‘Pupils’ attainment at key stages one and two in Leeds, its performance whether against national or regional figures, is weak. This is frankly inexcusable’, wrote Nick Hudson, Ofsted’s regional director for Yorkshire, to Leeds Council.
But in 2014, 76% of primary pupils in Leeds achieved Level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths at the end of Key Stage 2 (KS2) against a national average of 78%. Expected progress in the three subjects was slightly above the national averages. Nevertheless, this is deemed ‘weak’ and ‘inexcusable’.
It may be that Hudson is referring to 2015 results which are not yet in the public domain. If this is the case Ofsted has other tools at its disposal before damning all Leeds primary schools. First, it could look at its own inspection results. These show not one Leeds primary school is Inadequate. And just 20 of the 200+ primary schools Required Improvement according to 2014 School Performance Tables. Second, Ofsted could inspect Leeds school improvement arrangements to identify any problems. But this has not been done.
Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, Leeds City Council’s executive member for children and families, expressed surprise on receiving the letter. She described it as ‘highly unusual’ and said it was not sent ‘in line with the usual professional protocols we would expect.’ She understood other Yorkshire LAs had been sent ‘remarkably similarly phrased letters’.
Councillor Andre Carter, leader of the Conservative opposition group, accused the Labour council of burying bad news and said they were ‘failing another generation’. Perhaps Councillor Carter should have considered the evidence rather than use the letter to make political capital. It appears, then, that all Leeds primary schools are being judged on the area’s results alone, and not particularly poor ones at that. As I’ve asked before, if results are all that matters, why bother with Ofsted particularly if Ofsted ignores its own reports?
This letter follows the seven warning letters sent by the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) for the South East which sidestepped the usual protocol of sending pre-warning letters first* and which, again, focussed on results alone. These letters raise a question about who is responsible for monitoring and addressing school performance in an area. Is it local authorities who, as we’ve seen, are blamed if results are below average? Is it Ofsted regional directors? Is it RSCs? A cynic might say there’s a turf war being fought between Ofsted and RSCs which manifests itself in macho-posturing to prove which is the toughest. That would be flippant. But we do need clarification of their respective roles and the protocols which govern their work.
We have already seen how Leeds has accused Ofsted of not following laid-down procedures and how one RSC has disregarded the first stage of sending pre-warning letters. Worse, though, is that this swift dispatching of threatening letters whether to academies with low results irrespective of Ofsted rating and context or to local authorities where all schools are told their performance is ‘inexcusable’ adds to the climate of fear which pervades teaching in England. Fear produces stressed teachers. Stressed teachers depress education quality. And stress eventually leads to teacher burn out.
*See paragraph 146 of Education Select Committee Report Academies and free schools 21 January 2015
UPDATE 25 February 2016 I've just checked the primary results for Leeds 2015. 78% of Leeds' pupils reached the benchmark - that's 2% higher than last year. Performance is still 2% below the national average, however, because that's increased also by 2% and now stands at 80%. Progress of Leeds' pupils in Reading, Writing and Maths is 1% ABOVE the national average for each of these subjects. This is what Nick Hudson describes as 'weak' and 'inexcusable'.
I've also checked Ofsted judgements for Leeds primary schools as at 31 December 2015 (downloadable here). The data shows 92% of Leeds' primary schools are Good or better. This is above the national average of 86%. The remaining 8% require improvement. None is inadequate. Perhaps Nick Hudson will send out a letter of congratulation. Perhaps....