Pupils don't tell tales to Ofsted

8th July 2005 at 01:00
Union warnings that children would use inspection input to attack schools prove wide of mark, reports Jon Slater.

Teachers feared they would give mischievous pupils the perfect platform to attack them. But the responses to questionnaires given to children as part of inspections show staff had little to worry about.

The questionnaires, distributed for the first time two years ago, asked pupils "Are teachers fair to you?" and "Is this a good school?"

According to the first evaluation of pupils' responses, published this week, more than eight out of 10 secondary and nine out of 10 primary pupils were satisfied with their school.

In the report, the Office for Standards in Education admitted that a "significant proportion" of pupils, particularly at primary level, were loyal to their school even if inspectors judged it ineffective.

The findings fly in the face of dire predictions from teaching unions who strongly opposed the measures, introduced in 2003, to give pupils a greater voice in inspections. They warned that the questionnaires were "fraught with danger" and could be "abused by mischievous kids".

But overall, pupils in less than 1 per cent of primaries and 4 per cent of secondaries said they were dissatisfied with their school.

Dissatisfaction often resulted in bad behaviour and poor attendance, Ofsted said.

Specialist and faith schools and those in affluent areas were all more likely than their neighbours to be rated highly by pupils. But schools in the most deprived areas, where more than half of children were eligible for free meals, also often won pupils' seal of approval.

Ofsted said the exercise acted as a "useful barometer" for inspectors but admitted that pupils tended to be loyal to their school. Even in the primary schools where parents were dissatisfied with standards, pupils say they are very happy.

Henry White, registered inspector, said: "I support the use of pupil questionnaires. They have been helpful in shaping my initial view of a school.

"With the introduction of the new framework we should take the chance to move beyond the current blandness and ask more specific questions about pupils' views on issues such as bullying."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"The concept is fraught with danger ... but this process is worth having.

Ofsted doesn't always get it right and perhaps should recognise that the customer knows best."

The report is based on the findings of nearly 4,000 inspections carried out between September 2003 and March 2005. Pupil satisfaction was judged through lesson observations and conversations, as well as the questionnaires.

Questions primary pupils were asked included "Are your lessons interesting and fun?", "Do you get help when you are stuck?" and "Do other children behave?"

Secondary pupils were asked whether work was assessed properly and if children were "trusted to do things" on their own.

Views were placed on a seven-point scale from "extremely satisfied" to "extremely dissatisfied".

Good teaching, strong leadership and enriching activities also please children whatever the schools' circumstances, the report says. A willingness to listen and act upon pupils' views also helps.

Seven-year-old Kathryn Anderson met David Bell, the chief inspector, last week during his visit to her school, St Andrews RC first in Blyth, Northumberland. She told him: "I like to go outside and play skittles and hoops. We are allowed to play games in the playground. My teacher is very nice."

Mr Bell said: "Pupils achieve well and behave better if they are happy in school and it is a testament to the hard work of their teachers that the vast majority of pupils are proud of their schools."

Pupils' satisfaction with their schools is available from www.ofsted.gov.uk

* jon.slater@tes.co.uk

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