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Massive influx of pupils plunges Pilgrims' Way in Canterbury into crisis

By Gerry Warren

A damning Ofsted report reveals a city primary school has been plunged into crisis following an “unprecedented” influx of children from a deprived London borough.

The government watchdog says Pilgrims’ Way in Canterbury continues to face “considerable turbulence” following the intake of pupils from families relocated to the former Howe Barracks site by Redbridge council.

Following an inspection in September, the school has been found to have serious failings in three key areas and is being hampered by a “relentless” turnover of staff.

The outside of Pilgrims' Way Nursery and Primary school

The outside of Pilgrims' Way Nursery and Primary school

But inspectors are not blaming head teacher Alice Witty, who they say works “tirelessly” and whose efforts are “being thwarted by circumstances beyond her control”.

Since last September, the school has taken on extra pupils who moved from Redbridge when the London borough outbid Canterbury City Council to snap up the former army homes.

About 250 families were relocated and concerns were raised at the time about how local services would cope.

In the latest Ofsted report, lead inspector Simon Hughes write: "Leaders’ work to support pupils’ transition to their new school has meant that other aspects of the school’s work have not received enough attention.

"Consequently, standards of teaching have declined.

"The regular arrival of new pupils hampers teachers’ creation and use of logical sequences of work. Too often they have to start again for those joining the class. Inevitably, this leads to repetition, slowing of learning and boredom for other pupils."

Pilgrims' Way Nursery and Primary school, Pilgrims Way, Canterbury

Pilgrims' Way Nursery and Primary school, Pilgrims Way, Canterbury

The Ofsted report on Pilgrims’ Way, released on Tuesday, rates leadership and management, quality of teaching and learning and pupil outcomes as “inadequate”, while personal development and behaviour, and early years provision both require improvement.

Following the previous inspection in November last year, no area of the school was deemed to be ‘inadequate’, with inspectors praising its “impressive” work in helping the new families settle in quickly.

Inspectors have now given the school an overall rating of ‘requiring improvement’. They are recommending that staffing needs stabilising, teaching skills upgraded, pupil absence reduced and the school leadership strengthened.

During their visit on September 13 and 14, they found a school struggling to manage, aggravated by the influx of children from outside the district.

The proportion of the school’s 323 children for whom English is a second language is now in the top 40% in the country.

The report adds: “The head teacher is too often distracted from strategic leadership activities due to issues emerging in the community. She is also constantly involved in trying to recruit good staff or improving the effectiveness of existing team members.

The outside of Pilgrims' Way Nursery and Primary school

The outside of Pilgrims' Way Nursery and Primary school

“The turnover of staff makes it very difficult for necessary improvements to be sustained over time."

Inspectors also rate the standard of teaching as "weak", with some of their subject knowledge, especially maths, requiring improvement.

"There is little that excites or inspires pupils. As a result, many drift off task and become restless."

But inspectors say staff care for their pupils "admirably" and the school leaders have a clear view of the weaknesses which need addressing.

They note that measures taken, including additional leadership support, is beginning to have a positive impact in early years and curriculum planning.

The school is part of the Village Academy Trust and now an advisory head teacher has been brought in to help.

Advisory head teacher, Jo Cerullo, said: "I am very proud of the children and everyone involved with the school, and grateful for all their hard work and determination to see Pilgrims’ Way become an improved school, despite the challenges we continue to face.

"We are not complacent and realise that there are still many issues to address. Changes and improvements have already been made in a number of areas and we are all focused on the outcomes for our children.

"The school receives support from central academy trust staff and governance members who, through their hard work and commitment, provide us with the challenge we need to improve. We are totally committed to further improvements and will continue to work hard to achieve this."

The principal for The Village Academy, Ian Fidge, added: "The school’s leadership team have been working with trust staff to address the areas for improvement, with an agreed aim of quickly turning the school into a good school."

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