Sats success shows ousted head did not fail his primary pupils

15th August 2008 at 01:00
Ofsted got it totally wrong', says chair of governors as school once branded the worst in England doubles test scores

A widely praised headteacher, forced out of his job because of poor results, has been vindicated after his former pupils nearly doubled their Sats scores.

Bill Ball, former headteacher of New Manton Primary in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, was credited with breathing new life into the struggling pit village but was asked to resign by the local authority, and left after an inspection which produced a damning Ofsted report.

The 264-pupil school's test scores had once been the worst in England, but did not appear to be improving as fast as the local authority wanted. The local MP, John Mann, also intervened, but stressed he did not discuss Mr Balls's tenure. An Ofsted inspector wrote that the school was failing to "reach the levels" that it should in English, mathematics and science.

Mr Ball resigned in January. The head of a nearby school took charge, and it was decided that next year, New Manton would be merged with its neighbouring school.

But before he was forced out, Mr Ball predicted that the school's Sats scores would nearly double - and last week he was proved right. In 2007, 29 per cent of pupils gained level 4 or above in science. This year, 57 per cent made that grade. Similarly, maths successes jumped from 33 to 57 per cent and English from 31 to 50 per cent.

Following these results, George Burdett, the chair of governors, paid tribute to Mr Ball, his staff and the Year 6 pupils. "To be frank, I think these results are entirely due to Bill Ball and his management team," he said.

"Ofsted got it totally wrong. These results were achieved despite the intervention of central government. The professionals in the school should have been left to get on with their jobs."

Mr Ball, 55, had taken on leadership of the school in 2001, when it was ranked among the worst in the country on nearly every measure. The then chair of governors had described the school as a zoo. It had made national headlines when teachers walked out in protest at being asked to teach a 10-year-old boy who had attacked staff with a baseball bat.

New Manton parents said Mr Ball built up pupils' confidence and reinvigorated the troubled community. He helped revive the local Miners' Gala and began classes in information technology and literacy assistance for pupils' families. "If you can't fix the community, you'll never fix the school," he told The TES last year.

But Ofsted inspectors, who visited in January, said test scores were not improving fast enough, and there was little prospect for improvement. Mr Ball was forced to resign, and his deputy led the school until Easter.

Richard Lilley, the new executive headteacher, said the doubling of the test scores this year was "an absolutely astonishing result".

"I think Bill's impact on the school over the past years should be recognised," he said. "The school has improved by a mile."

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it was a pity that officials had not given more credence to Mr Ball's predictions.

"Speaking from experience, it takes time to lift a school from very low attainment. It takes time to convince the wider community that higher standards are possible," he said. "New Manton has reached that watershed, and Bill Ball should be congratulated."

Mr Ball is now working with schools and their communities in Dorset, and with the National College for School Leadership.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said that test results and predicted grades had only been part of the reason for its critical report.

"Other evidence, for example, from classroom observation, discussion with pupils, scrutiny of their work and the school's own records of progress is always taken into account," she said.

"It was on the basis of all of the evidence that the inspection team made their judgments and reported them accordingly."

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