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Tuesday, 12 February 2019 06:56

Maidstone Grammar School Ofsted: Down from Outstanding

Update (11/3) Oakwood Park Grammar has also had a recent Inspection and seen its Outstanding lost to Good probably because of disappointing GCSE results, although the Report acknowledges the great improvement for 2018, as reported below, in spite of its two Outstanding categories, compared with the MGS one. 

The Ofsted Report will have been influenced by the shocking GCSE results in 2018, with Progress 8 in the bottom half of all Kent schools, and at -0.12, level with New Line Learning Academy, struggling to attract students.

Maidstone Grammar School (MGS), one of Kent’s flagship selective schools, has lost its Outstanding Ofsted status following its recent Inspection with Report published yesterday. The Inspection was presumably triggered after 'legitimate concerns' (according to Ofsted below) had been expressed about the decline in its academic performance.

MGS3

The headlines of the Report, published in January, refer to disappointing GCSE results in 2017. However, they choose not  to mention that those for 2018 were  considerably worse. These saw the school delivering the fourth lowest Progress 8 score of any of the 38 Kent and Medway grammar schools, the government’s preferred measure of performance. It was eighth lowest for Attainment 8. The results come from a school that selected most of its pupils by setting a high pass score in the Kent Test, and yet still performed worse on both d than the other local grammar, Oakwood Park which recruits a significant number of pupils from appeal.  You will find an article on performance of  Kent grammar schools here including details of MGS relative performance, and background to Maidstone Grammar data here.

This Report also comes with a mystery, as explained below. 

The Mystery
The Report makes reference to an improved A Level performance in 2018. So why did it not comment on the level of the awful 2018 GCSE outcomes? Instead it records that after 2017: 'leaders quickly introduced rigorous accountability systems to monitor the quality of teaching and learning and assess pupils’ progress accurately' , but which in practice produced the further fall a year later. Surely an annual decline  since 2014 (admittedly with two different schemes) is a matter of deep concern, and presumably led to the Inspection being undertaken in the first place.  I do find it incredible that, although there is a brief reference deep in the Report to 'pupils’ progress from their overall high starting points is in line with the national average and has been for the last three years', there is no reference to any concern about this being very low for a selective school, or that it had declined from 2017. For performance is a central theme of  all Ofsted Inspections. In fact, it looks as if Ofsted may be trying to cover up the reality, casting serious doubt on the integrity of the Report on a school which is highly favoured by the Local Authority     
 
 
School Expansion
The school has recently benefited from an unnecessary major expansion of thirty places yearly, funded by £3.58 million from the KCC Basic Needs budget and including additional sporting facilities. This was based on a seriously flawed analysis in 2016 (see below), which failed to notice the significant overcapacity of grammar places for boys (and also for girls!) in Maidstone for years to come. The increase in numbers at MGS hit the other local grammar school, Oakwood Park Grammar, although Oakwood performed better than MGS on both GCSE measures this year. One has to ask what was the rationale behind the decision to expand, that placed this project amongst others of great need?

Maidstone Grammar admits boys through the Kent Test but, whereas most Kent grammars have required a pass mark of 320 in recent years (up until 2019 admission), MGS has set a considerably higher requirement to secure a place, being 372 for 2018 entry. The Year group which took GCSE in 2018 had a high proportion of  such boys qualifying. Places unfilled by this cut off were filled by boys with lower pass scores.  

The Report
The Report findings are generally very positive, although the central one is open to serious question.
Better teaching over the last 18 months means that outcomes have improved. Attainment is well above national levels. The progress made by current pupils is good. GCSE and A-level outcomes fell in 2017. Leaders quickly introduced rigorous accountability systems to monitor the quality of teaching and learning and assess pupils’ progress accurately. An unwavering determination by senior leaders, tighter subject leadership and effective training to improve teaching led to better A-level results in 2018. Overall, the progress made by current key stage 4 pupils is good and improving, particularly in English. It is certainly very surprising that a section beginning 'Better teaching over the last 18 months means that outcomes have improved', quotes A Level results as being better, has no reference to GCSE. It is good to learn that performance in English is at last improving as a few years ago, I drew attention to the poor English outcomes at GCSE in the school. 
 
