Doncaster school accused of 'snooping' after checking on absent pupils' bins, post and cars

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
A Doncaster school has been accused of “snooping” on absent pupils – by monitoring familes’ bins, cars and post to crack down on absences.

Staff at Astrea Academy Woodfields in Balby is also checking driveways, boiler flues and lights to see if people are home or away on holiday.

Principal David Scales said the visits were conducted out of safety concerns for absent children but the National Education Union (NEU) branded the measures "invasive snooping tactics".

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The school has come in for criticism from parents and pupils over its strict rules and last year, police had to be called in to break up a demonstration after a war of words broke out.

Astrea Academy principal David Scales has been accused of snooping on absent pupils.Astrea Academy principal David Scales has been accused of snooping on absent pupils.
Astrea Academy principal David Scales has been accused of snooping on absent pupils.

Mr Scales told the BBC that during the visits, staff check for post on doorsteps, bins on bin days, whether cars were in the driveways or if steam was being released from the boiler flue.

"We do this because we care and because we want our students to be in school," Mr Scales said.

Woodfields is part of the Astrea Academy Trust, which looks after 17 schools across South Yorkshire, and is attended by more than 720 students.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Last Wednesday, Mr Scales posted a video on X, formerly Twitter, to explain what the school was doing to tackle unauthorised absences.

He said some parents would call to lie about their child being ill - and occasionally had gone as far as to "impersonate" a doctor's surgery.

The school has been struggling with poor attendance which was highlighted by Ofsted during an inspection in January 2023.

Inspectors rated the school "inadequate" and said absences paired with poor behaviour were creating "gaps in [students'] knowledge".

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Following the inspection, Mr Scales was appointed as principal in March 2023 and, according to a monitoring visit by Ofsted in October, attendance had "improved slightly".

Figures from Astrea Academy Trust show 92 students at Woodfields have had at least one day of unauthorised holiday this school year.

Of these, 58 were discovered through house visits.

The NEU's Doncaster branch and district secretary Fiona Campbell accused Woodfields of publicly shaming families and undermining positive relationships with parents and students.

"Lots of schools locally are experiencing difficulties with challenging attendance figures," she said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Other schools though are not resorting to invasive snooping tactics, and many recognise the difficulties parents might face in trying to arrange valuable family time together."

Mr Scales said the school had been "very open" with families, adding: "We talk about these examples to highlight the extent of the challenge - and to make clear that this simply is not acceptable."

A Department for Education spokesperson said it promoted a "support-first approach" and backed schools and local authorities that worked with families to improve attendance.

"Where appropriate, this could include home visits and door-knocking services," the spokesperson added.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It comes after the government announced fines for unauthorised school absences would rise across England.

Last May, South Yorkshire Police were called following reports of a group behaving “in an intimidating manner” outside the school.

A spokesman said: “Police were called to the Astrea Academy Woodfields on Weston Road following reports that a group of individuals were outside the school behaving in an intimidating manner.

“Officers have attended and spoken with those present, asking them to move so as not to prevent access to or egress from the school premises.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

One parent said: “The allegations are unfounded,” while another said: “The new headteacher is appalling.

"Kids are excluded for barely anything, parents get shouted at, the school refuses to engage or even answer the phone.

"It is like a Nazi regime. Kids are getting excluded for ridiculous things.”

The placard waving protesters gathered oustide the gates in protest at the way the school is being run.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

On his appointment, Mr Scales said: “I'm delighted to be leading Astrea Academy Woodfields and I strongly believe we can turn this school into the best in Doncaster.

"I have a strong and supportive team here who will continue to work with me to develop a strong culture of success and ensure every student at Woodfields goes on to thrive.”

Related topics: