Tag Archives: Ofsted

Choosing a Secondary School

Ok. Let me just start this post by saying my daughter is six.  Yes, six. She’s in Year 1, just 2 years into primary school.

However, I’m currently choosing her Secondary School.

There is a reason for this. Regular blog readers and those who visit my other blog here, know that we are about to “Escape to The Country” and this is supposed to be a more permanent move than we have ever done before, so it needs to be right for every aspect of, at least, the next 20 years.Secondary School

One of our (many) reasons for moving is that we know our chances of getting into the best secondary near us is very slim. I knew that when we moved, but we had a 5 year plan so we weren’t that bothered.  The ones within reach of us are not very good.  Of course, by not very good, I mean they have a poor Ofsted.  Pfffft.  You may have read my views on Ofsted on previous posts.

As it turned out, one of our search areas happen to have an Outstanding Ofsted and is a sought after school.  However, properties don’t pop up very often and we have had to expand our search area.  So we’ve begun trawling through loads of information about every secondary I find.

The Bad news is that it appears East Hampshire and East Berkshire have ALOT of underachieving schools!

It has got to a point where we can can only pinpoint 3 small areas (1 of them is north of Newbury, so only useful if I get the Swindon job), that fall within good/outstanding schools.  The rest (over 7 schools) have all been marked as needing improvement.

So, I’ve started to look at things other than the Ofsted. Me, of all people know what a load of baloney it can be, but when it comes to Secondary Education, I can’t JUST dismiss it as easily.

I’m looking at GCSE results.

I don’t know what else to do.

I can’t start booking in to look around these schools. MY DAUGHTER IS SIX. I’m looking at websites, googling them to see if people are saying good stuff.  I don’t really know what else to do.

I can’t completely dismiss them though, can I?  In 5 years time things could change and I’ll miss out on buying my dream house?

What would you do?

 

Choosing a Primary School – A Warning

As October arrives, parents of children who are turning 4 between September 2013 and July 2014 will start thinking about researching, visiting and choosing a school for their child to start in September 2014.

I really wanted to get this post sent out during this critical time, because I need new parents to understand exactly what they need to look out for in a potential primary school and not have a knee jerk reaction to “markers” just because we are led to believe that these are what makes a school good.  Don’t be dazzled by numbers, especially at Primary School and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t discredit a school entirely based on an Ofsted.  This story may explain why.

Much like many of you when we moved house, we considered the schools.  We knew we had a couple of good primary schools very close to us, but when you’ve got a 2-year-old, the thought of doing in-depth research doesn’t cross your mind and you read a report on Ofsted, feel happy that it’s not a demon school, move and then do all the in-depth research when your child is 4. When it really matters.

We had a choice of 2 schools.  Both were given a “good”.  The one closest to us (walking distance) was “good” with “outstanding features”.  The other one looked bigger, but was also in higher demand because it was a feeder school to a much coveted secondary school in the area.  Most people chose that one, just for that reason. I think last year, the “feeder” system was removed, but you’d need to check that yourself.  Anyway, as we thought it was unlikely we would stay in the area long enough to use the secondary, it didn’t sway us.  We saw both schools as potential candidates and went to their open visits to walk around and meet the head and other teachers.

Bollocks, does it.

Bollocks, does it.

Both schools were lovely.  The one further away felt a little impersonal to us (but we visited on a strike day) and we didn’t much like the head.  They didn’t show us any outdoor areas other than that in Reception.  The one closest to us, had a very warm feel about it.  Maybe we were biased because we really wanted to be able to walk to school, who knows, but I did fall in love with the school. It reminded me of my school growing up. The reception classrooms were just lovely, the outdoor space was huge and the head teacher was a great, down to earth kind of guy.  I would have been happy in a school like that.  So, decision made.  We put that down as our first choice and Pickle got in.

Pickle LOVED her school. We loved the school.  On any one day the mix of students was perfect. Every nationality, religion, social demographic was there.  This was what we were looking for and Pickle made great friends with children who’s parent’s I also liked.

Then in April we had a bomb shell.  The school had an Ofsted inspection and went from being “good” with “outstanding features” to “Inadequate”.  That was the old “Special Measures”.  You know, the one where you imagined 12 year olds smoking around the back of the class room and teachers drunk in the staff room.  Where disorder reigns and results fail.  Except that WASN’T our school.  That couldn’t have been further from what our school was like!  The report was patchy about where it failed.  It mumbled on about not allowing students real application of their skills (physical learning).  It talked about children not being asked to come up and participate in learning, about not splitting by ability often enough.  A lack of maths focus.  That was it!  Reception was marked as Good with outstanding features.  Year 1-2 as “needing improvement” and the rest as “Inadequate”.  To us though, it didn’t feel inadequate at all!!

