Mr Gove, Ofsted and Derby City Council schools. The “swoop” .


When Ofsted said that it would swoop on Derby City Council schools it made national headlines. The swoop would determine why and how schools in Derby were “failing” and the role the local authority played in this failure.

It all started with Michael Gove declaring in October that Derby was “ an area of “concentrated educational under-performance” . (Derby Telegraph.)

This was soon followed in November by Michael Gove trying to impose Academy status on an admittedly troubled, Sinfin School. (Derby Telegraph) The Local Authority had been trying to set up an agreed board with teachers, parents and local bodies to set up a Cooperative trust (see previous link) but this was swept aside by central government. Choice?

None of which, of course, has anything to do with the decision by the independent inspectorate, Ofsted, to “swoop” ( or blitz) schools in the Derby City area. Of course not.

Mr Wilshaw, head of Ofsted announced that they would be inspecting 11 schools in Derby from that day onwards to find out why children in Derby were “being denied the standard of education they deserve”. (Derby Telegraph) He went on to say:

“”It cannot be right that in local authorities with the same demographics, the same sort of population and the same levels of    deprivation, parents have such widely varying opportunities of finding a good school.

“We will be seeking to determine whether councils are really fulfilling their statutory duties to promote high standards. Where we find evidence that the local authority is not demonstrating effective leadership, then we shall inspect it.” (ibid)

And so, from 17-23 January, they swooped and inspected and looked under carpets and in cupboards in 10 schools in Derby.

(Yes, there is a mathematical discrepancy. It is not mine.)

So after this swoop hit the national headlines – eg, The Guardian- you’d have thought that Ofsted would be in a hurry to publish their results…. taps fingers on table… stifles a yawn… gets on with teaching real children…

Oh. Here it is. On 19th Feb, Ofsted finally write to Derby City Council with their findings.

You can read it all here.

So what exactly happened and what are the conclusions?

Of the schools inspected:

  • A special needs school maintained its “outstanding” status
  • One primary school and one nursery school maintained their “good” status
  • Four primary schools moved from “satisfactory” to “good”
  • One secondary and two primary schools were deemed to still “require improvement” (previously known as “satisfactory)

(Source: Derby Telegraph)

Not a bad set of results, especially under the new Ofsted inspection rules. Despite this, Derby City Council will have to wait until April before it finds out if it will be subject to an in-depth investigation into school standards in the authority. (Source: Derby Telegraph, as above.)  Because let us remember- this “swoop” was less about individual schools and more about the relationship between the schools and the Local Authority. During the inspections, schools were specifically asked about the relationship with the local authority- primarily the School Improvement officers. So let’s take a more detailed look at what was said and written.

  • The special needs school was deemed outstanding in all areas and inspectors highlighted several improvements since the previous outstanding rating. Specifically, the inspectors noted:

Although the Local Authority has an appropriately light-touch approach to this outstanding school, support that is     provided through the school improvement service is highly valued by the school’s leaders. There are clear, open lines of communication so that advice can be sought on how to improve further.” (Inspection report)

  • At the nursery school the inspectors found that:

The local authority has an appropriately light touch approach to this good school. A School Improvement Partner has provided an external view on the quality of teaching and the local authority has assisted the governing body on matters such as safeguarding and staff attendance. The nursery values all of these activities.”

  • At the primary school that maintained its “good” status, the inspectors determined that:

The school adviser is new to the school, but has good knowledge about the school’s performance and intends to come into the school at future visits to help monitor its progress. Because the school is not one that causes the authority concern, support has been at a low level, with local authority resources directed to less well performing schools.”

  • Four primary schools moved up from satisfactory to good. In one school it was noted that:

  “Until recently, the local authority has provided very limited challenge or support for the school. The appointment of a new link officer to the school has improved communication and provided more rigorous challenge but the officer has not been in post long enough to have impacted on on-going school improvement.”

In another:

  “The local authority has an appropriately light touch approach to this good school. School leaders have agreed with the local authority that senior leaders will access support as and when they need it. For example, the school has strengthened the impact of the senior leadership team as a result of accessing local authority support.”

And this:

“The impact of the local authority’s support and challenge over time in helping the school to improve has been variable. This is largely due to the fact that there have been frequent changes to the local authority representatives working with the school; six officers have worked with the school in the last six years. This has led to a disjointed approach and a lack of continuity, causing school leaders and the governing body to believe that they have not been challenged as effectively as they could have been. Some elements of local authority support have been stronger than others, including work to promote improved attendance at the school and also work to improve the quality of ICT. School leaders report that there are recent signs of improvement in the quality of support provided by the local authority and the school continues to choose to buy in to the local authority’s school support package.”

A few personal observations here. All of the above extracts from the inspection reports show that the relationship with the Local Authority is either good or showing improvement. As in all areas of local authority endeavour, the education service has suffered cuts and reorganisation which clearly affect the service provided. It would appear from the reports that Derby City Council is doing what it can and focussing support on the schools most in need, whilst still maintaining appropriate support to our better schools.

So what about the schools still requiring improvement? (Previously satisfactory.)

“The local authority has not been aware that many aspects of the school require improvement. Consequently, visits to the school have been infrequent and support has been minimal. Nearly all of the improvements to the school since the last inspection have been due to initiatives instigated by the school’s leaders. The governing body reports that the local authority training provided for governors is of good quality and has helped them improve their skills.” (primary school)

This remark is clearly more critical but not devastating. The next comment on the other “requires improvement” primary school highlights both the impact of a good School Improvement officer and the difficulties the education service has faced due to cuts and restructuring:

  “The impact of the local authority’s support to the school has been limited because of the frequent changes in officers. Four different local authority officers have worked with the school in the last three years. This has resulted in a lack of continuity and limited support and challenge. The new local authority adviser, who started working with the school in September 2012, is providing helpful support to the headteacher. For instance, she has carried out her own analysis of the 2012 Year 6 test results. This has enabled her to gain a better understanding of the school’s strengths and weaknesses and to ask the headteacher suitably challenging questions about pupils’ achievement. The governing body has benefited from local authority training. Governors told inspectors that because of this training they have a better understanding of their roles and responsibilities and that they are able to challenge the headteacher about pupils’ progress.”

Finally, the secondary school in need to improve:

  “The local authority knows the school well. It understands students’ performance through the frequent contact of the school improvement officer, regular analysis of performance data and working closely with senior leaders and governors to strategically address identified issues. The local authority is providing a range of effective training, support and professional challenge particularly around addressing the progress of vulnerable students and promoting more effective teaching, which is much appreciated by the school.”

Overall then, the local authority appears to be supporting its schools in ways that are appreciated by the schools. Surely this means that Mr Gove can leave the local authority to get on and manage its own schools?

Perhaps I am cynical- or a political realist- but I think that until more schools become academies in Derby then central government will continue to intervene.

21/02/2013

Note: The above quotes are taken directly from the Inspection Reports for individual schools concerned. They can be found here:

All comments are my own views and do not represent anyone elses! Unless you agree of course…

Comments welcomed.

Added note.  Apparently Ofsted also contacted- but did not inspect- a further 12 schools to sound out their opinion of local authority support. In the letter to Derby City Council, Ofsted state that among the 12 contacted by phone, two were Academies; ie schools that had opted out of local authority provision! As far as I know, there is no public information as to which schools were contacted nor what their specific responses were. Oh well. You can see the letter here:

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