To parents, carers and the wider Castledown Primary School community:

As a governing body we are passionate about ensuring our children get the best possible chance to fulfil their potential, and we are determined to do everything we can to provide that opportunity. We believe converting to an academy with the extra support and resources that it brings, is an excellent opportunity we would be unwise to miss. Our only motivation is improving standards and providing a strong future for our school. Below we have set out the detailed reasons why we believe strongly this is the right direction for Castledown and its pupils, both now and in the future. I would encourage you to read and understand our reasoning and play a part in the consultation.

The challenge facing Castledown Primary School today is how best to support our dedicated teachers to deliver a first class education for our children. The school is an immensely important and well-loved part of our community and we are rightly proud of its many achievements.

But attainment and results at Castledown have been very disappointing in recent years. We have been well below the national averages for reading, writing and maths.

• Pupil results have been falling over the last four years and we have not been meeting national attainment standards.
• The latest SAT results put the school among the bottom 10% of schools in the entire country for the teaching of reading and mathematics.
• While OFSTED rated our school as ‘Good’ back in 2013, we are now due to have another inspection. Our own self-evaluation is that Ofsted inspectors would currently downgrade the school.
Any downgrading of our current Ofsted school rating would automatically trigger the conversion of the school to an academy.

There are a number of deep-seated reasons why the school is facing these challenges. The school has been provided with assistance from the Local Authority and from other schools in the neighbourhood, but due to financial constraints the local authority has decreasing capacity to offer further support. This level of limited assistance will not be enough to bring about the changes that are needed.

The governing body feel that robust action is needed to secure rapid improvement for the school and we feel that the best way to achieve this, is to find a strong academy network to sponsor and support our school. Governors are responsible for the strategic direction of the school and we need to ensure that our children are being offered the best opportunities and the highest possible level of support to achieve better results. This is going to mean bringing in the necessary outside help to make improvements.

We, as governors, have decided that it was important for our school and our community to tackle head-on the issues we are facing, rather than simply wait for Ofsted inspectors to catapult us into becoming an academy.

As part of our research, governors talked to officials from a number of academy trusts and concluded the best way forward was to start detailed discussions with the education charity Ark. They are a non-profit organisation, and none of their schools are selective. We believe that they will maintain the local and individual character of the school, while also giving us the expertise and resources we need to improve. They have been recommended by the Local Authority and by the Regional Schools Commissioner, who holds the ultimate responsibility for approving the school’s conversion to an academy.

Ark has the benefit of a strong local network of experts to draw from on issues such as curriculum, music and enrichment programmes, and supporting students with Special Educational Needs (SEN). They also have robust programmes and extensive experience in developing teachers through training. Ark also already have a strong presence in Hastings. With their help, Ark Blacklands Primary Academy went from Ofsted special measures directly to an outstanding rating in only three years (one of only 11 schools in the country to accomplish this). Ark Little Ridge Primary Academy has also improved rapidly since joining Ark.

The proposal is that the school becomes an academy sponsored by the education charity Ark from 1 September 2017. We are now consulting with staff and parents before taking a final decision in March.

We felt it was important to move rapidly to ensure the school is delivering the highest possible quality education for Castledown pupils as soon as possible. We felt it was not acceptable for pupils to miss out on vital opportunities while we had lengthy discussions on how to address the needs of the school, or suffer the extensive impact on morale of a damaging Ofsted report.

Governors are fully committed to ensuring that Castledown Primary School grasps the opportunity to secure the best possible outcomes for our children. We are aware that there are a range of advantages and disadvantages in changing the status of the school but, nevertheless, remain convinced this is the best way forward.

I hope you understand why we have made this decision and we look forward to discussing the next steps with you.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Sage
Chair of Governors