Outcome Conversations Damage Schools

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steel chair in rural school


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What can happen when the ‘wrong data’ is interpreted during an OfSTED inspection?

The issue with both sets of data is that we had several students included in our data that were not supposed to be on it. We run an alternative provision on-site which serves the surrounding community, and for some reason the students’ results were designated as ours. We had to go through several approaches to the DfE to get these results changed, eventually realising the error. Our performance table data was subsequently corrected to reflect this and the impact was moving from below national average to average.

With inspectors, we tried to show what data should not be included to OfSTED, and highlighted this during the so-called complaints procedure, but no one would listen. In a nutshell, here is how the conversation with the lead inspector panned out.


Inspector: So, tell me about your results.

Senior leader: Well, we’ve had the best results in our school’s history for the past 2 years. We are above national average for GCSEs. We are about the national average for pupil premium and non-pupil premium. We’ve also reduced our under-performing courses from 29 subjects to just 5 in the past two years. Our sixth form is performing within the top 10% of all schools nationally, and, we are sitting in the middle 40% for progress.

Inspector: Tell me why these 32 higher-attaining pupils (HAPs) High-Attaining Pupils are under-performing?

Senior leader: Yes, we are aware we have an issue here and we have been doing all we can to ensure they are a) attending school b) safe and c) most importantly, making progress in all subjects.

Inspector: What about these 8 students who are significantly under-performing?

Senior leader: You mean the outliers? Well, one student is suicidal and lucky to be alive. We’re talking about serious issues like sex exploitation, parents incarcerated, moving house (3 times in the year), drugs, gangs, mental health problems. It was a miracle [this student] is still alive, never mind reach an exam room to achieve top grades.

Inspector: It doesn’t matter. These disadvantaged students won’t make much of an overall difference to your progress score. It’s all about last year’s data.

And ‘the rest they say is history’.

Your school will be able to contribute to the moderation process of the final report, and is able to comment on the factual accuracy of the inspection findings, prior to publication of the report. The moderation of the judgements and consideration of any comments received from the school is undertaken by HMI who are independent of the inspection.

In summary, this OfSTED investigation has not upheld any aspect of the complaint with regard to the inspection process.

3 months later:

As a failure to handle the data securely, as detailed in the School Inspection Handbook process, the Department for Education’s “preferred partners” were appointed. Inadequate across the board, despite the same teachers achieving a ‘Good’ with the same students we have shifted on from a Requires Improvement judgement two and half years ago. The best results in the school’s history for the past 3 years in a row, and from Outstanding to Special Measures in less than 3 years.

Yes, improved results, but not enough progress! Is it any wonder we have a recruitment crisis?

Despite our best efforts to secure partnership with another very well-known trust and a respected CEO, the appointed MAT were on-site within a matter of days. A “consultation” was initiated with staff and parents and the machine started to kick into motion. Listening to some of the language used with staff and parents would make any politician feel proud.

Any school leader that can stand up and publicly address other colleagues; “our version of Outstanding is better than anyone else’s”, is part of the problem we have in our education system. It’s damaging. It destroys teacher-morale and it suggests that these types of school leaders are a victim to the OfSTED rhetoric, which as a watchdog body is currently not fit for purpose.

You can imagine I had to leave the room. I said to myself I would ‘leave after the third cliche’. I lasted 15 minutes into an hour and half presentation.

Following this process, a ‘health check’ was scheduled 3 months after the plans to join a multi-academy trust were announced. Make no-bones about it, this was an ‘OfSTED-type inspection in disguise’, used to beat the current staff over the head and single out one or two individuals. Although it was nothing I couldn’t handle, the short conversation indicated what little understanding the incoming team had about the difficulties facing the school since the inspection.

It also supported my belief, that the incoming trust believed every word written in the OfSTED report.

Call me a sceptic, but I just wonder if a £300 million plot of land has anything to do with decisions made in ivory towers? It will come as no surprise, that the surrounding area to the North and North West is there for the MATs taking, and yes, the school will be judged ‘Outstanding’ within two years ago, mark my words. I also suspect some of the most vulnerable pupils will disappear off-roll and be farmed out to other unsuspecting schools – but I could be wrong.

“This Multi Academy Trust has turned a failing school around” I hear the media report … which will further support the powers that lurk behind the scenes to declare, that this current government’s stance on acadamisation, particularly forced takeovers (on failing schools) is the solution for school improvement.

Well, let me tell you. It’s not. It’s the reason we have a recruitment crisis on our hands and why so many good teachers are leaving the profession – and schools labelled incorrectly, and incoming MATs to take the report as verbatim.

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5 thoughts on “Outcome Conversations Damage Schools

  1. Dear Ross,

    A few years ago you did a webinar for McGill/LEARN. I do remember you were in Montreal physically (as opposed to virtually) as I remember you picking up some McGill clothes for your son, Freddie.

    Lynn Butler-Kisber, a Professor at McGill and the Editor Of LEARNing Landscapes Journal (learninglandscapes.ca) is asking if you might be willing to spare about 30 minutes of your time to review an article submitted to the journal. It’s a scholarly piece about using twitter in the classroom and Lynn feels that you would be the perfect person to review it. If you agree we would send you the article and review form.

    Thank you for considering this invitation Ross.

    Mary Stewart

    Mary Stewart, Ph.D.
    Managing Editor, LEARNing Landscapes
    514-465-7273 (cell)

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