Kicked in the teeth

Oh no, not another dissatisfied customer. But as long as OFSTED exists, complaints will surface. I retired as head of Thorpe primary school in Wakefield last summer and I left feeling over the moon; not because it meant I would miss the December inspection - I certainly wasn't running away. My retirement plans were born back in December 1994.

No, I was elated because I was leaving after 13 years headship with stunningly successful and above National Average KS2 SATS results under my belt. In English 71 per cent at Level 4 or above (Nat Av 58); in maths 76 per cent, level 4 and above, (Nat Av 54); and in science another 76 per cent level 4 and above (Nat Av 62). Add to that an equally impressive Year 6 NFER reading test set by the LEA, and I could leave on a high, confident that the school would get a good report from Ofsted.

In February I was sent a copy of the full report and not without some trepidation I began to read. Overall, and as expected, the report was good and the opening sentence was reassuring: "Thorpe Primary School has more strengths than weaknesses."

So far so good. Like a good report should, it gave the facts and context of the school's background: 122 pupils, 21 under-fives in the nursery, 42 children on the special needs register, 40 per cent of pupils on free school meals, high levels of unemployment, many of the children enter the nursery with limited skills, "the children often start school with attainment that is below that expected nationally" (their words not mine).

You get the picture. This is no leafy-lane village peopled by the advantaged classes. It is in fact a neglected, ex-industrial place with a school population that does not find learning easy - as the report says, the children are starting school "with attainment below that expected nationally".

The group that obtained these outstanding scores was a good one, taught by an outstanding teacher, along traditional, whole class lines. We were all thrilled. Shows just what you can do with disadvantaged kids when they have ability and you have high goals and a determination that they will do well.

However, the current Year 6 is less impressive and contains a big proportion of special needs pupils, plus other difficult boys who are by no means academically inclined. This group may well not achieve the scores attained by last year's group. It's swings and roundabouts, good years and poor.

The standard of teaching, though, is the same. So, what did OFSTED say? "Overall, the quality of teaching is good or very good in nearly 40 per cent of lessons and satisfactory in a further 52 per cent." If my maths is correct that means only 8 per cent are less than satisfactory.

So why do I feel let down and kicked in the teeth? Simple. It is because the report has a sting in it. Not in the tail, but somewhere in the middle.

Quite pointedly, the achievements of the previous year are ignored and dismissed in one sentence - "The above-average results in English and mathematics at this key stage are not borne out by observations of these subjects during the inspection."

That's all. Just a few curt words. But what an impact; something to be proud of and celebrated cast aside as if the results are unreliable, an invention or simply untrue.

What OFSTED found, in one particular week, of one particular month, of one particular year, (in a school where 42 out of 122 children are on the special needs register), was a different, less able sample of children attaining below national average levels in maths and English. Fair enough, but why dismiss so casually, so cursorily, the achievements of others less than six months earlier?

I feel deep anger at the way the brilliant 1996 results were ignored. There they are in black and white in the statistics on page eight. We as professionals can read and interpret them so easily. But can the majority of parents? And there on page 10 they are simply rubbished. Why couldn't these achievements, only six months old, have been given a prominent and deserved acknowledgement?

David Thomas is former head of Thorpe Primary School, near Wakefield.

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