From hero to zero and back again

6th March 2009 at 00:00
Head left shattered as Ofsted puts his `outstanding' school in special measures - and then declares its inspection `void'

A primary has gone from "failing" to "outstanding" overnight after Ofsted withdrew the findings of an inspection that shattered the head's confidence and that it now admits should never have taken place.

The report that placed Caistor CofE and Methodist Primary in special measures in December has been quashed after the watchdog found its inspectors had not followed procedure and that staff illness meant the school was unfit for inspection.

It completely contradicted both the findings of an earlier Ofsted report and those of a Church inspection conducted a month later.

Nick McCann, head of the Lincolnshire school, said he was "intimidated and made to feel valueless" by the inspectors. He now questions whether he will ever be able to lead a school again.

"As a head for four years, I had always been told I was doing a good job and then, after a single day, I have been told that we are in special measures and in effect that I'm not up to it," he said.

In March 2006, Ofsted wrote that both Mr McCann's leadership and his school were outstanding in a report that led to him being personally congratulated by Christine Gilbert, chief schools inspector.

So he was unconcerned when he was given four days' notice of another inspection last December.

Mr McCann agreed with his local authority school improvement partner, also an Ofsted inspector, that the school should be judged good with outstanding features.

SATs results were down, but the explanation for this was a particlar cohort. Then a bout of staff illness worsened and snow added to disruption on the first day of the inspection.

After a difficult conversation with inspectors about data, the head knew he was "in trouble".

By 11.30 on the first morning, he had been told that Ofsted's verdict would be "satisfactory" at best.

"At that point - I suppose it was because I had been working so hard - the shock hit me," Mr McCann said. "If you are going full tilt it can all come crashing down. My abilities were questioned and I was talked to in a way that I would not dream of speaking to my pupils."

That afternoon it was confirmed the school would be failed.

The next day the local authority sent Mr McCann home with "acute anxiety" and tried, unsuccessfully, to get the inspection stopped.

He is only just beginning a phased return to work but is unsure about his long-term future.

"I feel I haven't got the heart any more and it has left me with a lack of confidence about the system.

"Data is so flawed these days and is open to so much manipulation that it shouldn't be used as the basis for inspections."

Caistor Primary was placed in special measures and stayed there for a month despite an immediate appeal from the local authority.

Lincolnshire Council's complaint that the school was not fit for inspection and that inspectors failed to treat properly its request that the inspection be dropped - were upheld. The report was removed from Ofsted's website and replaced by the 2006 "outstanding" verdict.

But the special measures judgment had already been publicised in local newspapers, leading some parents to criticise Mr McCann, who lives in Caistor and now finds it difficult to go out into the village.

He is also angry the school will face a further inspection this academic year.

An Ofsted spokesman said it had offered the school a "sincere apology" and had "decided to void the inspection due to the exceptional circumstances".

Tale of three verdicts

  • Caistor Primary has had the same head and governors since at least 2006, but inspectors' conclusions about its leadership and management have varied widely.
  • Ofsted, March 2006: "The leadership of the headteacher is outstanding. He is ably supported by the senior leadership team and the governors." Grade 1 - outstanding.
  • Ofsted, December 2008, now void: "The school does not have an accurate view of its strengths and weakness." Grade 4 - inadequate.
  • CE inspectors, January 2009: "Head is outstanding in inspiring school." Grade 1 - outstanding.
  • Nick McCann, head: The question is, how can inspectors get things so horribly wrong?"

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