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Chris McGovern: Ofsted has fostered our blackboard jungles


On its website, Willenhall Academy comprehensive school in the West Midlands boasts of being “a genuinely exciting place to study and work.” In the light of its latest Ofsted report, it would be difficult to disagree:

“Inspectors had food thrown at them in the canteen and in a classroom… were jostled in corridors and witnessed staff being ignored or defied. A senior leader was spoken to disrespectfully by pupils and told inspectors this was the norm.”

The school’s declared vision, however, “is to see our students flourish and succeed in all areas of the curriculum. Through exceptional teaching, unrivalled support and a constant focus on improvement, we believe that every student has the chance to achieve with us.”

Ofsted’s opinion was somewhat different:

“Teaching is inadequate…Pupils are, therefore, not engaged.”

“Teachers expectations of pupils are not consistently high enough.”

The school, though, promises that its students will, “receive a comprehensive, personalised education in a caring environment.”

It continues: “Our staff are passionate about maximising our students’ achievements, developing their individual talents and ensuring that they leave us as confident and ambitious young people, ready to contribute positively to society.”

The Ofsted report contradicts the school’s self-congratulatory stance: “Persistently poor behaviour at social times and in lessons leads to many pupils feeling unsafe and not learning well. Almost a third of pupils are regularly absent.”

It concluded:

“This is a coasting school. Year 11 pupils have failed to reach their potential over a three-year period.”

In contrast, the school, itself, even after the Ofsted report, exudes confidence:

“…we provide an education which gives every one of our pupils the opportunity to be the best they can possibly be. To do this we employ excellent teachers, who in turn, are supported by inspirational leaders in education.”

Ofsted, however, found that:

“Leaders over time have not adequately monitored, reviewed or evaluated improvement strategies.”

The school, nevertheless, insists that it takes, “inspiration from our pupils. Their insatiable appetite for knowledge, seemingly limitless energy supplies and creativity in and out of the classroom never fail to inspire.”

And if you still in need of reassurance? The school has the answer: “Please do not take our word for it though; come and see for yourself and meet our students who are our greatest assets. We will be pleased to welcome you and provide a guided tour of the Academy.”

From curriculum quality to exam results, from teaching expertise to school management, from Governmental rhetoric to union protests – nothing is ever what it seems in education. Without the Ofsted report, many parents would have been inclined to believe the claims and promises of Willenhall Academy. Perhaps, some still do.

And can Ofsted always be trusted? It has, after all, contributed to and reinforced comparative under-performance in our schools for years.

It has even acted as ‘enforcer’ for several flawed notions of ‘best practice’; most disastrously in its preference for fashionable ‘child-centred’ teaching methods over the much more effective ‘teacher-led’ or ‘whole-class’ methods employed in the superstar schools systems of the Asia-Pacific and once the norm here, too.

The education system is world of smoke and mirrors. As the report from Willenhall indicates, there is little that can be taken at face value. Caveat emptor!

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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