Anyone else increasingly convinced, in its attempt to grade, definitively, the quality of your child’s education, OFSTED is now hopelessly out of its depth? Round our very densely-populated way are a whole string of OFSTED-rated outstanding primary schools. They take children from an almost uniformly underprivileged, sorry, non-white-middle-class-background: high percentage of pupil-premium, English-as-second-language, social-housing based intake etc etc – and turn them out seven years later with top-of-the-range SAT scores. Clearly, they do very well by a large number of children who might otherwise fall behind their more socially privileged peers in basic primary skills, and they are nationally feted for it. Fair enough. But somewhere, for some of the children involved, there’s a price to be paid.
I can’t help feeling that at the moment children at our school are paying it. In percentage terms, our school’s results are not great. Last year a spate of year 6 pupils got full music and art scholarships to top private schools. But that same Y6 class was deemed overall to have achieved unacceptably below the national average in terms of the three R’s. As a direct consequence, OFSTED have downgraded the school from Good to Requires Improvement.
In a tiny, one-form entry school like ours, it only takes a child or two to fall behind for the whole year’s average to swoop. And every class in our school has a significant group of children who, for a range of reasons, will not reach the nationally required standards in time no matter how much they are drilled, pressurised and bullied. Some will have been at our school from the start, of course, but sometimes they transfer from the other (OFSTED-Outstanding) local schools, at which they have been, if not exactly excluded, but made to feel, let’s say, consistently out of place. Given the pressures the school puts them under, just as if it were a selective prep school. They end up at a school like ours which takes pride in welcoming everyone.
You might assume, then, that our school must face a lot of behaviour and motivation issues, struggling with kids who’ve been made unwelcome elsewhere. Behaviour and morale however, was the one area which recent OFSTED inspectors couldn’t fault. Our children, almost without exception, love coming to school; classrooms and playground are calm and orderly. Happy children behave and try their best, it’s demonstrated there every day and even OFSTED couldn’t disagree.
Since I’ve known it, the school has always seemed slightly different from the neighbouring schools; a little more genuinely diverse in its intake. This is partly because it’s not a faith school, neither C of E nor Catholic. It’s partly because of the genuine ethnic mix on the local large council estate. And it’s partly . . . because its emphasis on creativity and the arts and “educating the whole child”, has tended to attract a slightly higher percentage of white-middle-class parents, especially in recent years.
We weren’t bothered by it not being Outstanding, on the contrary. Personally I was quite relieved the school was only Good. But now it’s been judged not even that, purely on the basis (the inspectors admitted it) of SATs results.
In practice, that’s going to mean less music and arts and sport, more drilling and SATs test practice, every single week from now on from Year 3 up, we’ve been assured. It’s bound to make more children unhappy, especially the ones who will now be shown up to be inadequate on a weekly basis. And it risks turning the rest into test-obsessed, competitive little snobs, which won’t help them much in the long run either.
Those “inadequate” kids, more than the others, were the ones to benefit from the chance to excel at things not remotely academic, things they now may not even get a chance to try. And where, when our school finally becomes OFSTED-Outstanding, just like all the other state primaries round here (as I don’t doubt that within a year or two it will) are they supposed to flee to next?