Poor show in league tables for 'place of joy'

11th April 1997 at 01:00
The news that a primary school that was described by Government inspectors as "a place of joy" performed abysmally in the primary school performance tables has embarrassed the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead, and heightened concern about such discrepancies.

Strand Junior in Grimsby was inspected in March 1995 by a team that included two HMIs. The report said that the school was exceptionally good - "Strand Junior School is an excellent school", it said, and children "make very good progress and produce work of excellent quality." Children were reported to be achieving standards that were either above or in line with national norms in all subjects.

Levels of achievement were "good" in English, maths and science. At the time of the inspection, Chris Woodhead made a point of visiting and praising the school.

But the performance tables for 11-year-olds, first published last month, reveal that only four pupils reached the minimum standard (level 4) in English. The figures for maths and science were also way below average. The Strand's aggregate results put it at the foot of the table for north-east Lincolnshire, and 50th from bottom of about 14,000 schools across the country.

There are many primaries whose ratings in the performance tables were disappointing when compared with encouraging Office for Standards in Education reports because, as OFSTED points out, inspection looks at the school in depth while tests simply measure performance on a particular day. But with Strand, the discrepancy is dramatic.

Two weeks ago the chief inspector appeared to be taking the initiative in announcing an inquiry into discrepancies: "Either OFSTED is rubbish or performance tables are rubbish", he said. But the Strand affair is embarrassing and puts OFSTED on the defensive.

OFSTED has, however, denied reports that the chief inspector had "lobbied" for Strand Junior to be included in the list of commended schools in the annual report. A spokeswoman said it was too early to give any indication of the extent of the discrepancies nationally.

The question of Strand Junior was raised by Article 26, an education pressure group which is critical of OFSTED's inspection methods. Its spokesman dismissed suggestions that Strand's failure could be due to the large number of pupils with special needs and pointed out that two other schools in the Grimsby area, Old Clee and Nunsthorpe, also had large numbers of special needs pupils but did markedly better in the tables. "The central issue here is that of further stunning evidence of the apparent radical inaccuracy of OFSTED inspection assessments of the achievements of a school's pupils."

Strand Junior's head, Tom Wilson, was not available for comment this week, and the assistant chief education officer at North-east Lincolnshire, Janice Lord, was invited to comment but declined.

Article 26 draws attention to discrepancies between inspection findings and performance results in two other schools - Bare Trees Junior in Oldham and Bethune Park in Hull. Both were included in the 1994-95 "education Oscar" list in HMCI's annual report, but both fell short of the national average in maths and English.

The inspection of Strand Junior was led by Margaret Brooks HMI and, according to the report, was a trial run for last year's revised draft framework for inspection.

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