Here’s a joke for you: what do you get if you cross a ‘good’ school heading for outstanding status, with The Kemnal Academies Trust?
Give up? Well, I’ll tell you. The answer is a primary school in Special Measures! Boom boom!
Not funny? Too right it’s not. Our Ofsted report was finally published yesterday, exactly 28 working days after the no-notice inspection finished in September. And the findings are no laughing matter.
From being rated as ‘Good’ across the board in January 2013, when the school was described as ‘magical’ and its leadership as ‘inspiring’, we are now officially ‘inadequate’ in all areas: leadership and management, quality of teaching, behaviour and safety of pupils, achievement of pupils, and early years provision. TKAT took over the day after that last Ofsted, and look at what they’ve done. Becoming an academy is meant to improve schools. Now that’s a joke.
When I read the report, I was actually shaking. With upset, with anger, with disbelief. The rumours weren’t good – an Ofsted report is usually out within 15 working days and a delay usually means the school has asked for a negative judgement to be reviewed – but this is much worse than I feared. I was one of the parents who called for the school to be inspected, because it was obvious the previous report was no longer a true reflection of the school. But I wasn’t expecting this.
If we’d dropped one grade to ‘requires improvement’, we would have sucked it up: it’s been a tough, tumultuous year, after all, with the loss of our head, followed by the deputy, the rest of the leadership team and loads of other teachers. We’ve had an interim head, and now a part-time consultant head, who joined at Easter and promised us he would uphold ‘the Weyfield Way’ and told us he believed we were still a good school. We were hopeful that he could settle things down and take us forward, and a ‘requires improvement’ rating would be fair enough after all that upheaval. That would mean we’d slipped a bit, but things were moving in the right direction again. That, despite the fallout of our forced academisation, we were back on track.
But inadequate? Special measures? Seriously? Just how do you do that to a good school?! And so quickly? It absolutely beggars belief. That’s not even steadying the ship, for goodness’ sake. This is what being in special measures means: ‘this school…is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and the persons responsible for leading, managing or governing the school are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement in the school.’ Ouch.
The report is absolute proof that being forced into TKAT’s control has been to the detriment of the school. Every page is damning. ‘Pupils do not make enough progress’ and aren’t being challenged, especially the more able children. ‘The number of exclusions is much higher than most schools’. ‘Leaders’ views about the school’s performance are over generous’, and ‘the headteacher, other leaders and governors have not acted with sufficient urgency to bring about necessary improvements to pupil’s achievement and to the quality of learning’.
Expectations of pupils’ learning, achievement and behaviour are too low, especially when the 2013 report stated that ‘everyone shares the same high expectations. Pupils are challenged and expected to achieve their best at all times’. In the previous report, senior leaders and staff were praised for creating exciting and imaginative working spaces that foster pupils’ curiosity. Now ‘indoor and outdoor spaces do not stimulate children’s learning effectively’ and ‘classroom displays are not used consistently well…..at the time of the inspection many display boards were empty’. As anyone who visited our school when the entrance, corridors and every classroom made you exclaim ‘Wow!’ will agree, this is pretty sad.
Another painful contrast: from ‘pupils demonstrate high levels of respect for the headteacher, staff and each other’ (2013) to ‘the behaviour of pupils is inadequate’ (2014). Children do not just suddenly shift their behaviour unless something dramatic happens that causes them to lose faith and trust. For this to have happened is an outrage.
Worryingly, the report also recommends two external reviews, looking at what the school is actually doing with the pupil premium – the extra funding it gets for our high number of disadvantaged children – and governance at the school.
Whatever your views and experiences of Weyfield, TKAT, Ofsted, inspections and reports, this is all we officially have to show the world what our school is like. Our public reputation, in Guildford and beyond, rests on this document. And, on the basis of the report, our reputation for being a creative, going-places school that totally engaged an often-challenging cohort has been shot to bits.
The reaction from the headteacher, the chair of governors and TKAT in the letter home is that they are ‘extremely disappointed’ with the report. I bet they are. I’m extremely disappointed too, that my children were at a good school, and are suddenly at an inadequate school. I’m a bit more than disappointed, actually. I’m hopping mad. I can only imagine how the team who achieved the opposite – taking us from ‘special measures’ to ‘good’ in just 12 months – must feel on reading the report. Gutted, probably. What a waste of all their hard work.
I’m also astonished that the head, chair of governors and TKAT have the gall to try and spin the report as being somehow the fault of the previous leadership. As if the school was doing badly, and they have come to our rescue. As if they are doing all they can to improve it, and those pesky inspectors just can’t see it and haven’t given them enough time.
But that’s not the situation here. We were good. We became a TKAT academy. Now we’re in special measures. You do the math, as they say. In 19 months since taking over, they haven’t even managed to maintain our ‘good’ status. That’s the only story.
The obfuscation and dishonesty of the letter home makes my blood boil. It contradicts all previous public assertions that they wanted to continue ‘the Weyfield Way’ because it was clearly working for the children. You can twist the facts and not-so-subtly scapegoat all you want, but at some point, TKAT, you’re going to have to take responsibility for destroying the thriving school we were proud to be part of, and accept the consequences.
I am hoping that those consequences will take the form of the DfE intervening, to finally remove us from TKAT and placing us in the care of a more appropriate, local academy group. When we pressed for this at the start of the year, after the chain had somehow managed to lose yet another head teacher, the Department for Education’s response was that there was no mechanism for this, and that we were stuck in a seven-year contract. Since then, however, the DfE has had to invent a mechanism, since it has become inconveniently apparent that not all academy chains are improving the schools in their care: earlier this year 10 schools were removed from the E-Act chain after Ofsted raised concerns.
And if the DfE can find a way to void a contract when badly-performing schools continue to perform badly, it seems like a no-brainer that they should remove a previously-good school from an academy chain that has made it inadequate. After all, it’s absolutely clear that we slipped through a loophole. We were in special measures, the academisation process began, the new head turned the school around rapidly, but there was no way out at that stage. Good schools shouldn’t be forced into becoming sponsored academies, but we had no choice. It was all a bit ‘computer says no’. The DfE now has an opportunity to undo this terrible mistake, although by the look of this depressing report, it’s a bit late for the children of Weyfield.
There is a pattern here for TKAT. When Ofsted undertook a blitz inspection of six of its schools in the summer, the results were not impressive. And last week’s report from TKAT’s Thomas Bennett Academy in Crawley also shows a drop from ‘good’ to ‘requires improvement’. And they are still being allowed to take on new schools! When, exactly, are they going to be held to account? How much time and how many chances are we going to give them?
So, unlike the beginning of the year, when Weyfield parents overwhelmingly passed a vote of no-confidence in TKAT but were powerless to do more than make noise, we now have both precedent, and compelling proof that we’re not safe in their hands.
TKAT inherited a good school. All they had to do was keep it on the straight and level, and they haven’t even done that. Whatever ‘improvements’ they say they are starting to make this term are too little, too late. They have failed our school, failed our community, failed the teaching team, and, most importantly, failed Weyfield’s children. It’s simply not good enough, and it’s time for them to go. That’s the punchline.