The beleaguered Jane Brown has pulled her school back from the brink of failure. Susan Young reports. The head at the centre of a long-running dispute with her local education authority has been given a glowing report by school inspectors.
Staff and governors at Kingsmead Primary in the London borough of Hackney are said to be "thrilled" at the report on the 199-pupil school, which particularly singles out "strong and supportive" and "committed" leadership provided by headteacher Jane Brown.
When she took over Kingsmead two years ago it was classed as being at risk of failing to provide an acceptable education. In February inspectors found standards of achievement met or exceeded national expectations in almost three-quarters of lessons and were good in all areas of the national curriculum, with many pupils achieving levels which are high for their ability. "The quality of education provided by the school is sound with some good features," says the report, written by registered inspector Margaret Burslem.
Yet 15 months after she hit the headlines for turning down subsidised tickets for her pupils to see the ballet Romeo and Juliet - apparently on grounds of cost and because it was an "entirely heterosexual" story - Jane Brown and the governors of Kingsmead still appear to be at odds with Hackney over an inquiry into the affair.
The council alleged that there were irregularities in Ms Brown's appointment and demanded her suspension for "gross misconduct". The governors refused, and although Ms Brown apologised for the ballet incident, more than a year later their inquiry is incomplete, apparently because Hackney's director of education, Gus Brown, has yet to give evidence.
Ironically, the report praises the school's use of cultural and other visits: "Theatres, art galleries and the countryside are visited. Additionally educational advantages are gained from a wealth of cultural and artistic visitors to the school."
Chairman of governors Derek Light said: "We're delighted by the report, which reflects all the hard work done by teaching and non-teaching staff, led by Jane Brown. I'd like to thank my fellow-governors for all their commitment over the past year."
The report says almost half of Kingsmead's pupils come from unemployed families, with over 60 per cent eligible for free school meals - compared with Hackney's average of 52.6 per cent and a national figure of 22.5 per cent. More than half have home languages other than English.
"Pupils enter school with low levels of verbal skill, little experience of books, games, social interaction or physical activity," says the report. Its main findings state that in many lessons pupils achieve appropriately, with many achieving high levels for their ability. "In the core subjects of English and science standards of achievement are in line with pupils' capabilities. In mathematics standards of achievement are in line with pupils' capabilities with some examples of higher achievement. Standards in relation to pupils' abilities are good in geography, science and information technology for pupils' at key stage 1."
However, inspectors found an imbalance in the time allocated for some subjects, while the planning process was not sufficiently informed by regular assessment. They continued: "Pupils from all ethnic groups have positive attitudes to their learning. This is a strength of the school. The provision for pupils with special educational needs is also good.
"A good start is made to learning at pre-KS1. Pupils' knowledge and skills are developed through a range of well-planned activities. This is built upon in KS1. This is a strength of the school. The quality of teaching in the school is sound or better in almost nine out of 10 lessons."
Praising Ms Brown's leadership, the report describes as "effective" the day-to-day organisation of the school and adds: "The governors are supportive of the school and the headteacher." However, while management structures were developing, the current allocation of responsibilities did not ensure all staff could make a full contribution.
Kingsmead effectively fostered pupils' moral, social and cultural development, says the report, adding: "The environment reflects and celebrates the diversity of language and culture of the pupils and this is a strength. At a secular level the spiritual development of pupils is catered for. . . the caring ethos of the school is demonstrated by the respect shown for people and property around the school. Although the assemblies are well planned and positive occasions they do not comply with the requirement for a daily collective act of worship. The school is an orderly community. The majority of pupils are well behaved but the behaviour of a significant minority adversely affects learning opportunities."
In English, the report says pupils enter Kingsmead generally ill-prepared for learning to read, write, or extend speaking skills. Standards reached at the end of KS2 are sound, and almost all achieve appropriate levels for their abilities. "All pupils are enthusiastic about using books," say inspectors, adding that many are conscientious about reading at home through the home-school support scheme.
In mathematics, nursery pupils are achieving levels which are high for their abilities. Most infants are doing as well as expected but a minority are underachieving, and some do better than their abilities would suggest. At KS2 a significant minority are underachieving, although the majority are attaining the expected standards. Standards of numeracy are sound with some "good and outstanding" learning at pre-KS1 and KS1. Pupils are interested in the subject and persevere with tasks. Teaching is good at pre-KS1, while there are some "outstanding features" at KS1. "At KS2 the quality of teaching varies from good to that which has many shortcomings," says the report.