Rule change has left me lost for words

29th July 2011 at 01:00

Being the head of any school is a tough job. But being the head of a complex inner-city school is an enormous undertaking. None of us enters into this role lightly; we do it because we need the challenge and we need to make a difference. Inner-city heads accept that context matters, but that context is not an excuse.

Contextual value added (CVA), however blunt an instrument, helped schools like mine, where context is a factor impacting on achievement and attainment.

The Coalition, however, sees things differently and has imposed a "one size fits all" approach to analysis and data evaluation.

In my school, 70 per cent of pupils are on free school meals; they speak 31 languages; 58 per cent are black and minority ethnic; 43 per cent have special educational needs; 46 per cent have English as an additional language. Around a third are on our internal "vulnerable children" register.

We also have very high rates of mobility (22 per cent change in population this year, 36 per cent last year): only 12 of 58 children in our present Year 6 have been with us right the way through their school lives. Many of our families are workless - some are second and third-generation workless.

When all this is combined the impacts are enormous - poor physical and cognitive development as a result of poor nutrition, delays in communication, language and literacy development, low levels of knowledge and understanding, poor personal and social skills, and lack of aspiration.

Ofsted has recognised the great things we are doing - 20 out of 30 of the criteria were judged as good or outstanding in our last inspection. A recent monitoring visit found that we had made "good progress" since the last inspection.

However, our results are stubbornly low. But when we contextualise the standards there is a clear link. Our latest Sats results were poor and below floor, but of the 12 children who have been with us right through the primary years, 95 per cent attained level 4 and 60 per cent level 5. As we move through the years, standards drop so that, overall, the impact of mobility on standards is about 35 per cent.

While mobility and context are recognised by Ofsted, the Department for Education takes a different approach. Three weeks ago, our local authority's school improvement team rang to inform me we were on a DfE list of schools which have been below floor standards for five years and we should prepare ourselves for possible academisation.

I felt as if we were just about to win a game of Scrabble only to be told that we had been playing by Monopoly rules.

By raising floor standards and using these retrospectively and taking away contextual measures, the DfE has widened the potential number of schools to be forced down the academy route.

All the schools on my LA's list are in the inner city. I know many of these schools - great Ofsted reports, great leadership, driving relentlessly for improvement etc. Changing them into an academy will not raise standards.

We will create a situation where school competes against school, where the "best" children go to the academy (which has the best staff and resources) and the "others" are left behind in free schools and local authority schools. This will ensure that the life chances of vulnerable, deprived children are flattened and that the cycle of deprivation goes on, but at a deeper level.

Inner-city headteacher (name supplied).

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