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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Carlisle school lodges official complaint about Ofsted inspectors’ impartiality

A headteacher has lodged an official complaint after Ofsted told his school to improve – claiming its inspections cannot be impartial.

Newman School head photo
John McAuley

Newman Catholic School, in Lismore Place, Carlisle, was one of 16 schools in the county to be visited by the watchdog in recent weeks.

All of the secondaries had been expecting inspections before the end of the 2013/14 academic year, but Ofsted revealed it was bringing them all forward following concerns over the standard of education in Cumbria.

The results of Newman School’s inspection have been released today, in which it was told it is not yet ranked as good and needs to make improvements.

The inspectors did note that results are getting better and the school is steadily improving, but said they are still not a “good” level.

Headteacher John McAuley told the News & Star that he felt sending inspectors into schools in such circumstances was effectively sending them “with a loaded gun at their heads”.

“Inspectors have been told there are problems with Cumbrian secondary schools, and this quite clearly compromises the impartiality of an inspection,” he claimed. “Whilst I have every sympathy with the inspectors who did not have the latest national data – published a week after the inspection – showing the fantastic GCSE results achieved by Newman students last summer, I have nonetheless placed an official complaint with Ofsted.”

He continued: “National data also published this week, confirms that Newman School is performing well above national averages; we have been informed by the local authority that we are now one of the leading performing schools in the county. Our parents remain staunchly supportive of this very popular school.”

Mr McAuley joined Newman in 2006 when it was still in special measures – it came out of special measures in January 2007 – and said he is proud of the improvements which have been made year-on-year.

“I have witnessed this transformation of Newman School over the last eight years,” he insisted, “and if Ofsted say that we can do even better, then I agree, because that remains our focus.

“The tremendous improvement has come about because of a relentless drive to improve the life chances of every child at the school. The staff and governors are proud of the school’s achievements and deserve a great deal of praise for their efforts.”

The Ofsted report praises the clear vision of the headteacher, senior staff and governors, as well as highlighting the improving results; the wide range of curriculum and extra-curricular opportunities; students’ good behaviour; the strong pastoral systems; and support from parents.

“The inspectors saw many positive aspects,” Mr McAuley said. “We are proud of the work we have done to develop students’ literacy skills. The report also praises the school’s efforts to ensure no child is left behind in terms of achievement.”

However, the inspectors ruled that improvement is not steady and therefore teaching at Newman can not yet be deemed as good.

It said: “Not enough teaching is good or outstanding. The variable progress that students are making in lessons and the quality of the work in their books suggest that too few are making sufficiently good progress to be assured that the improvements in achievement in 2013 can be sustained. Although students’ progress in mathematics is improving well, it is from a very low base.”

Mr McAuley challenged this, asking: “How else do inspectors think we have achieved results which are above national averages across the board?”

The man in charge of Ofsted will today warn that England’s schools are suffering from a culture of “casual acceptance” of misbehaviour. Sir Michael Wilshaw warns low-level disruption and poor attitudes to education are stopping pupils from learning, and preventing the nation moving up league tables.

Have your say

This report is not about a school I recognise - the kind of school I would want to send my own children to. I have had the privilege of visiting Newman and seeing this warm, purposeful and inclusive learning community for myself. It is brilliantly led and as a result has been going from strength to strength. This travesty of a report is another grubby example of an Inspection system hijacked to Michael Gove's agenda for schools - which includes bullying them into becoming academies. Parents welcome rigorous accountability so long as it is fair and impartial. OFSTED, however, has become an increasingly unreliable instrument for assessing schools. It is seen as being toxic in its negativity and deeply flawed as a mechanism for levering up standards by successful education systems such as those in Finland and the Netherlands where children achieve far better results than our own. No wonder that we are falling behind them on international benchmarks such as PISA [Programme for International Student Assessment]. The best OFSTED inspection reports are mirrors reflecting back truthful images of the schools they scrutinise. This one is yet another distortion. Instead of giving us an accurate insight into a fantastic school it shows us yet again that our Inspection system is subservient to its political masters and contributes nothing towards the educational aspirations of families and the efforts of those in the teaching profession.

Posted by Anthony M on 15 January 2014 at 17:26

When choosing schools for my children, I placed the Ofsted reports in the bin. They're a complete waste of time and money.

Posted by Graeme on 23 December 2013 at 20:01

View all 23 comments on this article

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