SO NOW WHAT…
On June 15th 2015 I wrote a blog called, ‘So you’re telling me there’s a chance’. It was written in the light of news earlier that week that Ofsted’s new inspection framework would make it ‘almost impossible’ for a new school to be rated outstanding. From now on it would be ‘highly unusual’ for a new school to be given the top rating before it could be assessed against public exam results, such as GCSEs. The purpose of my blog that week was to show that if it was ‘almost impossible’ then it was still possible, so we’d give it a go.
And on the 3rd -4th May 2017, when Ofsted visited, we did. We didn’t quite pull off Outstanding but we did achieve a first – as a single academy secondary school achieving good or better at first inspection. And with some outstanding aspects.
So now what?
Our ethos, our rigorous standards, our ‘incredible’ culture were all recognised during the inspection. The report notes our highly aspirational vision, in and out of the classroom. It recognises that teaching is a strength – that staff and pupils share a commitment to do their very best, that teachers know their pupils very well, that they skilfully plan and structure lessons enabling our boys to achieve well, and that they deliver a strongly academic curriculum. It says the Christian values of the school are clear while at the same time everyone is welcome and included. The report recognises the opportunities in our extended day to further stretch the most able, offer additional support where needed and build enterprise skills. It says that our boys receive excellent preparation for later stages of their lives, that their academic progress is strong, that they are on track to achieve well at GCSE, and that their behaviour is outstanding. It notes that school leaders have ensured that pupils’ safety and well-being is at the heart of everything we do. And that our boys are aspirational for their futures.
At the end of the two days, Her Majesty’s Inspector told us that staff morale was outstanding, that the recruitment and development of the middle leadership team was outstanding, and that the ethos and culture was ‘incredible’.
But proud as we are of the report, and HMI’s feedback, there are things we know we need to improve upon. Ofsted has provided us welcome advice, which is being incorporated into our school development plan. We’ve always said we want to be challenged, and need to be challenged, to keep improving, and so as identified by Ofsted we will be:
- Making our data as clear as possible, particularly for governors
- Ensuring our lower ability boys progress as rapidly as our higher ability students
- Measuring the impact of Pupil Premium (PP) in a more quantifiable way. We believe that our smaller classes and extended day are the reasons why our PP and Free School Meal (FSM) boys make as much – if not more – progress as our non FSM and PP boys. But we need to evidence this more clearly.
- Reviewing our policies more thoroughly. They were described as outstanding when we opened and the DfE used them at other schools, but that was 2 ½ years ago. Our checking hasn’t been thorough enough since. With all that is going on we have focussed on ‘practice’ rather than ‘paper’ but we recognise that our policies must be more thoroughly reviewed, not refreshed.
To these, we add two of our own findings:
- From the get go, we have had to give extraordinary time and attention to the school’s site; governors now need to focus on data and self-evaluation
The great thing is that we can put all this in train really quickly. Apart from maybe the last one!
But as well as learning from Ofsted, we are also challenging them.
We question whether it is reasonable that it is nigh on impossible for a new, single academy trust secondary school to achieve outstanding at its first inspection. There is nothing we can do about the fact we don’t yet have external data. And hard as we have worked at moderating and standardising our boys’ work with other schools, we are finding they are all doing something slightly differently. There’s a problem in that the DfE’s decision to abandon ‘levels’ makes it impossible for a new single academy trust to moderate standards with the same unquestionable degree of accuracy as new offshoots of Multi Academy Trusts.
We also question why there isn’t more flexibility in the inspection framework to allow for the maturity of a school. We don’t think that Ofsted’s standards should be any less rigorously applied to a 2 ½ year old school than to a 102 year old school. But they should be applied within context. For example, in assessing behaviour, the framework specifies that complete self sufficiency by pupils at all times is required to achieve ‘outstanding’. Clearly this is a very different demand of a secondary school with a complete sixth form to one with 11-14 year olds.
We are also questioning the weighting given to certain observations. We recognise that there’s a huge challenge for inspectors to get under the skin of a new school. Time constraints mean inspectors will always need to rely on ‘paper’ as well as ‘practice’ – and on snapshot observations to inform decisions on practice. However, they must get this balance right. We argue this makes it imperative that inspection is a collaborative process – preliminary findings should be discussed; there should be opportunity to query perceptions and provide further evidence if needs be before the final judgement.
So what now?
We’ve passed a waymark which confirms our direction of travel. We are taking on board the advice given and we will refine and improve our systems to ensure our checks and balances are unquestionably effective and identifiable.
Our vision remains the same.
Our aim has always been, and still is, to be among the best schools in this country, state or private by 2024. And we remain on track. I have visited and have links with St Paul’s, Dulwich, Eton, Harrow and some excellent state schools. We’re learning a lot from them and in many areas we are really beginning to compete with them.
The last few weeks have been liberating. We really believe in what we are doing and in our brand of education. We are excited at the prospect of embracing our independence further in, building our distinctive ethos, while at the same time ensuring it is genuinely inclusive to all who buy into it – parents, boys and staff.
So what now? We take pride, we learn, we challenge and we do what we need to do to become one of the very best. Our way.