From Good to Special Measures in just 8 months; Ofsted’s about-turn raises questions about two inspections and what really went on in a Norfolk school

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In March 2013 Stalham High School, Norfolk, was judged Good by Ofsted in all four categories. Inspectors commented favourably on school leaders, governors, behaviour and teaching.

Eight months later, in November 2013, inspectors returned. Publication of the report was delayed until February 2014. The school’s Good judgement had been downgraded to Inadequate and the school placed in Special Measures.

Much of the teaching, previously described as “mainly good or outstanding”, was judged inadequate. Students behaved well in March but in November their “day-day-experience of school is not good enough”. The school was praised for being “pro-active” in March in combating bullying; in November, inspectors said the school must take steps to promote “positive attitudes to other ethnic groups”. Staff questionnaires showed “overwhelming satisfaction” in March but by November some “expressed reservations about how individuals were managed”.

What can account for this reversal?

GCSE results fell from 56% reaching the benchmark 5 GCSEs (or equivalent) A*-C including Maths and English in 2012 to 46% in 2013. But was this fall the sole reason the school plummeted to inadequate in just eight months?

Ofsted said it had received complaints about the school which triggered the sudden inspection. Inspectors discovered “internal issues” had distracted attention and found relations between senior leaders and the governing body had broken down.

According to the Norwich Evening News, concerns about the school’s management were known a year before Ofsted visited Stalham in March 2013. Councillor Nigel Dixon of Norfolk County Council had investigated “mismanagement issues” within the governing body and the senior leadership team in March 2012 after parents raised concerns and described both groups as “dysfunctional”.

But in March 2013, Ofsted applauded the governors for their hands-on approach and praised the head’s view about where the school was going. Significantly, Ofsted inspectors did not talk to anyone at the local authority (LA). If the Norwich Evening News is correct about Councillor Dixon’s assessment of the working relationship between Stalham’s governors and senior management in 2012, these concerns would surely have come to light.

According to the March 2013 Ofsted, the LA adopted a “light-touch approach” despite the school being in “a very vulnerable position in recent years”. Inspectors formed the opinion without speaking to a local authority representative that LA support was focused on how to best answer Ofsted questions rather than supporting school improvement. But in November, inspectors spoke to a representative from the LA and found the LA had provided “extensive support” in managing staffing and governance issues in the last two years but had become less involved after the good Ofsted judgement in March 2013.

The overturning of the March 2013 Ofsted judgement raises questions about the reliability of the March inspection particularly as the November report contradicts most of the earlier findings.

 

But there are also questions about the long-delayed November report.

Inspectors are no longer supposed to comment on learning styles but the school was censured because teachers didn’t “make good use of their whiteboards or projectors to reinforce learning.”

Teaching was graded inadequate overall but inspectors contradicted themselves by writing “teaching was at least good in half the lessons observed” and inadequate in "one in five" lessons. So, teaching was good or better in 50% of lessons but the 20% inadequate, albeit a high proportion, was enough to damn all teaching as inadequate.

Behaviour of students was judged inadequate but this again was contradicted. Inspectors wrote “Poor behaviour is not a problem” and “Inspectors saw little evidence of any challenging behaviour in classes”.

Leadership and management were judged inadequate. Inspectors noted Stalham had been given Notice to Improve in 2010 and had serious weaknesses in 2005: weakness in governance had been an issue on these two occasions. The positive comments about governance in 2013 were not cited. This suggests that inspectors didn’t trust the March judgements.

The head has now resigned – she went off sick on the first day of the November inspection and did not return. The acting head wrote to parents about the latest Ofsted report:

“I am sure that this judgement and as you read through the report will cause you some distress and possibly some bewilderment about how a school judged “Good” in March 2013 could have changed so much in eight months. There is no simple answer to that, but what is clear is that there is much to do to address many of the findings in the report, which in my opinion, after being at the school for a month are accurate.”

Questions surround both inspections. In March, inspectors didn’t question anyone from the local authority and judged LA performance on information provided by the school. The report explicitly said inspectors found no support to justify the proportion of negative findings on Parent View*. It was, in short, overwhelmingly positive. The November report contains contradictory statements, comments on teaching styles, overturns most of the positive findings made just eight months before and was not published until February 2014. It is, in short, overwhelmingly negative.

This is deeply worrying for pupils, parents, teachers and governors at the school.

*Ofsted Parent View is not necessarily a representative sample of parents’ views. It relies on parents being motivated enough to fill in an on-line questionnaire which is, in any case, denied to parents without internet access.

Ofsted reports for Stalham High School can be downloaded here.
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