Healthy, wealthy, wise and safe

24th March 2006 at 00:00
Inspectors are focusing ever more closely on pupils' well-being and heads should do likewise. Phil Revell reports

Six months into the new inspection regime and schools are finding that they can be failed on the crucial five Every Child Matters outcomes.

The new Ofsted framework, under which 2,054 inspections were carried out last term alone, has the children's agenda very much at its heart. "It is possible for a school to fail on Every Child Matters issues, especially if pupils feel unsafe," said Andy Reed, divisional manager for Ofsted's institutional inspection and frameworks division.

One school in the Midlands went into special measures in September after inspectors discovered that pupils were frightened. There were other weaknesses -notably in management - but the report for Shropshire's Abraham Darby school highlighted the fact that "younger pupils feel threatened by some of the older ones". The school, a specialist arts college in Telford, was told to "make sure that everyone feels safe... by addressing bullying and other forms of poor behaviour more effectively".

The five ECM outcomes - being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution, and achieving economic well-being - are central to the new inspection process.

Yet Ofsted argues that well-being has always been a focus of inspection.

"It's not a radical break from what happened before," said Mr Reed. "We have always inspected these things, but now there is an explicit focus on the five outcomes."

Inspectors gather their evidence by talking to children, and they are paying more attention to support staff than schools expect. Teachers have been surprised to find that their lessons may go unobserved but their classroom assistant is given a full interview by an inspector.

Mr Reed said an Ofsted team might focus on looked-after children or those with disabilities, depending on the strengths and weaknesses identified from a school evaluation form. But this still leaves the question of who ensures that schools play their full part in providing integrated children's services.

When the Children Act was going through Parliament in 2004, children's groups and headteachers' associations called for schools to be given a legal duty to co-operate with other children's services - something the Government deemed unnecessary at the time.

Ministers argued that Ofsted would ensure that each school played its part, but individual school inspections will, it seems, still focus on pupils, and not on the wider community.

"What inspectors can't do in a Section 5 inspection is to make extensive enquiries beyond the school gates," said Mr Reed.

"Those wider issues at local authority level are picked up by joint area reviews."

School leaders keen to discover what inspectors see as best practice in this area might take a look at the report for the William Farr Church of England school.

This Lincolnshire secondary was given a grade one for ECM issues. "Care, guidance and support for pupils are outstanding and a major strength of the school," said the inspectors when they visited in January. "In this school, it is a fundamental principle that every child is known and valued as an individual," said Paul Strong, head of William Farr. "If they don't behave, you can't teach them and they can't learn, so many schools focus on teaching and learning without addressing that issue."

Mr Strong spends more than pound;200,000 a year on that structure of care and guidance. The spending covers a fully-qualified school nurse and in-service training, and there is a strong guidance team led by David Muldown, the deputy head. Year heads are given significant extra non-contact time to allow them to follow up problems.

"We have a constant adult presence at breaks and lunchtimes. At our briefing, we talk about children. The year heads run the morning briefing, and information about children's problems goes to everyone in the school,"

said Mr Strong.

He accepts that such a comprehensive structure of support and guidance is not easily achieved.

"We do have a considerable number of meetings and there is a paperwork trail, but you need to have the information available. We also have excellent relationships with the police and social services - it's an integrated system" he said.

At William Farr, the focus on the holistic development of the child starts with the interview for a new member of staff.

"We emphasise that they are coming to us as educationists, not subject specialists," he said.

The result is certainly popular with parents. The school, which serves the village of Welton, north of Lincoln, has increased in size from 800 to 1,200 pupils, and parents reported very positively to the Ofsted team about the care and guidance their children received at school.

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