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Thursday, 18 June 2015 19:16

OFSTED Publish Critical Report on School Improvement in Medway

OFSTED has published a critical Report into Medway Council's arrangements for supporting school improvement following years of underperformance, declining on an annual basis to last year’s nadir of being bottom Local Authority in the country out of 152 for primary schools in OFSTED assessments, although rising to the dizzy heights of 137th in Key Stage 2 outcomes. By contrast, overall Medway's secondary schools that are all academies and out of Medway Council control perform well on both counts.

The Council has a new school improvement strategy, but the Report records it does not: identify clearly enough what needs to change to drive improvement; show how significant gaps will be closed for underachieving schools; provide sufficient detail of targets for improvement to measure success; identify clearly enough how school improvement staff will be held to account for the impact of their work. Without these vital elements it is difficult to see how significant improvement can be achieved.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Good points include: the work of the early years team; recent school improvement work showing some results, but much of this is too recent to see its full impact; the work of the new interim assistant director for school effectiveness and inclusion, appointed a year ago, noting that her actions are starting to have an impact but limited by available expertise in Medway primary schools; School Leaders and governors who spoke to inspectors report a step change in the local authority's approach.

As a result, Ofsted will continue to monitor the local authority’s arrangements for school improvement. These arrangements are likely to be re-inspected within two years.

I look at the situation in more detail below, including the effect on some individual primary schools........

Elsewhere on this website, you will find the full history of OFSTED Inspections in Medway in recent years, although not quite up to date at the time of writing, a number of articles about the poor performances at OFSTED and KS2, and a list of the academies and sponsored academies in the Authority. You will find academy groups operating in Medway here.

One of the many factors in Medway is the high proportion of primary academies, some of which have become sponsored because they were previously failing, others have become converters to be free from Medway Council. Two of the most recent OFSTED reports are for the sponsored Oasis Academy Skinner Street - Special Measures, and converter Cliffe Woods Primary Academy - Outstanding.

It is indeed true as Medway Council reports, that there has been improvement since September, with two out of the 17 schools inspected so far having an Outstanding assessment, 11 Good, two Requires Improvement and two Inadequate, or Failing. However, this was not a typical sample of Medway schools as it included a high proportion of already high performing schools and, although it also includes six schools that improved their levels another four declined in standard, two losing their previous Outstanding status and two, Oasis Academy Skinner Street and Temple Mill, being downgraded to Special Measures. By contrast, Kent has 31 improved and 7 declined in the same period, as the latter Authority takes determined action to improve standards.

Perhaps more importantly, two of Medway's failing schools, Byron (2014 Inspection) and Temple Mill, that ought to have been a high priority for Medway Council failed their most recent Monitoring Inspections, an a third Twydall Primary (2014 Inspection) failed its first Monitoring Inspection although governors subsequently took a firm grip on the situation and the school is now back on track for removal of SM.

OFSTED has criticised the work of the School Improvement Team too often in the past, and the criticism of their current lack of accountability in the Report remains a shocking indictment. The most recent Monitoring Inspection of Byron School, OFSTED failure in 2014, records the school as not having had a visit since January. What is the purpose of the School Improvement Service?

Not surprisingly, once again Medway Council welcomes reports of recent progress noting, as it has done every year since I began this website back in 2008, that it is of course early days yet, and it takes time to turn the Authority round. One wonders what has been happening in the interim? Perhaps next year....

Leaders and elected members are well aware there is still a long way to go, which is a welcome change from the complacency I have reported on too often in the past.

There is indeed a long way to go as shown by the following excerpts from the Report:

