

A new report reels off a raft of issues including racism, fighting, ‘illegal’ exclusions and financial deficit at the special school, which was at risk of closure earlier this year after asbestos made buildings unsafe.

Oxfordshire County Council, which oversees the 51-pupil boys’ school in Knights Road, has accepted Ofsted’s criticism and vowed to turn things around.

Ofsted’s report, released yesterday, states: “Pupils are at risk. Many do not attend school and are in vulnerable situations.

“The school can neither meet the needs of some pupils nor cope safely with pupils’ behaviour.

“[The school] is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education.”

Northfield educates boys aged 10-18 who have social, emotional and mental health difficulties.

The rating means it will now be forced to become an academy, run by a multi-academy trust rather than the council.

Its last Ofsted inspection was in 2015, when it was rated ‘good’.

Earlier this year its site was temporarily closed and pupils relocated after an asbestos ceiling was damaged.

READ AGAIN: Asbestos damage forces Northfield School in Oxford to shut on safety grounds

Ofsted’s report, issued following a visit in November, said ‘several serious incidents took place’ as the temporary buildings were ‘unsuitable’ for pupils.

It added: “Some pupils and staff exhibited unacceptably high levels of anxiety during this time.”

Last week the county council revealed it had scrapped controversial plans to close Northfield, unveiling a £9.5m proposal to rebuild and expand it instead.

READ AGAIN: Council could replace special school building with new £9.5m complex

This plan was due be discussed by the council’s cabinet at a meeting yesterday and, if approved, the new buildings could be open by September 2021.

Ofsted revealed average attendance at Northfield this year was just over 50 per cent, which it said was ‘unacceptable’ and ‘worrying’.

It cited bullying as a ‘unanimous concern’ of students, adding: “Pupils told inspectors lessons are regularly disrupted by fighting and say some pupils have ‘no friends here’.

“Leaders describe incidents of bullying, including prejudiced and discriminatory behaviour, as ‘frequent’.

“The number of racial incidents is high and rising.”

It said exclusions were used too often and there was ‘evidence previously of the use of ‘unofficial’ and therefore illegal exclusions’.

The report branded the curriculum 'not fit for purpose' and 'poorly taught'.

It said pupils often ‘switch off, get bored or leave the classroom of their own accord’, and students were seen sat ‘with their head in their hands’.

Ofsted revealed school governors resigned 'en masse' in summer, but said their council-appointed replacements had brought ‘a range of skills and expertise’.

'A new and brighter future'

The watchdog did note other positives, and said a ‘national leader of education’ brought in to guide improvements had been ‘instrumental in triggering positive action’.

Its report added: “Despite significant turmoil and shortcomings, the recently appointed acting headteacher and acting deputy headteacher have managed to instil a sense of confidence in staff and parents.”

Acting headteacher Tristan Powell said staff and the county council are ‘fully motivated to improve the school’, adding: “We want to put Northfield School’s fortunes on a very different trajectory.”

He admitted this year had been ‘incredibly challenging’ and he was not surprised by Ofsted’s report.

The head added, however, that there was now a ‘steely determination’ to improve.

Mr Powell said: “Everyone at the school, the county council and in the wider school community is now determined to use this as a springboard to create a new and brighter future for Northfield.

“We are hopeful the future of our school will be secured through the rebuilding programme and that we will have an important role to play in the wider future of special educational needs provision in Oxfordshire.”

David Clarke, the council’s deputy director for education, said the council is working with the school and the Gallery Trust – the multi-academy trust in charge of The Iffley Academy special school in Oxford – to drive improvements.

He added that the report identified a ‘number of strengths’ including the acting leadership team, new governors and teachers’ expertise in subjects such as art, music and physical education.

Lorraine Lindsay-Gale, the council’s cabinet member for education and cultural services, said: “The outcome from this Ofsted inspection was not unexpected and rightly pulls no punches.

“Though we had provided support to the school whilst refurbishment works were taking place, the time between the school reopening after half term and the inspection was insufficient to show the impact needed to secure improvements.

“We will continue to work relentlessly with the school to improve standards at the school.”