Before Sausage started school, we put a LOT of thought into her education. We considered homeschooling her and ultimately decided that we wanted her to have the benefit of a good education and interaction with her peers. She’s an only child and we didn’t want to compound any potential loneliness by keeping her at home all day, every day. Once the decision was made to send her mainstream, we spent an awful lot of time looking at the Ofsted reports of local schools, working out where she’d get a good level of education but in a school that showed a healthy level of pastoral care. As I mentioned in a post last week, we even considered private school, which would have required Husband and I to get second jobs as the private schools in our area are notoriously pricey, but ultimately the results for our local primary were best overall and it made sense to stay where we were and let her attend the school that Husband and many of his family members had also attended.

When we made the decision, we were acutely aware of the fact that the previous Ofsted report in 2009 had been a ‘reduced tariff’ inspection, based on the fact that the school had reached ‘Outstanding’ levels in 2005. We were also aware that the previous Headmaster, who was much beloved by pupils and a fixture of the local community, was leaving just before Sausage started and that a new Headmaster was to be brought in, but we figured that if the school’s teaching staff and educational ethos were to remain the same then standards would surely be maintained?

How wrong we were.

Ofsted came to visit from 21st May and a copy of the report sent home to parents in a newsletter this week. Our school has gone from achieving ’1 – Outstanding’ in almost every category to a ’3 – Requires Improvement’ in all but one area. The report states that the school is outdated as are their resources, not enough account is being taken of the children’s differing levels of aptitude across planned work and there is not enough independence in learning because the children rely too heavily on the teachers. This, apparently, is causing inconsistency in attainment throughout the school.

On the plus side, Ofsted noted that the children are polite, well-behaved, keen to learn, positive and helpful. The new headteacher has done a good job of tackling the school’s financial deficit, as well as making improvements to the school’s buildings and grounds. They also note that children with learning difficulties are being well supported and that the majority of children are achieving well in writing and that progress accelerates in Year 6.

I don’t know about you, but ‘Requires Improvement’ seems a little harsh to me. I know from speaking to various members of staff from the school that one of the things that the school was penalised for was the lack of storage space in the corridors. The school is old, built in 1949, and has had to grow with our ever-expanding community. The previous Headmaster did the best he could to raise money to improve the school and from what I can gather the new guy has taken over where he left off.

The problem is, I realise that Ofsted is the standard in school inspections but as a parent of a child at the school, I really don’t feel like this is a fair reflection of the teaching standard. It did mention in the report that Key Stage 1 is one of the highest achieving areas of the school and I can attest to the fact that Sausage has progressed brilliantly in her first year, but with staffing issues blighting a few classes, the standards across the whole school seem to have been judged lower than I would have expected.

I also can’t help but wonder if the current Government, with their continued insistence of fixing things that ‘ain’t broke’, have moved the goalposts and changed how schools are being judged now and I worry that our local Government will be less inclined to allocate funding to a school which appears to be under achieving. Could Ofsted have well and truly shot us in the foot here?

My initial reaction to the drop from ones to threes was one of disappointment and indignation; how could they let us down like this when it took us so much in the way of research and soul-searching to get us to send her there in the first place? I saw one Mum on our school’s Facebook group say that she sent her Daughter to this school with a sense of pride, which had now turned to embarrassment, given the decline in standards.  

But, when all’s said and done, my disappointment and indignation have ebbed away slightly. Sausage is happy at school, she loves learning and is achieving at a standard which is above average for her age. She’s improved steadily since September, she has a good relationship with her teachers, she comes home having been engaged and stimulated. I have a healthy, happy, almost-five-year-old girl and I think if most of the other parents were honest they’d say the same (or very similar). There are definitely issues that need to be addressed and improvements that can be made but I’m not going to react in a knee-jerk fashion and I think we owe it to the new Headmaster to get behind him and hope that once the dust settles, standards will improve and be maintained.

On a related note, Aly from Plus 2 point 4 brought this tweet to my attention today, from poet Michael Rosen, and I thought it was really apt for this situation:

I also asked some blogging friends for their opinions. Here’s what some of them had to say:

Katy Hill of katyhill.com said “Always follow your heart with a school – you get a sense of the place that’s right for your family, regardless of the Ofsted. I checked out a nursery for my son once which was “Outstanding” but the place made me want to burst into tears! As the mother, you know what will work for you and your kids”

Emma Bradley of Emma and 3 (who also happens to be a teacher in real-life) said “Teachers are getting such a tough time at the moment. I doubt any of the teachers at Sausage’s school are less good than when they had outstanding stamped on them three years ago. It is just the bloody government who have turned Ofsted into an ideological tool.”

A friend, who’d rather remain anonymous had this to say: “The Ofsted report that our school got last year was appallingly written and a quick Google of the inspector showed that she was widely hated, wrote badly and a pedant on the most ridiculous of subjects. There was almost nothing about the teaching, there was the same point about sun-cream repeated again and again and again and it was utterly ridiculous. Our staff were devastated, the governors complained, it was a complete farce. The inspectors had no idea of the role that our Head plays in National strategy and some of them had no experience of Primary education at all. It’s crap.”

Have you ever had a run-in with Ofsted? I’d love to hear your experiences, good and bad.