In her speech at the Festival of Education Amanda Spielman observed:
“We can’t pretend that Ofsted judgements are not lower in certain areas –there has been a long-overdue debate about white working-class communities in England, and why they have fallen behind. “That debate hasn’t been limited to the UK and our coastal towns”.
This part of her speech has been widely reported and I do not intend to add to the column inches, but for me what stood out was the reasoning for a lack of support to these schools and more importantly does this support work? To quote from the speech:
“Schools in these areas struggle with teacher recruitment; there are fewer local academy sponsors; and there is less access to leadership support through national leaders of education and through teaching schools.”
So why is this? Could Ofsted be a reason these schools struggle?
Recent study by the FFT Education Datalab has shown that 40% of maths teachers leave in the first 6 years and that in disadvantaged schools pupils are twice as likely to have an inexperienced teacher. Newly qualified teachers are the lifeblood of the system. When you take the first steps of their career is where the drive and ambition to make a difference burns strongest, but how demoralising is that you are constantly measured and told from all sides that, despite your best efforts, your school is consistently not good enough? Which teacher would nowadays leave a higher performing school to work in these areas? Fortunately many still do, but, with the ever increasing workload and demands on the profession how much longer will this continue? No wonder they struggle with recruitment?
There are fewer academy sponsors? One would have thought with continued low performance that many of these schools would have already been subject to academy orders or be prime candidates for conversion- so why aren’t they with sponsors? Simple, for a sponsor it is not worth the risk either financially or reputationally. Why take on a school that has been named by the regulatory body as consistently being amongst the worst performers? These schools need long term change, there is not a quick fix, which unfortunately, is not the answer expected by Ofsted or the RSCs so they will remain unattractive to sponsors and following EPIs report of June 2018 would academisation make any difference to the outcomes…
That leaves National Leaders of Education and Teaching schools. Are these the answer, or is the jury still out? With continuing pressures on schools budgets and performance then realistically how much time can NLE’s and teaching schools afford to spend with these schools? Secondly how relevant is their experience to these schools in the disadvantaged areas? What has made the teaching school so successful? If there is a lack of teaching schools in the areas as mentioned in her speech then what is the reason for this? It does not necessarily mean that the teachers and leaders in the schools are not as capable as their peers just that their social and economic position is so far behind that of many teaching schools will nearly always struggle to reach “outstanding”. This is not accepting second best it is asking for a system that measures the “real” educational value of the school.
So what is the answer?
In their recent book School Leadership and Education System Reform Peter Earley and Toby Greany refer to defining the features of ‘great’ schools and expand on how these ‘schools with soul’ reflect a deep commitment to values and practices that go beyond the achievement of academic standards. These features have formed the basis for the NAHT Aspire programme that was created in 2013 to specifically work with schools that had received multiple RI ( or satisfactory) judgements. A 3 year DfE funded pilot worked with 31 such schools, many working with the exact demographic described in Amanda Spielman’s speech. Independently evaluated by the University of Derby as to its effectiveness the programme has subsequently worked with over 150 schools and replicated these results with 106 Aspire schools being inspected. On joining the programme 77% of schools were rated as requires improvement or inadequate. At inspection 67% of schools were rated as good or outstanding and over 80% of our schools that moved to good retained their grading on their next inspection.