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Varndean School : Ofsted Report

25–26 April 2007
Reporting Inspector: 
Patricia Robson HMI
Description of the school: 

Varndean School is a larger-than-average school. Nearly 90% of students are of White British heritage and few are at an early stage of learning English. Most students arrive with broadly average prior attainment. The proportion of students with learning difficulties or disabilities is slightly above average. The proportion with statements of special educational needs and the number of students eligible for free school meals are both below the national average. The school holds specialist status in technology and music and has recently become a vocational specialist centre. It has been a Leading Edge school since 2003. After supporting a neighbouring school in challenging circumstances for some years, Varndean School took in a number of their reallocated students when the school finally closed.

Overall effectiveness and Average across all judgements

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Leadership, management and capacity for school improvement

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Overall achievement & academic performance

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Care, Guidance and Personal development

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Ofsted assessment

Varndean is a good school which provides good value for money. It is a vibrant learning community, eager to embrace innovation and change to reach its goals. One parent described the school's ethos as 'truly inclusive and comprehensive and we applaud them for it.' Leadership and management are good and the headteacher and senior team have resolved staffing issues and improved the quality of teaching to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student intake. The school's best features are the quality of the teacher-student relationships, a broad, flexible curriculum and impressive extra-curricular provision. In addition, the well-managed specialist provision for technology and music is having a very positive effect.

All students, including those with learning difficulties and disabilities, achieve well, although there is a pattern of faster progress in Years 10 and 11 than lower down the school. The students in Years 7 to 9 thrive in many subjects and reach above- average standards in them, although they do not always do so in the national tests for English, mathematics and science. The school has recently increased the rate of progress students in all years make in English, mathematics and science by strengthening the teaching teams and improving systems for tracking progress. In Years 10 and 11, the students regularly achieve higher-than-average standards, particularly on vocational courses.

Teaching is good and there are examples of outstanding practice to be found in several departments. All staff have received training in how to maximise learning throughout the school's distinctive 100-minute lessons, and the quality of teaching has improved as a result. There remains some inconsistency in how well teachers meet the planning demands the long lessons place on them. For example, not all maintain a brisk pace throughout or choose activities that meet the needs of all students within mixed-ability groups. Teachers and student co-ordinators are committed to establishing productive and respectful relationships with their students. As one parent remarked, 'They really do seem to like teenagers!' Such relationships take time to build but the rewards are clearly evident in the generally good behaviour and attitudes shown by students in Years 10 and 11. The school's system of rewards and sanctions, however, is not always applied consistently by teachers and this is a concern to some students and parents.

The caring and inclusive atmosphere underpins students' good personal development. The majority behave safely and enjoy school and the proportion progressing to further education is above national average. Attendance is satisfactory but punctuality at the start of lessons is not good enough. Academic and pastoral monitoring is well co-ordinated to maximise the benefit to students and the school works well with outside agencies. The care, guidance and support students receive is good and arrangements for health and safety and child protection are all secure. The curriculum and other activities offered to students are good and the range of extra-curricular activities is particularly impressive.

Good use is made of resources, human and otherwise, though there is frustration about the poor maintenance of the school site, which is out of the direct control of the school.

What can be improved

  • Ensure all lessons are sharply focused on meeting the full range of students' needs and that the pace of learning is swift and engaging.
  • Improve the consistency with which teachers manage behaviour in and out of lessons.
  • Support all students in attending lessons punctually.

Achievement and standards

Grade: 2

Achievement and standards are good overall. All groups of students, including those with learning difficulties and disabilities, achieve equally well. However, in the 2006 Year 9 national tests there was a mixed picture, with slight rises in the proportion of students gaining the expected level in mathematics and science, set against a fall in English. The school's targets were missed and the majority of students had achieved too little since joining the school, although more-able students made satisfactory progress in English. Since then, the rate of progress has increased, standards are now average and the students are on target to achieve higher levels in this year's tests.

GCSE standards fell in 2006 from the very high level seen in 2005 but remain above average, representing good progress for those students. While the proportion of students with at least five GCSE passes at A* to C remained significantly above the national average, the proportion gaining both English and mathematics as two of their GCSEs fell. Standards are now rising again in English, science and mathematics and variation in achievement between other subjects has also been reduced. Effective actions by the school mean that progress towards challenging targets, including specialist school targets, is currently good.

Progress of Special Needs learners, and equality of opportunity

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Behaviour & attendance of learners

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Curriculum and Teaching

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