Heads hit out at Ofsted regime

Headteachers have hit out at Ofsted's new inspection regime as it emerged that the number of Norfolk schools rated as at least good had slumped in recent months.

Headteachers have hit out at Ofsted's new inspection regime as it emerged that the number of Norfolk schools rated as at least good had slumped in recent months.

They said the tough new system, introduced in September, was a “house of cards”, with one relatively minor issue enough to send a school plunging from a “good” rating to a “notice to improve”.

One head said she was taking early retirement because she “couldn't bear the thought” of facing the 12th inspection of her career, while another said she was questioning why she wanted the job after just a year in post.

The uproar came as EDP research showed the proportion of Norfolk schools rated good or outstanding fell from 61pc in 2008/9 to 35pc since September last year.

Fred Corbett, Norfolk County Council's deputy director of children's services, said schools were “definitely not getting worse”, and blamed the “tougher” Ofsted framework for the slump.

He said: “I think there are people who feel uncomfortable about it. We've given a lot of feedback to Ofsted. We have raised concerns about things like fences around schools, which are not covered by inspections and are all about inspectors' opinions. We want to know schools are keeping our children safe, not focusing on how high the fences are.”

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Some aspects of the new regime have been welcomed, including the focus on classroom observation.

But heads are worried that too much emphasis is being put on five key areas - achievement, safeguarding, equality and diversity, community cohesion and behaviour.

Schools getting a satisfactory grading in any of the areas cannot get a good grade overall, regardless of the level of achievement, quality of teaching, behaviour and the wellbeing of the pupils.

Steve Kite is head of Edmund de Moundeford Primary at Feltwell, near Thetford, which went from a good rating in 2007 to a notice to improve in November 2009.

He said: “It's so easy to trip up. It's a system that's designed to catch you out. They should have a system that's designed to be developmental.”

He added: “It's a house of cards system. One relatively minor thing means suddenly the whole thing comes down. We slipped because the governors hadn't got one of their policies in place to do with discrimination and our results had dipped.

“Ironically, all of our teaching and learning was good or satisfactory. So everything for the children was going well.”

The head of a small Norfolk primary school, who did not want to be named, said the negative outcome of its report had prompted five children to leave and “we are now worrying about closure”.

She said: “The main feeling all teachers have is that we are no longer treated as professionals and our word simply isn't good enough. I am now questioning why I wanted to be a head teacher.”

Carol Jennings, head of Wells Primary, which was rated good at the end of last year, said: “I'm retiring this summer and going a year early because I couldn't bear the thought of going through a 12th inspection.”

An Ofsted spokesman said it was “too easy” blame the new framework for a decline in grades.

She said: “Inspectors continue to balance judgements about how well pupils are doing and they take full account of how well teaching, leadership and management contribute to pupil's attainment and wider achievements.”

She added: “No schools have been placed in a category because of single issues like the height of a fence or the lack of paperwork. But schools have a legal duty to ensure that proper employment vetting procedures and a single central register are in place, and that children's safety is effectively assured.

“This is not a new requirement and schools won't be marked down for safety problems unless the breaches are serious.”

The spokesman said “very few” schools had been judged inadequate as a result of weak safeguarding arrangements alone, and added that the Norfolk figures did not reflect the data for all schools inspected since September in England.

Do you have a view about the new Ofsted regime? Call Steve Downes on 01603 772495 or email stsve.downes@archant.co.uk.