Ofsted's 'unsupportive' agenda provokes nationwide fire

11th December 2009 at 00:00

I am writing to you to express, on behalf of our local family of schools in Leeds, our grave concerns about many aspects of government education policy referred to in last week's TES and how they are affecting us - particularly Ofsted.

As headteachers of schools serving some of the most disadvantaged and impoverished communities in Leeds and in the country, we do not take our responsibilities lightly. We accept our roles will be demanding and none of us would choose to work elsewhere. However, the educational agenda is becoming increasingly unjust for us, our pupils and families.

First of all, we would like to express our dissatisfaction with an Ofsted inspection regime that limits judgments about school effectiveness to assessment results. There has been a marked shift away from the more equitable focus on contextualised achievement to a more central focus on raw scores.

We are not using our context as an excuse, but we would like to see an Ofsted system that properly takes into account the following factors: the mobility of pupils; the number of pupils who are new to English or speak it as an additional language; and relative deprivation.

Our schools have to spend an inordinate amount of time justifying, through extremely in-depth analysis, the impacts of the many groups we teach. Our target setting needs to be refocused much more regularly than schools serving other areas, and our pastoral guidance and care capacity needs to be greater and more responsive to vulnerability, language, ethnicity, culture, deprivation, family issues, parenting issues, engagement in education, attendance, punctuality and so on.

In effect, to move the same distance as schools in other areas, we need to put in a much more significant amount of time and energy.

Put this alongside a situation where the Ofsted goalposts have changed - where "good" is now seen as "satisfactory" - and where new criteria such as community cohesion have been added. It seems to us that the new Ofsted evaluation schedule is now a driver of government education policy, and as such is an aspirational document that evaluates the current quality of schools against the quality the Government hopes schools will achieve within a period of five to 10 years.

It is extremely frustrating for us, and our school staff who work incredibly hard to make things better for children and families, to see little progress because of the more demanding criteria.

Put all of this within a context where recruitment of teachers and heads is already difficult, and it is not surprising that this situation is worsening.

I am sure we are not alone. In neighbourhoods all over the country, headteachers would definitely agree with our sentiments. Is it not time for us to do something about this?

Chris Walton, Headteacher, Woodlands Primary School (on behalf of Leeds Inner East Family of Schools Heads).

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