It is rare that a headteacher will fully agree with a negative Ofsted judgement. But it is even rarer that the headteacher will appeal the verdict – most think it not worth the risk or that the protest will ultimately prove futile.
That makes Patricia Gavins pretty unique. When her school was deemed requiring improvement last year, she was not only upset and angry, but believed she had the data to prove the inspectors were wrong.
“When Ofsted delivered this verdict on my school, I was frustrated and upset,” writes the principal of Whetley Academy, a primary school in Bradford, in the 6 February issue of TES. “More importantly, so were the staff. When it happens, you can’t help thinking of all the hard work, the effort, the absolute conviction that you’ve done right by your pupils. Thankfully, in our case, we had the data to prove that our school was as good as we thought it was.”
The inspection occurred last June and the staff expected a positive assessment. Almost all of the school’s 680 pupils spoke English as an additional language (EAL) and so reading had been an issue, but last year results were 30 per cent up on the previous year. This included 92 per cent of Year 6 making expected progress for key stage 2.
“So when Ofsted deemed last June that we were good in leadership, behaviour and teaching but required improvement in achievement – and then chose to give us an overall grade of “requires improvement” – it just didn’t make sense,” Gavins says.
“I decided to appeal. This was a big decision: I was concerned that Ofsted might adjust our other scores downwards in order to justify the overall verdict. But I felt I had to complain – the data just didn’t support the judgement.”
Resubmitting the data and appealing a decision is obviously a big decision but there is guidance on appeals on the Ofsted website and Gavins has some advice of her own:
• Don’t waste your time being angry – think of the school and the staff. They’re upset, too, and need your support.
• Marshall your facts. What is the basis for your appeal? Does the data support your view?
• Do a risk evaluation: might an appeal lead to a downgrade? Consider the worst possible outcomes.
• If you are sure of a positive result, or believe the risk is worth it, grit your teeth and resubmit the data. This takes time – probably a full working day, minimum.
And did this work for Gavins? Yes.
“Eventually the result of the appeal – and an apology for any distress caused – came through,” she writes. “While Ofsted might change the wording of part of a report, I’ve never heard of it changing an overall judgement before, and neither has anyone I know in teaching. But there it was, the recognition we deserved: 'Following a thorough review, it was felt that on this occasion the inspection judgement did not reflect the full evidence presented. We accordingly upgraded the school to good.'
"We were delighted.”