Two heads of secondary schools in Ellesmere Port told their MP, Justin Madders, they had concerns about ‘the apparent predetermination of their inspections,’ a Commons question reveals.
The Whitby High School, a foundation school, had been judged to require improvement in February 2019. Ellesmore Port Catholic High School, a voluntary-aided school, was judged inadequate a month later.
The head of Whitby High, Bryn Heeley, told the MP he’d been ‘informed before 9 am on the first day that the inspectors regarded the school as requiring improvement’. Caroline Vile, the Catholic school's head, was told, again ‘at 9 am on day one’, that her school’s results were ‘inadequate’.
Both heads were asked if they were academies. ‘I think that is a very odd question to ask at the start of an inspection,’ Madders said.
‘I have heard how those heads, with a combined total of over half a century in education, with long-standing, impressive track records, feel that they have been traduced’.
Madders voiced disquiet about both the initial inspections and the complaints procedure. ‘How can judgments effectively be given before the inspection has begun or evidence has been obtained?’ he asked.
Inspections ‘were carried out in a manner designed to justify an already formed opinion’ with ‘much relevant evidence and information apparently being disregarded ‘.
There were ‘disputes about what some of the staff said to the inspectors during some of the interviews’. These disputed comments ‘were used as evidence to justify inspectors’ judgments’. These were ‘of such importance that some staff felt their words had been misquoted or taken out of context and, as a result, they felt compelled to resign.’
In summer 2019, Madders and the heads met with Ofsted’s regional director to raise concerns. ‘Unusually’, Madders said, ‘both schools were quickly revisited’ in July. These monitoring visits painted a different picture of the schools and prompted Madders to ask how they could have improved so quickly.
But the two original judgements still stand. An academy order is in place for Ellesmore Port Catholic High. Schools minister Nick Gibb said the Department for Education was working with the diocese and the local authority to find ‘a strong sponsor’. Whitby High was receiving ‘school improvement support’.
Madders’ concerns about ‘the issue of Ofsted,’ Gibb said, would be subject to continuing ‘review’ but Ofsted played a ‘vital role’ which had ‘helped to raise standards in our schools’. Any school with complaints ‘should raise them directly with Ofsted’.
This is a companion piece to an earlier one this week raising doubt about the reliability of inspections when a school can be 'transformed' from good to good.