Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Tipping the Scales of Justice in Your Favour

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Tipping the Scales of Justice in Your Favour

Article excerpt

If you are sure Ofsted has given your school an unfair rating, don't despair - follow this headteacher's example and appeal

"Requires improvement": two of the most disappointing words in the English language to hear if you're a principal.

When Ofsted delivered this verdict on my school, I was frustrated and upset. More importantly, so were the staff. When it happens, you can't help thinking of all the hard work, the effort, the absolute conviction that you've done right by your pupils. Thankfully, in our case, we had the data to prove that our school was as good as we thought it was.

Almost all our 680 pupils speak English as an additional language (EAL). The largest groups are of Pakistani and Roma/Slovak heritage. Historically, the school has struggled with reading, but last year we recorded a 30 per cent improvement in expected progress; this included 92 per cent of Year 6 making expected progress for key stage 2. These exceptional figures put us above the national average.

So when Ofsted deemed last June that we were good in leadership, behaviour and teaching but required improvement in achievement - and then chose to give us an overall grade of "requires improvement" - it just didn't make sense.

I decided to appeal. This was a big decision: I was concerned that Ofsted might adjust our other scores downwards in order to justify the overall verdict. But I felt I had to complain - the data just didn't support the judgement.

What does it all mean?

I was spurred on by the major progress we had made by rethinking our literacy strategy. Most schools are quite proficient at phonics these days, but for many children, not just those who are EAL, the comprehension side is far more tricky. Children don't always naturally read for meaning; too often they're not really thinking about what they're reading.

Previously, we did not have a whole-school approach to comprehension. Our method was test-based - we would simply ask the children questions about the text they had been reading. But many lacked the skills needed to answer.

So we decided to change our approach. We had to get the whole school involved, with buy-in across the teaching staff. And, as well as being incredibly child-friendly, the programme had to present the strategy in a really clear way to teachers by identifying a range of skills and providing a way to help pupils acquire those skills progressively. …

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