Areas for improvement
n  Further accelerate pupils’ progress in all phases, particularly for disadvantaged pupils, and increase the proportion of good and outstanding schools.
n  Use data more effectively to identify weaknesses and to target direct support and challenge to areas of greatest need.
n  Ensure that staff providing support and challenge to school leaders are held to account robustly so that school improvement work is more sharply focused on the impact on pupils’ outcomes and the impact of their work to secure improvement.
n  Ensure that the school improvement strategy and final underpinning plans contain precise timescales and targets against which the impact of actions can be checked regularly.
n  Build leadership capacity across Medway schools, particularly in the primary sector.
Issues for Corporate leadership and strategic planning
n  The local authority’s work with weaker primary schools has not driven improvement quickly enough in Key Stage 1 or Key Stage 2. Although improving, pupils’ achievements, rates of progress and the proportion of schools judged good or outstanding remain in the lowest 10% of all local authorities nationally.
n  Although learning is at the heart of the council's plans for the future, until recently this vision has not been embraced by all schools. The vision has not translated into actions that have tackled the legacy of underachievement across Medway primary schools.
n  School leaders and governors have contributed to the school improvement strategy following lengthy consultation. However, leaders have been too slow to produce action plans detailing precisely what needs to be done by when. The strategy fails to explain sufficiently how success will be measured, monitored and evaluated. Priorities such as narrowing the gaps of achievement between underachieving groups and increasing the proportion of good or outstanding schools do not have sufficient precision. This lack of detail is slowing the pace of change.
n  Members share the headteachers’ trust and respect for the interim assistant director and report clearly the early impact of her work.
n  The School Effectiveness Strategic Board, comprising school and teaching school leaders, was set up by the local authority with an independent chair in 2014. Its aim is to ‘provide direction, develop coordination and galvanise commitment for a first class education for all children’. In the board’s quest to ensure consensus, it is too cautious in harnessing the ambition and drive of some well-equipped headteachers on the board who are restless for action.

Monitoring, challenge, intervention and support

n  The local authority’s school challenge and improvement leaders (SCILs) work closely with schools requiring improvement. However, their work is insufficiently informed by the full range of performance data and other information available, to identify risks sharply or speedily enough. This limits their ability to tackle any decline in school performance, leadership, or emerging weaknesses quickly. As a result, significant groups of Medway pupils, including the more able, the disadvantaged and those looked after, do not do as well as they should.

n  Examples of good practice are not identified quickly enough to share more widely across schools. Examples of these include the improvement of pupils’ phonic skills, mathematics in Key Stage 1 and work to improve the outcomes of children leaving the Early Years Foundation Stage.

n  Recent work has started to show early benefits in the number of schools judged good or outstanding in Ofsted inspections. However, given the low starting points, the rate of improvement is not rapid enough.

n  Recent work between SCILs, teaching schools and National and Local Leaders of Education is being better coordinated and targeted at those schools in greatest need

n  Current interventions of the school challenge and improvement team are determined following an annual review meeting with schools. These meetings are generally welcomed by school leaders where their schools’ performance is considered and support and intervention levels agreed.

n  Planned support for schools is not informed by sharp, measurable targets for pupils’ outcomes or by the speed of a school’s improved overall effectiveness. As a result, the impact of SCILs work in these areas is not fully maximised.

Support and challenge for leadership and management (including governance)

The support and challenge to schools have increased in effectiveness in recent months. The proportion of schools judged to be good or outstanding has improved slightly since September. Leaders and elected members know that there is a considerable way to go to meet their ambition that all schools are at least good.

n  The local authority has not used its statutory powers of intervention rigorously enough, given the much higher-than-average proportion of primary schools that are judged as requires improvement or inadequate.

n  Since September 2012, the local authority has used its informal powers to place additional governors onto weaker governing bodies to build the capacity of school governance; 23 schools have benefited from this additional support. This academic year, the local authority has written to 17 schools, including six academies, to raise concerns about standards. Governing bodies from three schools causing significant concern have been replaced with interim executive boards. The local authority recently issued a pre-warning notice to a school causing significant concern. These practices fall short of formal notices and, as a result, do not ensure that school leaders and governors are crystal clear when there are serious concerns about their effectiveness.

n  The governing body service is rightly supporting governors in making wider external links to improve their effectiveness, including the use of the National Leaders of Governance. It is also supporting the development of local area fora for chairs of governing bodies to develop skills and share good practice more widely. Leaders of the service are aware there is much to do and report that fewer than 10% of governing bodies are currently outstanding or highly effective.

n  The assistant director has been instrumental in utilising the broad range of intelligence gathered about schools more effectively. Information held by brokered services, such as human resources, finance and governing body services, contributes robustly to the categorisation of schools causing concern.

n  The local authority and school leaders have recognised the need to recruit and retain high quality leaders from within and outside Medway. There has been some success in using executive headteachers and secondments from outside Medway to build the capacity of leadership in the primary sector. There is still much to do and more flexible models of delivery are being considered.

Last modified on Thursday, 18 June 2015 23:00

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