We obviously all got very very upset.  This was around the time new parents had received their notification of which school their 4 year olds would get into and I imagine there was a mass panic by parents at our Local Authority to reject the offer and go to the other school.  We all demanded answers, but we got a new Head in place (our old one, bless  him, had wanted to retire at Christmas but the governors had asked him to stay on. So he left in the wake of this!) and a promise that they’d turn it around.

Then we got the news the school was becoming an Academy.  More worry. More upset. More parents demanding what was going on.  Academies are bad, right?  They are run by owner’s of Carpet shops for money.  They don’t care about the kids?  So we researched into the cows came home. Decided we’d all rebel if the right academy owner wasn’t found.  Recent news, at the end of the summer term, was a well-respected local secondary school which had recently, voluntarily, become an academy was going to be our Sponsor.  We all heaved a sigh of relief.  Fingers crossed it all gets sorted by January as promised and we can get on with the job at hand, teaching our children.

I then stumbled upon this article this week.  Which was EXACTLY what we thought happened with our school but couldn’t prove. I don’t think there is any doubt that the pushing down of our Ofsted was because of the boroughs need to get its first primary school to become an Academy.  There are no outstanding primary school’s in our borough so I imagine they picked on one they thought they could manipulate, one that was due an Ofsted.  Read the article. It’s a real eye opener.

The point is.  Ofsted has changed A LOT in the last 5 years.  Whilst we all look for a way to be able to grade our primary schools and help us make decisions, I think they do us all a disservice by setting a criteria (a moveable criteria) that immediately segregates our local schools based on what the government thinks is flavour of the month.  Yes, we want to make sure the curriculum is stuck to. Yes, we want good marks, but the criteria has become so narrow, our schools have no choice but to teach to the dot….oh no hang on. As long as they appear to teach to the dot on the day of the inspection.  Yes, no guarantee it actually happens every day.  An inspection can be 1-3 days long.  Wonder how many schools have a special “Ofsted Teaching Plan”.  How the hell can that be a sign of a good school?

I guess the big advantage for us, about to become an Academy, is that strict structure gets done away with, but it was still a really rubbish time. A time of uncertainty that made your realise one very important fact when you are choosing a school.  Your school cannot be EXACTLY like the last Ofsted (especially as they are done every 3 years). Things change.  Head teachers move on.  Teachers leave, new ones come.  Standards rise or fall.  It’s a moving organism.  You can NEVER guarantee that the school that is “good” will stay good whilst you are there.  You have to LOVE that school for all of it’s parts and be prepared to stick with it.  If you’re local school doesn’t have a good Ofsted, find out why.  Meet the head. Ask what is being done. That will be the biggest mark of how good your school is.  Drill down.  It probably isn’t a bad school at all.  Things may change. That school may become “good” even “outstanding” at a time your child is in Year 5 or 6 and the school you chose over it, could drop down, right when you need it to be there for you.

All I’m saying, is please don’t judge a school by its Ofsted.  Ofsted can be a load of baloney!

 

 

The Ofsted Report

Instructions for talking to me about the Ofsted

  •  Tip your head to one side
  • Look down then up (the Princess Diana look)
  • Suck in your lower lip and say
  •  “I’m really sorry to hear that?”

 Yep, the report that I talked about here has been written and all the parents and teachers got advanced copies.  Worse it could possibly be.  It’s in special measures, which is now called “Inadequate”.

 Whenever I’ve heard of schools being in Special Measures I’ve imagined a school full of vigilantes, teachers smoking in the corner of the classroom, unruly behaviour, terrible grades and a school falling apart.  Our school could not be further from this if you tried.  It is a lovely school with kind, supportive teachers and very very happy well-behaved children.  OfstedIt was just unlucky that the framework changed and our school has had an inspection right at the start of it.  Throw in the fact our headmaster had been with the school for over 20 years and you really do have the recipe for “how to fail an Ofsted”.  I imagine there are some headteachers out there who have a curriculum they can pull out the bag in a days notice ready for inspections, but our school isn’t like that.  It’s a straight forward, no-nonsense school who isn’t going to pretend it’s anything but. 

