Dear Parent/Carer 16th March 2017
Ofsted Inspection – 11 and 12 January 2017
I am writing to inform you that the report pertaining to the above inspection has now been published on the Ofsted website and can be accessed by following this link via the school website.
If you would prefer a hard copy then you can obtain one by calling into the school or by contacting us in the usual way.
Needless to say the judgements contained in the report are a significant blow to everybody connected with the school and will undoubtedly be equally disappointing to our school community.
I should like to state right from the outset however that I do not believe that this report in anyway accurately reflects our school and its staff. In the two previous inspections the school was graded ‘good’ and many positive aspects of the school’s work were rightly identified and praised. In the time since those inspections, attainment, the standards that the students achieve overall, has remained more or less at the same level and attendance has actually improved. And yet, under a new framework and a more punitive accountability system we are deemed to be a weaker school.
The fact is, as you will have seen in the press, that a narrower, much more academic curriculum has been forced on schools, funding has been cut and all schools are in a period of transition as they work with their students to adjust to this new reality. Many schools, particularly in this region, have fallen foul of this when being inspected in the last 12 months or so and have shared our fate when Ofsted called. This is both unfair and unhelpful.
The report does also contain some important positive comments particularly with regard to the conduct of the students, their safety and wellbeing and the commitment and dedication of the staff.
I would like now to deal with the two most fundamental issues identified, attendance and progress and how the two are linked.
Attendance levels at the school are deemed ‘low’ by national standards because overall attendance is below 95% and persistent absence (students with attendance of below 90%) is high. It is the case however, and this was acknowledged by the inspection team, that overall attendance has improved continuously at this school for a number of years now. When I joined the school in 2009 attendance was around 88% and it is now close to 94%, which is just below the government’s 95% target. It was also acknowledged that the school had done just about everything it could to try and improve attendance in that time. Indeed we were subject to a ‘no notice’ section 8 inspection in March 2015 which focussed solely on behaviour and attendance and were graded ‘good’ at that point and overall attendance is higher now than it was then. The inspection team felt that the improvement wasn’t quick enough however, whilst we would argue that what we have achieved is sustainable and long term.
Any of you that have ever attended a parents’ event at the school will know that on every single occasion I stress the importance of good attendance in helping a student achieve academic success and as uncomfortable as this report is to read its underlying message simply strengthens that argument. We will continue to work extremely hard with families and students for whom regular attendance is a challenge so that we can continue to improve attendance across the board and help those students to achieve their potential. Your role as parents and carers is vital to that effort, we need and value your support and thank you all for it.
Clearly one of the main impacts of poor attendance is on students’ academic progress. This report repeatedly cites a lack of impact on progress of various factors including the teaching. This is based fundamentally on average measures of progress across the board and of various groups of students. The criticism of teaching therefore, in my view, is grossly unfair as this is based on these progress figures and not on any objective view of the teaching observed, of which there was very little.
The issue with the progress figures is that they are an average and this average can be massively distorted by the performance of a relatively small number of students whose attendance is particularly poor, for a variety of complex reasons often beyond their or our control. This therefore doesn’t give a true or fair representation of the progress of most students. Many students here make very good progress as many of you who have had students through the school would testify, but this isn’t reflected in the overall progress figures for the reasons I have just outlined. From the point of view of an Ofsted inspection this is extremely problematic since the impact of teaching and leadership is essentially judged in these terms.
The report is an equally blunt instrument when it comes to judging behaviour. The overall judgement is a reflection of the judgement on attendance and not the conduct of the students which is praised, indeed they are referred to as ‘polite and courteous’ on the front page. Ofsted recognised that this judgement is open to misinterpretation but refused to alter it.
I am keen to stress however that we are neither complacent nor in denial about the outcome of this inspection. It is, as I said, a blow to all of us. We will work tirelessly to address the areas for concern identified and an action plan for improvement, monitored by Ofsted, will be in place very shortly. This will then be implemented quickly and effectively and everybody connected with the school will see and feel the difference.
We are determined to bring about the improvements required, to regain our previous Ofsted rating and to retain the confidence and support of our school community. This school is popular and full. Our admissions have been oversubscribed for the last two years demonstrating the faith that our local community has in us and we are both extremely grateful for this and determined to justify it.
Please, despite the critical tone, try to focus on three fundamental principles of good schools. That students are safe and well cared for, they behave well and that the staff are committed and hard working. These are all in place and are an excellent basis on which to improve and the report at least recognises this.
Although we profoundly disagree with the judgements contained in this report our capacity to challenge them is very limited. We will therefore simply get on with the job of providing a high standard of education for your child.