The sole reference to GCSE performance in the Report states: 'Provisional 2018 GCSE results indicate that pupils’ attainment remains above national levels. The proportions of pupils achieving at least a grade 4 and grade 5 in both English and mathematics are well above the national average. Pupils’ average points score in the English Baccalaureate is also above the national average. However, pupils’ progress from their overall high starting points is in line with the national average and has been for the last three years'.  In practice, Attainment 8 is below average for a grammar school, let alone one that super selects the majority of its pupils, Grade 5 in English and maths at 88% is average, and English Baccalaureate point score is 31st out of 38 grammar schools. It may be that I am getting neurotic, but for A Level the 2018 results are reported as definite, whilst GCSE is 'Provisional', i.e. subject to change and not to be relied on. 
Ofsted Guidance August 2018.
Some schools judged outstanding at their most recent inspection are exempt from routine inspection. However, Ofsted can inspect them if Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector or the Secretary of State for Education has concerns about their performance. Ofsted may also inspect these schools as part of our survey work.

It is clear from the general nature of the Report that this inspection was not carried out as part of their Survey Work. Hence, the Outstanding classification was lost through the justified concerns about performance.

School Press Release
The very positive school Press Release does note in its only negative mention in a glowing review that: 'Despite all this work, we have not yet had sufficient time to fully realise our aspirational targets for our students and demonstrate that these can be sustained over time. It was for this reason that the final judgement had to be Good rather than Outstanding'. One can only wonder how far back the school realised it was underperforming and set aspirational targets for its pupils (presumably after the 2013 Outstanding Report) which it now obliquely acknowledges it is missing!
 
Expansion of Maidstone Grammar School (continued)
The 2016 Report justifying the school’s expansion states: 'Maidstone Grammar School is a 6 Form Entry (FE) selective boys’ school which admits girls into the sixth form. The school is located in central Maidstone and is ideally placed to meet the forecast demand for boys’ selective provision'.

It notes with reference to places for 2018 entry that 'KCC Secondary School forecasts for the Maidstone district indicate a surplus of Year 7 places until 2018-19 when a significant deficit (of 79 places overall) is projected'. Whilst MGS just filled on allocation, Oakwood Park had 41 empty places, so there was hardly an excessive demand, even though Oakwood managed to fill them by dint of offering 68 places on appeal. At the other end, a very high rate of successful appeals across Maidstone’s four grammar schools left Cornwallis and New Line Learning with 156 vacancies between them, a far cry from the KCC forecast of a shortage of 79 places across the district to justify the MGS expansion.

The KCC Report also has a section on ‘Raising Standards -Comments from Maidstone Grammar School’ explaining that the school 'believes academic standards will not be negatively impacted' referring to the 2013 Ofsted Report which ‘found that students make exceptionally good progress in all years and in all subjects from their above average attainment when they enter the school’ and notes that ‘Furthermore, the impressive levels of progress students make through the school, and the outcomes in examinations across a wide range of subjects, mean that students are very well prepared for further study, training or employment beyond school’. Sadly, they appear to have been mistaken, although the £3.58 million (set aside, although I don’t have the final bill), would have been very welcome.

Last Thoughts
I have read many Ofsted Reports over the years, and too often seen a 'halo' effect that appears  to hover round some prestige schools. I suspect this is amongst the worst, a view coloured by a small number of unhappy families that have chosen to share their concerns with me over the past year. 
 
Oakwood Park Grammar, now forced to compete with a school expanded with high quality premises and so more attractive to potential pupils recruited at its expense, must look on these outcomes with considerable unhappiness. 
 
