When satisfactory is simply fantastic

20th November 2009 at 00:00

I never thought I would celebrate my school being described as "satisfactory". The word suggests mediocrity and has gained even more negative connotations since Ofsted began saying that satisfactory was no longer good enough.

But when your school has suffered for months from the stigma of a notice to improve, being told you are satisfactory by the inspectors is an almighty relief.

We had been apprehensive enough before the inspectors arrived. But the new, tougher Ofsted framework gave us cause to be even more nervous. The new system places a greater focus on raw scores - a worrying development if you are teaching in an inner-city school with a challenging intake.

So how did it go for us? If your school is awaiting the inspectors' call, you may be interested in the details, warts and all.

For a start, we were impressed by the inspection team. Their approach was fair and open, they kept us fully informed of what they were doing and gave us the chance to present further evidence whenever the need arose. The team also went out of its way to put me and other teachers at our ease (though there was no chance of that), and did their very best to help us make sense of the Ofsted framework.

It was aspects of the new framework itself that impressed me less. I certainly felt sympathy for the inspection team as I saw them wrestling with it, trying to figure out what boxes to put us in.

The key example was attainment. Our GCSE results are now nearly at the national average, and up by 16 percentage points on last year with dramatic improvements at all key stages. But the new framework looks at results over three years, so our raw attainment was rated as inadequate (4). Data is king, and woe betide you if you are not above average.

Luckily, under the new system, the attainment score is combined with a verdict on the "quality of pupils' learning and their progress". This was our saving grace, as we were rated good (2). Though we had one significantly underachieving group, we could show real progress across the school and had the data to show our current Year 11 were on track to exceed last year's group. The inspectors saw 55 part lessons in two days, judging nearly six out of 10 of them as good or better.

So the inspectors combined the attainment score (4) with the quality of learning score (2) and gave us an overall "pupil achievement score" of satisfactory (3). This score is crucial as the final judgement on a school is heavily based on it.

Now that we are no longer burdened with a notice to improve, I can see the positive effects. It was the biggest kick up the backside we could have received - and it hurt. But it did galvanise us into strategic action which involved the whole school community. We were lucky that nobody turned against us. Staff did not leave in droves and pupils were not removed.

I realise now how fortunate I was. The local authority and the governors stood by me and did not attempt to make me a scapegoat. And I was not forced out of my job - something that still happens to too many other heads in similar predicaments.

Kenny Frederick, Headteacher, George Green's School, Tower Hamlets, east London.

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