A BLACKBURN school has been given the lowest Ofsted rating after inspectors found ‘a culture of mistrust’.

Pleckgate High School has been graded Inadequate and placed in special measures after receiving a ‘Good’ rating two years ago.

Inspectors said there were tensions between governors, teachers and headteacher Cherry Ridgway.

The inspectors found that morale was low and she had been unable to win hearts and minds of a significant minority of staff.

The majority of governors could now be replaced by a council-appointed board.

Ms Ridgway, who started at the school in December 2012, has responded to the report by saying she anticipates the school becoming an academy.

It is the second Blackburn with Darwen high school which has needed intervention in five months, following Darwen Vale.

Dropping from the second highest rating, Pleckgate gained a third level ‘Requires Improvement’ rating in most areas.

The area of leadership and management was found to have the lowest rating of 4 or ‘Inadequate’.

Lead inspector Shirley Gornall said: “The headteacher has been unable to win the hearts and minds of a significant minority of staff. She has introduced change at a rapid pace.

“Her work in developing effective quality assurance processes has met with resistance.

“The morale of staff is low and there is polarisation between those who fully subscribe to the headteacher’s vision and those who actively dislike her management. Older students are well aware of staff discontent and this is affecting their morale too.”

She added: “A culture of mistrust has developed that is having a corrosive effect on the school.”

The school as a whole was praised for strong mathematic achievement but told to improve standards in English.

Absences and exclusion rates were also found to be low.

Ms Ridgway said: “The overall Inadequate judgement is extremely disappointing, but I am pleased that Ofsted recognises the progress we have already made and wants us to continue with our journey of improvement. Our priority is always to do the best for the pupils of Pleckgate. Longer term, our expectation is that the school will probably be required to convert to an academy.

“We have not had any discussions about academy status but hope that any future proposal will be carried out in full consultation with staff, parents and pupils.”

In the Ofsted report, governors were also criticised for ‘seriously undermining’ the headteacher. The report said the governing body had already received a warning notice from the council due to ‘a serious breakdown’ in managerial relationships.

Ms Gornall said: “Some governors have not supported the headteacher’s reasonable attempts to challenge underperformance and have exacerbated tensions within the teaching staff.

“The relationship between the governing body and the headteacher has broken down to the extent that the capacity for the school to improve is seriously jeopardised. Governors do not all trust each other.”

Acting chair of governors Aziz Hazari, a Pleckgate governor of ten years, said he was surprised and disappointed.

He said: “The records are there to show we have supported many schemes brought to us, such as bringing in iPads. We support the head just as we did the last headteacher.

“I don’t see where the idea that we do not trust each other could have come from. We felt we answered Ofsted’s questions well.

“Governors are volunteers who are here because they are passionate. My children went from Pleckgate on to top institutions. Like others, I want to give something back in my free time.”

Blackburn with Darwen Council’s member for education Dave Harling said: “We have been aware of the concerns raised by Ofsted for some time and have been actively working with Pleckgate’s governing body to help try to resolve some of their difficulties.

“We welcome the fact that Ofsted has recognised the progress already being made, but of course we also acknowledge that there is still a long way to go.”

Blackburn with Darwen Council has placed four additional governors on to the governing body and will make a formal request to the Department for Education to establish an interim executive board to replace the majority of governors.

The existing board is made up of six parent governors, four local authority governors, four staff and five community governors.

Coun Harling said: “This is something we had already planned before the recent Ofsted inspection and, subject to it being granted, we feel this will be the best possible option for the school.”