Oakwood Park Grammar School
Oakwood Park's most recent Report, published today (13th March), like MGS,  saw an Ofsted inspection carried out in spite of the policy, described above that: Some schools judged outstanding at their most recent inspection are exempt from routine inspection. However, Ofsted can inspect them if the Chief Inspector or the Secretary of State for Education has concerns about their performance. It is likely that, like MGS, the 2017 GCSE results were the trigger, although as the report notes, unlike MGS results have improved for 2018 with, in particular: 'Students in the sixth form make exceptionally strong progress because their teachers provide them with consistently high levels of challenge'. Both schools had 'Personal development, behaviour and welfare' Outstanding, the Oakwood Report noting: 'Pupils are exceptionally well prepared for life in modern Britain. Pupils are tolerant, thoughtful and have a keen appreciation of the values of democracy within a diverse society. Leaders ensure that pupils benefit from outstanding opportunities to develop their attitudes, personal interests and leadership skills.', a view which chimes with comments to me from parents. 
 
 
 

 

Last modified on Saturday, 20 July 2019 08:07

9 comments

  • Comment Link Thursday, 30 May 2019 12:18 posted by Darren

    I worked at Maidstone Grammar School 20 years ago and I am very sad and disappointed to read of its downgrading following on from its OFSTED. It has a long and proud history and I hope all concerned will work to improve it for the boys who go there

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 19 February 2019 23:52 posted by Head who paid the price of Ofsted

    Schools do go off the boil and remedies can be applied. The bigger question is whether Ofsted was incompetent in this case or, as you appear to suggest seems more likely, attempted to cover up the decline. If so why?
    Now that MGS has been let off the hook by Ofsted as shown by the headteacher's whitewash, who will provide the kick it clearly needs?

  • Comment Link Monday, 18 February 2019 20:32 posted by Kathy Walsh

    Simon Langton boys school has been very open that it’s marks were ineligible for comparison as they had taken the IGCSE English. Therefore none of the pupils achieved Gcse English, distorting their figures beyond use. It’s still outstanding by every measure except this anomaly. PETER: I haven't mentioned Simon Langton in my article. I explain about the iGCSE in the link to GCSE outcomes, so I am not sure of the relevance of this.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 17 February 2019 23:43 posted by Proud Oakwood Park Parent

    As a proud Oakwood parent, I am so disappointed that you have not made more of the excellent work all the staff do for the boys. Yes, our son was admitted on appeal but we are so proud of his achievements at GCSE. He is now enjoying his A Levels alongside boys and girls from all four Maidstone grammar schools, happy to be in such an enlightened school. PETER: I endorse all you say, but this WAS an article about the failure of MGS.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 17 February 2019 19:33 posted by MGS Second disappointed parent

    You describe MGS as a flagship school, and as a parent, this is how I have always thought it. Peter, you have truly exposed a scandal of underachievement in a school that boasts of its achievements, to my great dismay. Stage one in recovery is to accept and acknowledge its failures, which you have made it so much easier to do. Stage Two is to take immediate action to tackle the source of the problem which is usually at the head of an organisation.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 17 February 2019 18:10 posted by MGS Disappointed Parent

    I hope your article will be distributed to parents at the meeting on 26th February, together with any rebuttal if such can exist!
    I look forward to hearing the school response to this disgraceful decline over the last six years.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 16 February 2019 19:15 posted by RTS

    So why don't you mention Simon Langton Boys, the other semi super selective grammar also very low performing?. PETER because they haven't had the ignominy of an Ofsted taking away their Outstanding status under exceptional circumstances.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 16 February 2019 08:46 posted by Graham Fielx

    So they took the money and ran. No thought about standards. What an example to set. I hope not all grammar schools at like that or there is no reason for them to exist. PETER: Quite!

  • Comment Link Friday, 15 February 2019 11:31 posted by Jill W

    Unto those that have shall be given.

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