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Friday, 09 January 2015 00:00

Two important OFSTED monitoring Reports out today, heading in very different directions: Charles Dickens Secondary and Stansted CofE Primary

Monitoring OFSTED Inspections for Charles Dickens School in Ramsgate and Stansted CofE Primary School,  in Sevenoaks District, south of Gravesend both of which have previously been placed in Special Measures, are published today. For Charles Dickens, it is very good news, for Stansted, the writing is surely on the wall for its future. 

Charles Dickens School
First up is the Charles Dickens School in Ramsgate, whose previous Inspection placed it in Special Measures. I wrote at the time: “The problem I have with this Report is that whilst it reads as the most critical I have ever read of a Kent secondary school (worse even than Castle), it almost appears to have lost objectivity and to be deliberately vindictive. This sense is compounded by the fact that the Inspection Team invited the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to join them on the second day of the Inspection, or was it that the findings of the team were so awful, they needed him to see them for himself”?

Charles Dickens

Looking at today’s very positive Report, one of the briefest I have ever seen indicating the very low level of concern by the OFSTED, it is almost impossible to visualise the same school as was observed just three months previously. This was a ‘Good’ school, as established by the previous OFSTED in 2011, and still is. Further comment below.

Stansted CofE Primary School
Placed in Special Measures in October 2013, the school has limped along subsequently, with a number of Acting Headteachers and two Interim Heads both appointed by KCC, the first being removed because“None of the benchmarks or targets for improvement identified in the statement of action has been achieved”. The fourth Monitoring Inspection Report, out today, surely sounds the death knell over the school’s future, with the Interim Headteacher appointed by KCC, and the Authority apparently squabbling over the best way forward: “Difficulties remain over the school’s acceptance of and the value that the interim headteacher places on external support and challenge. The dispute between the school and the local authority over last year’s writing results has not been resolved”. However the bottom line is that “The school is not making enough progress towards the removal of special measures”, total numbers having fallen to a non-viable 35 children. 

Stansted

 Again, further comment below.

The two Reports between them raise many issues, the most important of which are:

1) There was enormous support for Charles Dickens, its standards and headteacher after the original Inspection. The appearance of the Chief Inspector at the school during the inspection suggests there was another agenda, and this Monitoring Report seriously undermines the findings of that Inspection. I still have confidence in the findings of most OFSTED Inspections, which tend to fit other evidence, but this situation serves to undermine the whole process, never mind the unnecessary damage it has caused the school.  

2) KCC has installed a number of temporary leaders at Stansted, but the school’s decline, which now appears terminal, appears to be in part due to the performance of the two Interim Headteachers, both appointed by KCC. Where is the quality control here?

Charles Dickens School

The Monitoring Inspection Report indicates some areas of school management and governance that have been improved, but unusually only reports on Leadership and Management , apart from one sentence: “The school was calm and orderly. Pupils were engaged with their learning and no pupils had been removed from lessons because of inappropriate behaviour during the period that lessons were observed”.  

It was suggested at the time of the Inspection that the Chief Inspector was demanding the headteacher, Andrew Ollsen, be replaced, but in this case governors and KCC rightly held their nerve, and have now been vindicated. Clearly some change was needed and the Report records: “The local authority recognises the need for rapid and substantial improvement at the school (unspecified) and is working with the school to ensure it gets the support it needs”, although even this appears extreme given the nature of the changes proposed. The Report comments on progress: “Senior leaders have drawn up an improvement plan which proposes clear and specific actions to address all the areas of concern identified by the inspection report. A good start has been made to implementing the plan”; and it is clearly accepted that changes were needed, but not on the scale indicated in the original Report, and certainly not on a scale to justify Special Measures. There is a strong belief in Kent that when GCSE results are published shortly, the non-selective schools will show a decline in performance as a group, because of changes made to results that count, and this may all have been an overreaction to this effect. Otherwise, it remains a mystery, but one that has severely, and sadly damaged confidence in the OFSTED process.

Stansted CofE Primary school

As I wrote after the second Monitoring Inspection in April 2014: Stansted Primary School, situated between Maidstone and Gravesend, ought to be a thriving school given its socio economic hinterland. However it is an ongoing disaster area, having been placed in Special Measures last July, the headteacher having been on extended sick leave since February. The published context suggests that it never stood a chance: ‘The interim headteacher joined the school three weeks ago, replacing the previous interim headteacher, who had been in place during the autumn terms’The Report makes clear that the first interim headteacher was removed because ‘None of the benchmarks or targets for improvement identified in the statement of action has been achieved’. The Special Measures OFSTED was overseen by two Acting Headteachers. Not surprisingly, numbers are plummeting”.

The school has had its Governing Body replaced by an Interim Executive Board appointed by KCC and the Diocese of Rochester, mainly comprising experienced educationalists, and including an Area Education Officer and Principal KCC School Improvement Officer, with the prime aim of turning the school round. Sadly, the task appears to have proved beyond them and KCC will now have to make recommendations about the future of the school.

Clearly too many people have contributed to this tragedy for, although there are some good points about the school in the Report, the reality is that with the small numbers “Teachers are struggling with the wide range of ages and abilities in each group”. There are many criticisms of achievement and teaching quality, especially in Reception and Key Stage 2 Years. On the other hand: “The interim headteacher and the special needs coordinator continue to manage the day-to-day running of the school effectively, so that it is safe and well ordered”.

The clear tensions are identified in the section devoted to governance. “It has taken a long time to establish an improvement plan with sufficiently measurable targets and milestones. The IEB… have produced a pay policy, but this has not yet been agreed by staff. A member of the IEB carried out a thorough evaluation of the school’s website and identified that it does not meet statutory requirements. The IEB has requested that school leaders take action to ensure that the necessary information is published on the website. This has not yet happened and the website continues to be underdeveloped, out of date and lacks important information. The IEB is carrying out risk assessments on the viability and financial security of the school”. I can only see one outcome of this.

Three thoughts on Interim Headteachers. (1): These are appointed to schools that are vulnerable, so special care needs to be taken in making appointments. The experience of Stansted suggests KCC needs to try harder; (2) There is life after failure, working with large Academy Groups as a Consultant, using one’s experience: “assisting, stabilising, improving primary schools in difficulty or in category”. (3) beware personal Twitter accounts!

Last modified on Sunday, 18 January 2015 06:43

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