Headteachers: 'Brutal' new Ofsted regime criticised

16th October 2009 at 01:00
Schools doing excellent work in areas of deprivation to be disadvantaged

Original paper headline: Heads hit out at `brutal' new Ofsted regime

Heads up and down the country have condemned the new Ofsted inspection framework adopted this term as their schools suffer the consequences of its "immoral" rules on attainment.

A "glass ceiling" created by the "brutal" new framework has seen good schools unfairly ranked as satisfactory, school leaders claim, after the first schools to experience the new regime received their inspection results.

Promises to get tough on primary and secondaries with low raw results have led to complaints from schools that have been subject to the new criteria - only one of which has been rated outstanding.

Schools without top grades are now unable to win the highest verdicts unless there are exceptional circumstances, and heads say the emphasis on exams penalises those in challenging areas performing well.

In total, 18 out of the 25 separate Ofsted categories are now dependant on pupil attainment, which means those with the lowest mark of four will never be able to get above a three - or satisfactory - overall.

Most of those inspected so far have been rated satisfactory. Headteachers say those with high exam marks are now virtually guaranteed to be rated good or outstanding.

Under the old inspection regime, 15 per cent of schools were deemed outstanding, 49 per cent good, 32 per cent as satisfactory and five inadequate between September 2007 and July 2008.

Under the new regime, just three schools out of 34 - none of them secondaries - have been rated outstanding. In total, 8 per cent of schools have been given the top grade.

There has been a doubling in the percentage of schools ranked as satisfactory - 67 per cent were given this grade.

Only two had moved up to this from special measures, 14, or 60 per cent, had also been ranked as satisfactory in their last inspection. Seven, or 30 per cent, had been downgraded to satisfactory from good.

In total, 21 per cent, or eight, of the schools were ranked good - a fall of almost 50 per cent compared with the old framework. Four, or half, had been good at the previous inspection and the other half had improved from a satisfactory ranking.

So far just 26 per cent of schools have improved their ranking under the new inspection framework, 21 per cent had moved down and 53 per cent remained at the same grade.

Details of the framework were only made available in July, leaving teachers and governors due inspections this term little time for training.

Ceranne Litton, headteacher of Grove Park Community Primary School in Sittingbourne, said: "It (the helpfulness of the inspection team) does not alter the outcome for the previous `good' schools that now find themselves graded `satisfactory'.

"The data is the driver without a doubt and it has left me feeling quite saddened where this now puts education. Everything we know and believe is good about primary education is being grounded away."

Unions are also reporting anger from members about the new system. Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said: "We think this is all part of a mistaken push by the DCSF (Department for Children, Schools and Families), which says that schools with low attainment can't be good schools. This is utter nonsense."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The emphasis on raw results has made the task much more difficult for schools serving challenging communities.

"Everyone recognises those schools are the way to improve the life chances of young people, but Ofsted needs to understand that their task is different and it needs to be fair."

Bedminster Down School, which serves inner-city Bristol, also got a satisfactory rating. Marius Frank, headteacher, called the inspection routine "brutal".

Because of improvements, he believes the school would have been rated good under the old regime. "I take full responsibility for what happens in the school, but I can't take responsibility for what happens in homes or on the streets that it serves."

Isca College of Media Arts in Exeter was given a good, but only after staff convinced inspectors to raise their attainment rating from three to four. The school serves a deprived area, but has one of the highest value- added scores in the country. Every other aspect of Isca was marked good or outstanding.

"There is something fundamentally immoral about an inspection framework that prevents the truly wonderful commitment, skills and passion of my staff to ensuring the success of every child, from being properly celebrated," said Mandi Street, the headteacher, who describes the process as having a "glass ceiling".

"It also takes the risk that whole hoards of us working in schools with the most vulnerable young people will simply no longer want to include them, or make efforts to support and keep them with us in learning, as my staff do. Or that we will no longer want to work in such schools."

The new framework also puts more emphasis on child protection and community cohesion judgments, but the DCSF has promised that schools will not be downgraded because of clerical errors that can be easily corrected.

Christopher Atkin, headteacher of St Edmund's Catholic School in Dover, called the new framework a "nonsense".

"Being a comprehensive school in a selective area means we are handicapped in a process like this; satisfactory is the best we are ever going to do," he said.

"There are some schools whose attainment won't slip below a two. They are not going to complain."

An Ofsted spokesman said: "Every time an inspection framework is revised, expectations are raised. However, it is not the case that any decline in grading can be regarded as being only as a result of the new framework. Inspections are still a balance between attainment and progress and there are other factors that have an impact such as leadership and management that are equally important."

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