Good is definitely the perfect fit for us
You can download the Ofsted Report at the end of the article.
This is a great report and very fair. It is hard to read it without smiling.
The governors of the school have always been determined to do the best by our students.
This includes ensuring they leave school with the best qualifications they can. This often means refusing to comply with the government's preferred approaches. Almost everybody here is rather proud of this ethos.
When the government decided to penalise schools in the league tables if they entered students for GCSEs early to give some a second chance we decided as a school that we would risk paying that penalty to give the students the best grades possible. This has proved particularly successful for students categorised as disadvantaged.
When the government decided every child should be made to do a humanities subject and a modern language, whatever their abilities or interests, we decided that we would allow families to choose what subjects each student should follow. Of course we were taking a risk of another penalty in the DFE's league tables. This means that our able academics could choose to do dance, drama and music if that was their chosen route in life, while someone else might want to do PE, DT and ICT. We also avoid having dozens of students who are not cut out for languages struggling through to a low GCSE grade, with no hope of ever really speaking French or German, when they could be thriving in a technical course or sport.
We also took the risk of a penalty when we refused to enter students for courses that secure significant points in the official data tables. There are some cynical examples of courses that take 3 days and do not go much beyond things covered in primary school yet are rated the same as 'good' GCSE passes.
We have three tests for a course:
- Is the course in itself interesting and of worth to the students?
- Are there employers or colleges looking for people with this qualification?
- Would we offer it if it was not in the league tables?
Hence no student is studying options because they make the school look good and each course is delivered and assessed in the way that ensures the best results for our students and not the school.
We also don't permanently exclude vulnerable youngsters unless we really have to. We prefer to work in Reflex with students who often struggle with school, a significant number of whom have come here from other schools where it hasn't worked out. This means we have a couple of real outliers on our results that we could have dropped, but wouldn't. We also try not to fine families for term-time absence if it seems counter-productive or a struggling family is working with us to improve attendance. These tend to be disadvantaged students and/or those who have come from other schools.
You can see how all this puts us at odds with the new OFSTED Framework. Paradoxically it is the things we do for those who struggle most that expose us because we don't handle them the way we are supposed to. We are guilty of being a little naïve and perhaps arrogant in believing that the impressive results we post despite these hurdles, and the obvious strength of the school as you walk round, would be enough to convince an inspection team that things don't get a lot better. We were wrong. If doing the right thing didn't come at a cost everyone would do it. The price of an outstanding grade is one we pay quite happily.
We have no issue with the inspection team at all. The Lead Inspector in particular was honest, open and clearly appreciated our school and the way we work. Her job was to apply the best fit in the framework and not make subjective judgements and this she did with integrity and professionalism. She would be welcome here any time. If you read the text of the report you will see she has captured what we are about extremely well in a short time. We can't be outstanding under the current framework and unless it changes never can be; which is a shame.
So we are taking the judgement on the chin, sticking our chests out and lifting our heads. We won't be abandoning early entry for students it suits any time soon, we can't in all conscience force students to do humanities or language subjects for the government's data processes, we will never put students through courses we don't believe in for league table points and we will keep disadvantaged students who struggle in school whatever their attendance or predicted grades as long as they do no harm to other students' prospects.
There are great outstanding schools, some judged under a different framework and some who genuinely believe that the government's agenda is the right one. Nobody here wishes to demean their achievement but neither would we tread that path. We just aren't cut out to be compliant.
We have had incredible support from our community for the student-centred approach we have taken and the individual decisions we have made. The feedback parents gave to the inspection team was wonderful to hear and very heartening. Taking such a fiercely independent and contrary stand feels very Wallingford in some ways. We work hard and don't make excuses, which is evident in our high achievement and in this report. We also know we will always have more work to do. The comment suggesting PSHE is good not outstanding is right, for example, but we will take Outstanding for Personal Development, Leadership and Teaching and Learning, which couldn't be contested on grounds of data alone.
So we don't have the thing we wanted to celebrate but a great deal to be very proud of in an excellent school as I hope you will agree.