If results alone are all that matters, why bother with Ofsted?

Janet Downs's picture
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The Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) for the South East Tim Coulson sent warning letters to seven academies in Norfolk and Suffolk between 12 and 16 October, Schools Week reports. The letters were not made public until 16 November. It’s unclear why the letters weren’t published until a month after they were sent. A cynic might say it was to delay bad news about academies while the Education and Adoption Bill trundles through the Lords.

But leave that aside. What is more to the point is that none of the seven schools has been judged Inadequate. The Chafford School was judged to Require Improvement in June. Inspectors were critical, yes, but noted the head had ‘clear vision’ and changes had been made which were beginning to improve student progress. Improvement, however, was hampered by recruitment difficulties. When Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust proposed to open two free schools in Saxmundham and Beccles, Seckford said it would ‘challenge a culture of low expectations and low achievement in the area’. But their first results were poor. Both schools had, however, been judged Good in 2014. The City Academy, Norwich, was judged Requires improvement in March. Monitoring in June found the academy was ‘taking effective action to tackle the areas requiring improvement…’ Admirals Academy, Thetford, run by Academies Transformation Trust which had its ban on further expansion lifted in December 2014, was judged Good in 2014. Diamond Academy, run by the same trust, was judged Requires Improvement in 2014. Monitoring in September 2014 found Diamond Academy was ‘taking effective action’ to address identified weaknesses. Castle Manor Academy, Haverhill, was judged Good in June 2013.

Four of the academies, then, were Good and three Require Improvement. Two of the latter are taking ‘effective action’ to deal with problems previously identified by inspectors. But inspectors’ ratings are disregarded when it came to sending out these warning letters. The schools were targeted because of their low results. The fact that two schools were taking effective action to improve has been ignored. The four Good judgements are seemingly irrelevant.

There may be reasons for these low results. Theresa Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal, defended the low GCSE results at Saxmundham saying the particular year group was ‘challenging’. If she is correct, then it follows that other schools have equally challenging cohorts. At City Academy, for example, the 2014 GCSE cohort was top heavy with disadvantaged children and the intake was skewed to the bottom end.

But this Government will allow for no such excuses. And it can’t believe that schools can have low results but still be offering a good education to their pupils. Yet in 2011 the Education Endowment Fund found that many below-floor schools were actually doing a good job in difficult circumstances.

That’s not to say there might not be cause for concern at these or similar schools. But appropriate action would be to dispatch inspectors to consider the quality of education, the context of the schools and any difficulties such as recruitment they may be facing. Sending out warning letters demanding action in a few weeks is inappropriate, especially when inspectors have said two of the Require Improvement academies were already taking effective action and a third had made changes. Such schools needs support not threats. But if, as appears to be the case, Regional Schools Commissioners are ignoring Ofsted judgements, then it raises the question whether there is any point in having Ofsted. It appears not to matter if schools are Good or taking effective action – they will still be damned if their results are low.

NOTES. All letters can be downloaded from Schools Week. Ofsted reports can be downloaded here.

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Comments

Guest's picture
Thu, 19/11/2015 - 18:15

I agree the thrust of the thread and note that the situation painfully highlights that once academised irrespective of how inadequate they are judged to be (here I use the Morgan redefined category of inadequate i.e. Ofsted grades 3 and 4) each academy/free school concerned can only be taken over by another sponsor/chain.

At this point I begin to wonder whether the idea floated in the news some weeks back by LAs that they use grade 2 and 1 schools to become sponsors with the LA as lead. In that way failing academies might just be returned to LA sponsors.

The whole thing is a discriminatory omni-shambles!

I also agree that this scenario points to the need for further radical restructuring, refocusing and re-visioning of Ofsted.

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 19/11/2015 - 18:25

I am only guessing, but it looks to me as if the DfE are putting themselves in a position where they can say they are being much tougher on academies and free schools than on LA schools. Under the legislation going through parliament at the moment, if I understand it correctly, an LA school has to be found wanting for three consecutive years before compulsory academisation. But these schools are getting a warning after one with the suggestion that action will follow after two. This approach could be used to neutralise objections that they are being too hard on LA schools.

Guest's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 12:25

I agree that it looks as though the RSCs are trying to out do their LA counterparts. If so, what this indicates to me is just how divided and negatively divisive the system has become. Not simply different curriculum offers (LA - National Curriculum and Academies (including Free Schools) - core a broad and balanced curriculum) but also different operating standards and criteria.

What a mess!

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 20/11/2015 - 15:34

Barry - I think you are possibly right. However, 'coasting' will refer both to academies and LA schools - both types will be defined 'coasting' after three consecutive years. This would result in academization for LA schools and moving to a chain (or another chain) for academies.

It appears, then, that Tim Coulson has rather jumped the gun in slamming six of the seven on this year's results alone (City Academy has been named and shamed before but quite how it's expected to exceed floor standards when its intake is so heavily skewed to the bottom end is unclear - a warning perhaps to teachers and those aspiring to be heads to avoid working in such schools. Could be career suicide.).

But RSCs appear to be a law unto themselves and I expect we'll see more of this macho posturing.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 20/11/2015 - 17:06

Schools Week reports the government has said there is no need to send a warning letter to IES Breckland about its performance because it is being monitored by Ofsted following its Inadequate rating.

It would actually be rather difficult to judge the free school on its results because it hasn't yet entered pupils for GCSEs although the school's prediction is that they will be below the floor. However, if monitoring by Ofsted is cited as being a reason not to send warning letters, why, then, were warning letters sent to the two academies above, City Academy and Diamond Academy, which are not only being monitored but were found to be taking 'effective action'?

Guest's picture
Fri, 20/11/2015 - 17:23

Perhaps the answer to that lies somewhere between incompetence, maladministration, hidden agenda and total disingenuity ...

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 09/12/2015 - 13:03

CORRECTION : IES Breckland has entered its first pupils for GCSE. 37% of the cohort reached the benchmark (provisional results). That is lower than some of the 2015 results in the academies sent warning letters: eg Chafford 39%; Beccles Free School 43%.

As noted in my comment above, the DfE said it wouldn't send a pre-warning or warning letter to IES Breckland because it was being monitored by Ofsted. This hadn't stopped the RSC sending out such letters to other academies which were being monitored: City Academy and Diamond Academy.

It appears IES Breckland, the free school run by for-profit education provider IES, is being given special treatment: no pre-warning or warning letter, and it's the only Inadequate free school that hasn't been handed to another academy trust or closed. Was the contract with IES so watertight that the DfE couldn't move it to another MAT as it has speedily done with other Inadequate free schools (even some which just Required Improvement).? Or does the DfE want IES to continue irrespective of the quality of education offered because it wants to say running a school for profit is a success?

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