This week: coming out of special measures In April last year Spokey Wheeler took over as head of Burlington Danes, an 11 to 16 C of E comprehensive in west London which was identified as having serious weaknesses in 1996 and went into special measures in July 2004. HMI visited a week after his first day and again in late November last year. On December 9 he wrote in Friday magazine:
"For a day and a half, three inspectors have anatomised our school. So why is it that when I agree with every one of their judgments, that I so want them to go away and not come back? It's because we, the staff and students, deserve better than the slur of 'special measures'."
A fortnight ago, on May 8, the inspectors visited again.
"I was utterly confident - it was only after putting the phone down from the lead HMI that I began to doubt. 'What if they don't see what we all know?' It didn't help when I looked at the calendar: Sats for Year 9, optional tests for Years 7 and 8 and Year 10 back from work experience. And yet in the end none of it mattered. Why? Because we are now a different school.
"On day two, 15 minutes following the formal debrief by the lead inspector, I'm standing in front of the staff. I've never seen the room so full or so still.
"I begin by saying: 'Burlington Danes school is no longer subject to special measures and is now deemed to be providing a satisfactory standard of education for its students.' For more than a heartbeat there is silence before suddenly they begin to applaud.
"Standing there watching the smiles and the hugs is wonderful. My head of science gets it right: 'I feel like I've been weighed down for as long as I can remember... if you think your staff work hard now, you just wait until we are out.' It is that attitude which makes our school capable of standing unaided.
"Since Liberation Tuesday there is lightness in the air. For a little while we are at peace with ourselves. Only a while. Now we are moving rapidly towards academy status and the prospect of creating four small schools in September 2006.
"But we haven't yet begun fully to understand the cost of what we have won.
Schools like ours have to improve three times faster than the norm just to get out of special measures. That means human casualties as well as success stories. We must be able to achieve systemic change without placing the greatest stress on staff in schools. That will mean much more effective partnerships beyond the school and much better early warning systems of potential failure."
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