Ofsted rule switch leads to outstanding schools failing inspections

As reported by The Guardian, at the launch of Ofsted’s annual report last month Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector, said the new framework had ‘landed well’ on schools. However, Akroydon primary academy in Halifax, Calderdale, is one of a rush of schools now appealing against their gradings under the new criteria

Although most teachers welcome a ‘rebalancing’ between results and what goes on in the classroom, there is mounting concern at Ofsted’s power to dictate what schools should teach, and concern over whether its inspectors are qualified to judge a full range of specialist subjects.

Michael Gosling, chief executive of Trinity multi-academy trust, which took over Akroydon when it was failing two years ago, says despite this remarkable 45% rise in attainment the lead inspector told him pupil progress data was not proof of impact. “It’s as if your results don’t matter any more – just make sure you teach subjects the way Ofsted wants and talk coherently about your curriculum and you will get a good rating,” he said.

Two miles away, the most popular primary school in the local authority is also reeling after being rated ‘requires improvement’ after four ‘outstanding’ findings under the same headteacher. Parkinson Lane community school has 282 pupils on its waiting list and the highest number of appeals to get a primary place in Calderdale, and has been awarded the prestigious ‘teaching school’ status. It scores well above average for pupils’ progress in maths and English, despite serving an area in the top 10% in the country for deprivation and where most children speak English as an additional language.

“This is a framework written over a middle-class dinner table,” said Gosling. “Ofsted seems to think that if you can talk coherently about your curriculum then the results will look after themselves, but that is not going to happen in a school like ours, in areas of high deprivation.

“We had an after-school event with parents and local employers to jump-start our business and enterprise teaching, and apparently there were gaps in our teaching because one 10-year-old on the very first day didn’t know the difference between business and enterprise,” he said. “Solid evidence from the local authority of how we had transformed the school and the very positive response to an independent survey of parents were not mentioned.”

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Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “We have inspectors with no subject expertise or experience making judgments on the intent, implementation and impact of the curriculum, which is now the lens through which the quality of education judgments are made. If school behaviour needs changing then it should be through professional engagement, not through the inspection system.”

Back in Halifax, Gugsy Ahmed, headteacher of Parkinson Lane for 19 years, struggles to make sense of it. “Our motto is ‘stand out from the outstanding’. We’ve been outstanding five times and we’re not sitting still. We are constantly finding ways to improve and our results have gone up since the last inspection. How could the inspectors claim there had been a drop in standards?” he asked.

“We focus on the basics of reading, writing and oracy, of course, because our children’s journey is steeper than those with English as the first language, but we have a rich curriculum, and staff run 72 clubs and societies before and after school and at lunchtime that they never charge for.

“Their safeguarding concerns seemed to be based on their mistaken belief that four afternoon registers had not been taken, which they had, and also on a conversation with a Punjabi-speaking dinner supervisor who didn’t understand the phrase ‘county lines’”

A spokesperson for Ofsted said: “Our new inspections are unapologetically not just about stacking up grades – we are looking at the overall quality of education. Far from penalising schools in deprived areas, this approach recognises strong approaches to the curriculum, good leadership and a real determination to do the best for all the pupils, no matter their background or the area they live in. If we hold schools in challenging circumstances to a lower standard, we would be accepting that pupils in tougher areas don’t deserve the best possible education.”

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