‘Swindon’s children failed by schools at every key stage’, is the headline of an Ofsted press release.
But is this entirely true?
Ofsted’s letter (downloadable here) says: ‘The 2016 phonics outcomes for Swindon are some of the poorest in the country, with only 75% of 6 year olds meeting the expected standard.’
According to Department for Education statistics*, 76% of Swindon’s six-year-olds reached the expected standard of phonic decoding. The national figure was 81%. This puts Swindon in the bottom group of English schools where performance ranged from 74% to 79%’.
However, results** in the phonics check at the end of Year 2 were more encouraging: 91% of Swindon’s seven-year-olds reached the expected standard. This equals the national figure.
Ofsted’s letter said: ‘At key stage 1, Swindon’s seven-year-olds are the joint lowest performers in reading in the south west.’
Swindon seven-year-olds’ performance in reading is among the ‘lowest’ but there’s little difference between the lowest and the average. Provisionally, 72% of Swindon’s seven-year-olds reached the expected standard of reading at the end of KS1***, just two percentage points lower than the national figure of 74% and one percentage point lower than the south west average (73%).
Ofsted’s letter says: ‘At key stage 2, Swindon’s outcomes are amongst the lowest in the country with only 44% of 11-year-olds reaching the new expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics. Only two per cent of pupils reached a higher standard in reading, writing and mathematics compared with five per cent nationally in England.’
This is correct. Results**** for Swindon’s eleven-year-olds put the local authority (LA) in the bottom group of about 30 LAs where performance ranged from 39% to 48%. These 30 LAs can no doubt expect to receive similar excoriating letters.
Ofsted’s letter says: ‘At key stage 4, pupils’ outcomes raise similar concerns. Headline measures for these pupils are below national across the board.’
DfE 2016 school performance tables for Swindon show the ‘headline’ Progress 8 (P8) for Swindon as a whole was below the national average. But there were only fourteen schools in Swindon with P8 results. Two were special schools and one was a UTC where the specialised curriculum means Y11 pupils don’t always take GCSEs which contribute to P8. That leaves eleven mainstream secondary schools. Two had above average P8 scores, four were close to average and five were below average.
Ofsted’s letter says: ‘Recent inspections of five secondary schools in Swindon indicate a trend of decline’.
Fourteen of Swindon’s secondary schools have current Ofsted judgements. Five have recently been inspected and these do show a ‘trend of decline’. One kept its good rating, one failed to improve from requires improvement (RI), one dropped from good to RI and two dropped from RI to inadequate. That leaves nine: one is outstanding, five are good, two require improvement and one hasn’t been inspected since becoming an academy although the predecessor school required improvement. Two RI schools have been monitored: inspectors found they were taking effective action to address the areas found to need improvement.
There are several problems with this letter:
1 It ignored the more positive Y2 phonics check;
2 It didn’t take note of the effect of small sample size. When a small number of schools are downgraded, this has a disproportionate effect on the data for the area as a whole.
3 It didn’t consider the monitoring inspections of two RI schools.
4 It lumped together the good and the worst.
Swindon is yet another example of LAs being damned as a whole by either Ofsted or Regional School Commissioners. It sometimes appears that these two are trying to outdo each other in taking ‘robust’ action. There’s no doubt some of Swindon’s schools need support to improve. But condemning the whole area isn’t particularly helpful. It’s demoralising to those schools which are doing good or better. The dictatorial tone of the letter’s last paragraph risks action being hasty rather than lastingly effective. And Ofsted should remember it's there to support as well as condemn.
NOTE: All figures are provisional. Secondary school data is from DfE 2016 provisional school performance tables.
*See Table 6, Phonics Tables downloadable here.
**See Table 9, downloadable here.
***See Table A2 in KS1 Local Authority tables, downloadable here.
****See Table L1 in National, local and regional tables downloadable here.