 Obviously, I’m not excusing the failure. Things could definitely have been done and clearly some of the teachers have let things slip, moved their eye off the ball.  It’s a shame that one of the biggest failures was a lack of the school to create separate areas in the classroom for differing pupils abilities.  This was cited from Years 3 to 6.  Yet, myself and several of the other parents said it was seeing this on our walk around the school that made us choose it.  Was it an “off” day?  Clearly.  It also failed on interaction in the classroom, something else that I’ve seen on various occasions.

 Thankfully Reception came out Outstanding, which I would have been surprised if it hadn’t.  Pickle is learning so much and enjoying it a lot and her teacher is amazing, so I’m glad that that was recognised. 

They’ve already done so much since last term, since the school learnt just days after the inspection that they had done so badly.  Our head teacher retired as he had wanted to back in December, a new interim headteacher has been bought in with an Ofsted background and we have had a maths specialist appointed, curriculum moved about, extra teacher training days, a complete stop to all leave during school hours and various other changes.  I’m feeling positive about things now.  As many teachers I’ve talked to have said that it’s a bit of a blessing to get a score like this so early in my daughter’s learning.  The borough will chuck a lot of money and expertise at the problem to bring it up to scratch and Pickle will benefit from that as she moves up the school.  Of course, most of my teacher friends are not big fans of Ofsted anyway.  Constantly moving the goal posts and it being a box ticking exercise rather than a real reflection of the school.

 I have to agree. The school I know is very different to the one in the report.  Thankfully, there were some good points raised.  Good relationship between pupils and teachers.  Teachers and Pupils having pride for their school and pupils enjoying school and feeling safe and important there.  That to me is one of the most important things about a primary school and I’m glad they picked up on it.

 So, what am I doing about this report?  Absolutely nothing.  I’m not embarrassed about it but I’m glad things have been pointed out and improved and I will fully support the school in improving its results.  My daughter is happy and loves school and I wouldn’t for a second pull her out of this sort of environment.

 So you can take your head tilt and condescending words and shove off!   :)

 

Ofsted report Panic

Logo courtesy of Ofsted

Logo courtesy of Ofsted

We’ve just had a letter through the door and I’m slightly panicked.

It’s from our borough council advising us that our Headmaster of over 20 years is going to take early retirement because the Ofsted inspection they had a few weeks back was “disappointing”.

Well, there is a lot to take in on this.

Firstly that the Ofsted inspection was disappointing is of major concern to me.  Last inspection had it listed as “good” and I was happy with that.  I know Ofsted isn’t the be all and end all of a school, which is why I visited the school and many others, but I think it’s a good barometer of how hard the headmaster and teachers work within the confines of the system.

Secondly that a trusted and well liked Headmaster is leaving.  That gives me the collywobbles.  If his replacement isn’t someone who all of our teachers get on well with, then we could see them start to drop like flies.  I’m worried that the likes of the head of the infant department, a woman who far exceeds her role and is sensible, down to earth and a brilliant teacher will decide she can no longer stay.

In general I’m worried for the school.  I love the school a lot.  It’s got a small school feel to it (despite 3 form entry) and it has a sensible approach to most things, which I love.  For example:

We were given no “rules” at the start of the year.  My friend’s school were told they had to invite the whole class to parties, No sweet things in lunch boxes, no photos at school shows.. blah blah blah.  No rules for us.  Other than a sensible nut allergy rule and no chocolate bars (chocolate is fine on top of a biscuit).

I only had my 2nd parent evening last week when, after the academic chat, I asked about the social aspect of Pickle’s days at school.  I said “I’m sorry if that sounds a bit weird, I kind of think the social part is as important as the academic part at this age, because she will learn the rules of friendship ect.. “.  Her teacher replied “Oh yes, definitely.  I think its more important in some ways”.  We then went on to talk about the dynamics of the girls group that had formed and she told me how she was going to teach them things to try to change it’s course.  I love her.

I’m really panicked about this change to the school.  Right when so much else is changing there as well. This year saw the first 3 form entry and as a result building work is underway for Year 1 expansion for next year and then further work is scheduled next year to increase every year to 3 form.  We really didn’t need this news.

What will it mean going forward if a bad Ofsted is published?  Will all the parents next year and for the next 3 years choose other schools over us? Will it be that only the lethargic parents end up there?  Will this affect the school going forward?  What I loved about this school was its cultural and demographical mix.  Poor, well off, Asian, black, chinese, White and everything in between.

Has anyone else experienced issues around bad Ofsted results, the loss of a headmaster or BOTH?  Am really looking for some good news stories now.