Skater boy falls over school's report

25th April 2003 at 01:00
YOUR article "Skater boy's fight to be different" (TES, April 11), highlighted the fight of a boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a high IQ to attend Summerhill school.

As the teacher quoted in the article, not only have I experience of this boy's change while at Summerhill, I attended the special needs appeal that agreed with Kent education authority's refusal to fund the child.

The main evidence against Summerhill submitted to the appeal by the LEA was the damning 1999 Office for Standards in Education report on the school. I asked how the appeal could accept this evidence.

I had been at the school during the 1999 inspection. I had also been at the Royal Courts of Justice when it won an agreement by the Department for Education and Skills that saved Summerhill, created a new inspection process for the school and legally recognised the right of its students to choose to go to lessons, and to take an active part in the inspection process.

The appeal chair said "it was a fudge". I cited the independent Ofsted adjudicator Elizabeth Derrington's 46-page report on Ofsted's treatment of Summerhill, that criticised the inspectors for artificially inflating the number of unsatisfactory lessons, for making three key conclusions without evidence, for failing to make it clear to the school the conflicts between the inspection framework and the school's philosophy.

I also quoted from the school's most recent registration inspection that complimented the teachers on their professionalism, enthusiasm and flexible responses to the individual needs of the children. The chair replied that the 1999 report was the most recent Ofsted published document on the school. The published decision went against the parents' and their son's wishes.

The day after this appeal Paul Holmes MP, on the education and skills select committee, asked the chief inspector David Bell what Ofsted had learned about its public accountability through the Summerhill case. Mr Bell acknowledged that Ofsted makes mistakes and said that he would reply in writing.

Will that letter finally vindicate Summerhill? Will it finally prevent LEAs, appeals panels or whoever from using a condemned Ofsted report to judge the school? Will it finally allow the right of a child with major behaviour problems to attend the best school for him, with the financial support of his LEA?

Michael Newman Teacher, Summerhill school Leiston, Suffolk

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