Health warning needed for hidden message

6th December 1996 at 00:00
In October 1995, our school, a residential EBD (emotional and behavioural difficulties) school was inspected under the Office for Standards in Education framework.

The outcome of this report was that the school was judged to be sound, and both the staff of the school and the local education authority were well satisfied and unsurprised at the noted areas for development. We were justifiably proud of the comments regarding the behavioural performance of the pupils and the demonstrable support of parents. A school action plan was subsequently written to address the key issues and forwarded to the appropriate authority following consultation with officers of the local authority.

In October 1996, I received a telephone call from Her Majesty's Inspectorate informing me that they wished to visit the school. When I asked why, I was informed that, according to our OFSTED report, there were "serious weaknesses" in the school.

This was, understandably, a massive professional shock to myself and the senior management of the school. I expressed some disbelief at the HMI's observations but duly acknowledged that HMI would be welcome to visit the school and that we would be quite happy to stand its scrutiny.

I raised this issue with my LEA and professional association who were alarmed by the wording of these letters and the seeming inconsistencies between the published OFSTED report and the interpretation of the registered inspector's judgmental recordings, as assessed by OFSTED administration staff. These judgmental recordings are sent to OFSTED but not made public to the school.

HMI subsequently visited the school and in the course of the visit confirmed that there was no need for the school improvement team to be further involved in monitoring the school's action plan.

It appears that while schools are to be accountable and public in their recording, OFSTED can generate figures from "confidential" statistics that can transform a sound school into one with "serious weaknesses" without any accountability whatsoever.

This raises concern that OFSTED is being creative with its recording, to demonstrate that it is having a significant impact in "improving" schools. If schools behaved in such a manner, some serious questions would be asked.

Alternatively, the question may be asked whether the inspection team was inadequate and the associated framework is not providing consistent value for money.

Clearly, this process, and its hidden documentation, should carry a government health warning: this report may not say what you believe it to mean.

STEPHEN ROBERTS

Headteacher

Furrowfield School

Gateshead

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