When Ofsted's computer says no

9th June 2006 at 01:00
Pat McDermott Answers your questions

Ofsted's contextual value added (CVA) measure of performance has cast a shadow over our school.

We are an oversubscribed, specialist former beacon school, with above average GCSE performance.

Our previous inspection report stated that we were a very good school - but at our recent inspection we are judged merely satisfactory. Where leadership and management were previously found to be very strong, it is now only satisfactory as a result of CVA.

This has had a devastating effect on the governors and staff. It has spun them into the full cycle of anger, denial, depression and despair. Luckily, we were able to convince the team that we had the capacity to improve, but the inspection experience and report has set us back at least six months as we try to repair the damage this has done to morale and the enthusiasm to improve further.

We know that there are now serious misgivings about how Ofsted inspectors are using CVA material on schools but this is not helping us; in fact it has only increased the feeling of injustice. Where do we go now?

Unfortunately your experience is not unique. In fact many schools are reporting similar experiences and indeed this noble paper has played its part in raising the lid on this worrying development ("The magic number that seals your Ofsted fate?", TES, May 12).

However, what the reports and headlines underplay are the real human costs of verdicts based on the CVA score and the challenges it can place on the shoulders of the head, governors and leadership team.

Confidence is the first casualty. Self perceptions take a hit. The head feels the full force of a negative inspection conducted in this way and some never recover. Governors reel in its wake. The leadership team have to pick themselves up from the floor before they can begin to help other staff move on.

As you know, you have to go through the emotional rollercoaster and try to keep anyone falling off into despair. However, you will be keenly aware of those staff that are still angry, in denial or who have lost self-confidence. Dealing with staff with differing needs will require sensitivity and skill.

The people who need your attention first are your leadership team and governing body. The first fact to hold on to, and to declare at every opportunity, is that you all possess the capacity to improve. Many schools have not had even this to help them move on. Repair the damaged pride of your governors and remind your leadership team that you trust and have confidence in each and every one of them. You will need to rally these people first in order to address the fall-out from the inspection for the rest of your staff.

Then go back to basics. Face up to the feelings of the school community about the inspection report head on: identify and recognise the dominant feelings, examine the report collaboratively, as a community, to look for pointers for improvement and do not dwell purely on the negatives.

Investigate the different sources of data with your governors and staff and try to agree on what you believe these say about your school. Decide on priorities for action.

Focus on moving learning and teaching from good, as you perceive them to be, to very good or better, and how you are going to do this as a staff; and make sure that the targets the school has for the year ahead are achieved.

Nothing heals as quickly as the sweet smell of success!

Patrick McDermott is head of St Joseph's Catholic college, an 11-18 girls'

school, in Bradford. This is his third headship, and he has been a head for 12 years and a teacher for 27. He is a facilitator for the National College for School Leadership and mentored Catholic heads for 10 years. Do you have a leadership question? Email susan.young@tes.co.uk

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