Outstanding school is a National Challenge failure

28th May 2010 at 01:00
Despite glowing Ofsted report, school continues to languish on standards-raising programme

Inspectors rate it as "outstanding", 2,000 children are on its waiting list and new classrooms are on the way. Staff and pupils rightly celebrate Waverley School's success.

But the Department for Education still classes the secondary as a National Challenge school, a label that brings with it a host of unfortunate connotations.

Ofsted has just given Waverley the highest grade. It is thought that the secondary is the first National Challenge school to be classed as outstanding since the introduction in September of the new inspection framework, which puts a greater emphasis on exam results.

Teachers at the Birmingham school say their situation illustrates the paradox of the programme, which has often led to schools being branded as failing.

"We are clearly ready to come out of National Challenge, but it's unclear how you do this," said headteacher Kamal Hanif.

In its latest inspection, every aspect of the school was graded outstanding, except attainment, attendance and the quality of teaching, which were rated "good". Last summer, 42 per cent of Waverley pupils achieved five good GCSE grades, including English and maths.

In 2007, a year before the National Challenge scheme started, inspectors rated the school good. Despite this, it was one of 630 "named and shamed" by then schools secretary Ed Balls for having unsatisfactory GCSE results because only 21 per cent of pupils hit the target of five good GCSEs, including English and maths. The number of schools in which fewer than 30 per cent of pupils reach this benchmark has now fallen to 247.

The fact that Waverley is involved in the National Challenge programme is barely mentioned in its Ofsted report. Instead, inspectors praise the excellent curriculum, outstanding support and outstanding leadership and management.

The majority of pupils at the school, which is in one of the most deprived areas of Birmingham, are from Pakistani families.

When he took over as head five years ago, aged just 33, Mr Hanif, a former pupil at the school, altered the curriculum, focusing on GCSEs rather than GNVQs.

"The school's context is challenging, but there is a strong learning ethos and the mantra `no barriers to doing well' is taken to heart by staff and students so that attainment and progress have improved exponentially over time," inspector Pam Haezewindt said.

"The headteacher has worked very hard to improve the school so that it now has an excellent reputation. He, along with senior leaders, governors and staff, are passionate about improving students' outcomes and have robust systems to do so."

Mr Hanif said the National Challenge label was now irrelevant to teachers at the school.

"The fact we are in the programme didn't make us nervous about the inspection; we had a trajectory of exam improvement and examples of good practice to show," he said. "We are now awaiting with interest the way the new Government will run National Challenge."

Meet the challenge: the 30% benchmark

The aim of the National Challenge programme is to ensure that at least 30 per cent of pupils in every maintained secondary school and academy in England achieves at least five A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths, by 2011.

Following last year's GCSE results, the number of schools failing to reach the benchmark fell to 247. This means that only one in 13 schools is below the benchmark, compared with approximately one in two (1,600 schools) in 1997 and 439 schools in 2009.

Each National Challenge school has an adviser working closely with the head to secure additional support for teachers. Around pound;400 million will have been invested in the programme by 2011, but this is also being spent on the formation of academies and National Challenge trusts.

Original paper headline: The `outstanding' secondary that is still a National Challenge `failure'

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