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'Special measures' is medieval and ineffective, says chair of governors

Being placed in ‘special measures’ by Ofsted is a “medieval” punishment that does nothing to improve school performance, according to one primary school chair of governors. 

Writing in the 28 November issue of TES under the pseudonym John C Hare, the governor explains that just as education abandoned the idea that humiliation was an effective spur to learning, theories about school improvement should soon follow suit.

“Perhaps placing petty criminals in the stocks was a successful aid to medieval law enforcement, but if employed today the collateral damage would quickly be seen to outweigh the benefits,” says Hare. “And so it is with schools and Ofsted.”  

Despite Ofsted citing research that claims schools that only just fall into special measures improve quicker than those that only just manage to avoid the judgement, Hare contends it does not mean this is the best way to obtain improvement and that often it can hinder, not help, schools.

“We were lucky,” says Hare of his own experience in special measures. “The public battering, plummeting staff morale and grave warning to each child that they were being failed didn’t have a huge impact on pupil numbers. We serve a working-class, local-authority-built estate, and half the parents are former pupils; destiny, not choice, accounts for our intake.”

But when a nearby rural secondary school, with two-thirds of its students from professional families, was put in special measures, it lost 30 pupils by the end of its first term in the category, says Hare. The resulting loss of funding as a result of losing so many students, along with the public humiliation and legacy of being in the category, made it much harder to improve, he says.

“Let me be clear: I agree with inspection,” says Hare. “I believe that a relentless programme to drive up teaching standards is necessary. And I admire much of Ofsted’s work. But is special measures really the best approach to school improvement? I’m not sure.”

Read the full article in the 28 November edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents

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