We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, And know the place for the first time. ~T.S. Eliot Four Quartets

07 June 2010

Surprise Special Measures

Today is the first day back after half-term, and the first day for our new temporary Head at my children's primary school. Just before the week-long break, we were shocked by the return of the Ofsted report for our school. With ratings for a school's performance ranging from 1 being Excellent, to 4 being unsatisfactory, our school, in nearly all the monitored categories, failed spectacularly. This was a shock to me and many others. We knew things were not ideal and many parents have taken their children out in droves over the past year. This was the first year for combined classes 2/3, 3/4 due to dropping enrolment. But I didn't think it was THAT bad.

On the Thursday prior to break, the headteacher of the past 10 years stepped down, and many teachers could be seen with their heads in their hands in the staff room. Not good. Moral is very low and the letter from the board of governors pleads with parents to stand by the school, and not  imitate rats leaving a sinking ship. And I agree. There will always be people who will not bother with trying to work things out and make them better, they will just seek out the next best thing. One child I know, has been to three schools in the past two years, not because he's a problem student, but because a problem seems to be found in every school.

The special needs provision was given a better rating for the school and since my son has a statement for his Asperger's  his level of teaching and attainment seemed to be in line with whats expected.  He's not intellectually challenged, so the use of a support assistant in school only benefits him more. Not so for most of the children who apparently are failing to meet the required targets set by the government. And the ones who are succeeding, aren't being challenged enough.

I was disappointed to learn that the early years provision is also failing, as my daughter is in the school  nursery. It is failing to give the children adequate out door time, and adequate stimulation. They have a wonderful outdoor area so why is this so?Why are they given only 20 minutes a day? At age 4 my daughter can count to 25, write her name and recite the alphabet, which may sound impressive, but does she really need to at such a young age? They do seem focus too heavily on writing, reading and a structured programme, presumably to raise attainment levels once the children reach Reception. But at what cost to the  'learning through play' ethos? at what cost to early childhood? It remains to be seen how quickly my daughter (who loves school right now) burns out her enthusiasm in later years.

So the school has been put into 'special measures' with a new head who has experience of turning a school around and gaining the Michelin star of Ofsted ratings. It also means more money from the LEA and more teachers, as three of our senior ones are retiring this year.  New  blood, new ideas, it will be good for the school and for the children no doubt. The question remains, why was the Head not able to turn the school  around since the last damning Ofsted report in 2007?  Lots of questions about management, budgets, etc. But that does not give credit to the teachers who have been working hard, teachers trying to be creative and engaging against government set targets which don't measure children's learning, but rather encourage test taking skills.

And what about more involvement from parents? I'm not in full-time employment so its easier for me to get involved by volunteering at the school, but I know plenty of other parents in the same position who haven't set foot in a classroom except for parent's evening. If you want to get the measure of teaching, you need to observe it, its not enough to be disappointed, or just read reports and move your child elsewhere.The new head has a two year contract to turn the school around. At the end of the second year my daughter will have moved through the early years provision and into year 1; my son will be on to high school. I look forward to seeing the new shape of the school then, and whether enrolment increases, and whether people who left return when the school has a glowing new report. I am hopeful anyway.

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