Highgate’s popular Harington Scheme defends itself after Ofsted criticism

Harington Scheme students barrow produce up Highgate High Street to sell on stall in Pond Square. Pi

Harington Scheme students barrow produce up Highgate High Street to sell on stall in Pond Square. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

A charity for young people with learning disabilities has said it will come back fighting after receiving a scathing Ofsted report.

The Harington Scheme in Highgate, which runs youth gardening courses, was told it “requires improvement” by inspectors for the government’s education watchdog last Thursday.

But chief executive Joanna Baxter said the inspection last month came at a “tough time” for the charity in Cholmeley Park and it is already back on the road to improvement.

She said: “We were disappointed. We felt [Ofsted] could have better reflected the positive aspects, such as the number of learners going into further education or getting jobs. It’s been a bit of a struggle for us in the last 18 months as we’ve had three people retiring, so it’s been a tough year for a small organisation.”

The report focuses mainly on the poor achievement of students over the last two years, particularly in traditional, academic subjects.

Inspectors wrote: “While most learners make at least the expected progress in gaining vocational skills, few make good progress in the development of their English and mathematics skills.

“In addition, a small minority of learners do not benefit from more demanding learning tasks and activities that correspond to their level of ability.”

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Ms Baxter said the charity had faced pressure to enrol students for qualifications in English and maths despite doubts that they would pass because of their skill level. She said: “It’s a shame about Ofsted’s framework. They could look at a broader range of outcomes. That said, we know what we need to do and if they came in March, we would have implemented a lot of new systems and have time for the new staff to bed in.

“We’re positive about what will happen at the next inspection. We are getting support from Ofsted and improvements will be made.”

The charity was rated “requires improvement” in four categories out of five. It was given a “good” score and praised by inspectors for the personal development and behaviour of students. They wrote: “Job coaches organise high-quality work experience placements, build and maintain positive relationships with a range of supportive employers, and help learners find sustained employment.”

The Harington Scheme was set up by the community more than 30 years ago.

It teaches youngsters employability skills and runs therapeutic horticultural courses.