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How Acorn Park School Norfolk turned Ofsted rating around

Published:
9:21 AM May 15, 2022



Hard work, flexibility and an understanding that no two children with autism are the same.

This is what leaders at Acorn Park School attribute to its rapid turnaround to, after shedding special measures to earn a good Ofsted report in just two years.

The special school for children with autism is based across a 30-acre site in the zoo-adjacent village of Banham, where it has a wide range of geared facilities at offering youngsters the best level of support it can.


Acorn Park pupils make use of the school’s gardening facilities
– Credit: Acorn Park

The site, which has benefited from around £ 500,000 of investment since the school was placed into special measures in February 2020, has many of the same features you would find at a traditional, mainstream school – whiteboards, desks and art supplies.

But the 97 children it caters to also have a wide range of things you would not necessarily find.

These include sensory rooms with light-up ball pits, lava lamps and fluorescent dance mats, polytunnels where pupils can follow the journey of fruit and vegetable from the ground to local shops, and a care farm where they can learn to tend to chickens, goats. and pigs.

Acorn Park pupils during a visit into the village of Banham

Acorn Park pupils during a visit into the village of Banham
– Credit: Acorn Park

It also has its own Forest School facilities and two residential children’s homes allowing it to provide overnight accommodation.

Each feature of the school is designed to make sure that no matter where on the autistic spectrum each child sits, their needs are met.

Acorn Park pupils on a trip to the theater

Acorn Park pupils on a trip to the theater
– Credit: Acorn Park

Philippa Whipp, head of school at Acorn Park, said: “The most important thing for us is that we all understand that once you have met one autistic child – you have met one autistic child.

“Each child we look after will have their own, unique pathway and will already have quite traumatic experiences of mainstream schooling before they come to us.”

One of Acorn Park's pupils dressed as Harry Potter for World Book Day

One of Acorn Park’s pupils dressed as Harry Potter for World Book Day
– Credit: Acorn Park

The school adapts its approaches depending on how highly functioning the children are, with a ‘formal’ approach for those more geared up to traditional learning and a ‘semi-formal’ one for those who struggle with it.

But whatever the route, the end goal is the same.

Mrs Whipp said that success for the school is a child being ready to make a meaningful contribution to society once their time at Acorn Park is over – whether that is integrating into a college or higher education or being able to work.

Acorn Park staff and pupils during Holi Festival celebrations

Acorn Park staff and pupils during Holi Festival celebrations
– Credit: Acorn Park

It promotes this through a range of extra-curricular activities, such as trips for its pupils and work experience at partner organizations.

Children are split into groups of no greater than eight to allow youngsters are given as much one-to-one attention as they can get.

Music lessons at Acorn Park

Music lessons at Acorn Park
– Credit: Acorn Park

In February 2020, regulator Ofsted judged that the school was inadequate, placing it in special measures.

A new leadership team was installed at the school which included Mrs Whipp and new head of services Peter Marshall.

Mr Marshall said: “No two classrooms are the same – they are specifically adapted to the group of children using them.”

Acorn Park has managed to get itself into the fast lane of improvement

Acorn Park has managed to get itself into the fast lane of improvement
– Credit: Acorn Park

“This report is a tremendous reflection on all that our community has sought to achieve for this very special school, but more importantly, it celebrates the great work of the people that matter the most – our fantastic children and young people.”

Mrs Whipp added: “One thing that made us the most proud is that we had 68pc of our parents respond to Ofsted’s questionnaire, with their feedback being overwhelmingly positive.

“Knowing that we have been able to turn around some of the parents that were harder to engage in the past and they are now supporting us means a great deal.”

Philippa Whipp and Peter Marshall with pupils from Acorn Park School celebrating its good Ofsted result

Philippa Whipp and Peter Marshall with pupils from Acorn Park School celebrating its good Ofsted result
– Credit: Archant

The school’s Ofsted report reads: “Pupils feel safe. Bullying is rare.

“Pupils receive good pastoral and therapeutic care, which helps promote their good behavior.

“Pupils learn to stay safe and gain essential life skills needed for adulthood.

“Pupils’ lives are enriched by the curriculum and wide range of extracurricular activities and special events. Pupils thrive personally and socially through outdoor learning and caring for animals on the school farm.”

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