This week: schools that challenged Ofsted and won, by Wendy Wallace, June 17, 2005.
Last summer, Wendy Wallace visited two schools that believed Ofsted's verdict of special measures was wrong. So they challenged the decisions - and won. How are they faring now?
A couple of months ago, Wendy Missons, head of Furtherwick Park school in Canvey Island, Essex, stood in front of a whole-school assembly and ceremonially tore an old Ofsted judgment into pieces.
"The kids loved it," she says. The pantomime was a necessary part of what she calls a "self-esteem adjustment" as her school emerged from serious weaknesses after a very positive inspection report in February.
Furtherwick Park, a small coastal secondary, was inspected in November 2003 under the old framework and judged to be failing. But when the special measures verdict was delivered, Wendy Missons was outraged. She had been in post just over one year and knew that there were issues with staffing, finance and quality of teaching. "It needed work," she said at the time.
"But we were on a path to improvement. It was by all measures an improving school."
The school asked for a corroboration visit and HMI inspectors arrived just before Christmas 2003; they decided that Furtherwick Park did not require special measures, but did have serious weaknesses.
At the end of last year, Wendy Missons took the unusual step of asking for an inspection, as it was more than two years since the school had been placed in a category. Inspectors arrived in February and saw a "satisfactory school with a number of good and some outstanding features".
Self-evaluation, they said, was outstanding although the senior managers'
view of their own school was more modest than that of the HMIs. Wendy Missons attributes this to the serious weaknesses tag the school lived with for more than two years. "You have it in the back of your mind that you're not good enough. We now have to re-evaluate who we are, what we are and where we stand in the hierarchy of schools."
The other school in our story from last summer - St Ann's Heath junior school in Surrey - also took on Ofsted and had a special measures judgment converted to serious weaknesses. It too has since had a very creditable Ofsted and come out of serious weaknesses. Headteacher Graham Bollands says: "I was close to chucking it in and I'm really glad I didn't. I think I've got a lot to offer as a head, and as a school community it's brought us closer together."
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