Doubts raised about reliability of inspections when academy is ‘transformed’ from good to, er, good

Janet Downs's picture

Skinners’ Academy, Hackney, was judged good in a short inspection in May 2017.

Inspectors said the leadership team had ‘transformed the culture of the school’.   The head, Tim Clark, had ‘joined the school as principal shortly after the last inspection and quickly identified that standards of behaviour had fallen...’

Clark’s biography says that when he became Skinners’ head in September 2013:

The Academy was blighted by appalling pupil behaviour, very low standards and staff morale, and falling rolls.’

This suggests Skinners’ was failing before Clark arrived.  But this is at odds with the short inspection which says the academy ‘continues to be good.’

How can a school with ‘appalling pupil behaviour’ and ‘very low standards’ have been judged good just two months before Clark became head?

The full inspection of June 2013 said Skinners’ was good on all four counts.

Pupils’ achievement was good. 

The quality of teaching was judged good: teachers used ‘expertise and experience well to promote good learning.’

The leadership and management were good.  This was ‘despite significant staff turbulence and relocating to the new building’.

The governance of the school ‘worked extremely well with the Principal [Jenny Wilkins] to develop a school with high ambitions’.

 Behaviour and safety of pupils was judged good, although a ‘very few staff, parents and carers expressed some concerns regarding behaviour’.  Nevertheless, behaviour was ‘improving well’ as the school had ‘effective strategies’ to manage misbehaviour.

Had the inspectors who visited in 2013 dismissed concerns about behaviour?  Had they been over-reliant on the academy’s self-assessment* because no group had yet taken GCSEs?   Or did inspectors in 2017 accept a slightly exaggerated picture of the atmosphere at Skinners’ when Clark arrived – an atmosphere which is contradicted by an inspection which took place just two months before?

When inspectors describe a school as having been transformed, it implies the school had previously been inadequate.  But this isn’t the case with Skinners’.  It’s been transformed from good to, er, good.

This raises the question whether the ‘new broom’ treatment brought in when Cook arrived was really necessary.  It caused the Guardian to question if ‘strict behaviour policies at academies really make for happy schools’.

On the other hand, it casts doubt on Ofsted judgements when inspectors describe a school as transformed when none appears to have taken place.

FOOTNOTE: Clark’s biography also says Skinners’ GCSE results were ‘consistently above national average’ when he left the academy last year.  This isn’t borne out by school performance tables which show Progress 8 as average and Attainment 8 as the same as the England average of 46.7.  The progress made by A level pupils was below average in 2017, average in 2018 and below average in 2019.


*The predecessor school, Skinners’ Company School for Girls, had stopped accepting pupils three years before Skinners’ Academy opened in new premises in 2010.  The academy’s only GCSE results available in 2013 (broadly average) were for the 2011 cohort which moved from the girls’ school. 

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