Criticism and praise for Derby schools after a whirlwind Ofsted swoop
AN unprecedented 10 city schools were inspected in one whirlwind week in January by teams from the Office for Standards in Education.
Derby was chosen for the inspection "swoop" after it was suggested by the Ofsted chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, that children in the area have a "much lower chance of attending a good or better school" than those in other parts of the country.
Earlier comments by Mr Wilshaw, and also Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, laid the blame for this at the door of the city council, with the latter remarking he wanted MPs to "act and draw attention to the failure, so far, of those in positions of power in local councils to move fast enough in improving our schools".
So the emergency inspections, which were carried out at random on schools which would have been visited before the end of July, contained three additional questions about the use, quality and impact of local authority support for school improvements.
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How well does the local authority know your school, your performance and the standards your pupils achieve?
What measures are in place to support and challenge your school and how do these help?
What is the impact of the support and challenge over time to help your school improve?
A further 12 "good" or "outstanding" schools were contacted by telephone to be asked the questions as well, plus an extra one about how the council is using the school's strengths to help others improve.
Most of the schools were praiseworthy of the local authority, although some admitted to not using its services frequently.
The results from each school encouragingly showed that four of them improved their Ofsted grading, three remained the same as "good" or "outstanding" and four others swapped "satisfactory" at the last inspection for the new category of "need to improve to be good".
The council has been chided, in a letter, from Sean Harford, Ofsted interim regional director, and told it needs to have a clearer vision for school improvement.
Whether this will lead to an inspection of the authority in the next few months has still to emerge.
Meanwhile, the schools which were inspected will be either congratulating themselves for a job well done or knuckling down to make improvements.
The three schools which retained their "good" rating were:
ST CLARE'S SCHOOL, MICKLEOVER
The school maintained the "outstanding" rating it gained previously in 2010. Inspectors praised head teacher Carmel McKenna and the progress of pupils.
The inspection team praised the council's "appropriately light-touch approach" to the school and said support it provides is "highly valued by the school's leaders".
CENTRAL COMMUNITY NURSERY SCHOOL
A "good" rating from three years ago was retained by the Nuns Street school and the inspectors praised the teaching, interesting activities and good leadership.
The inspectors remarked that the light touch of the council was "appropriate" but it had advised the school's governing body on safeguarding and staff attendance.
REDWOOD PRIMARY SCHOOL, SINFIN
Another school which also retained its "good" rating and pupils were praised for good progress made from low starting points and their good behaviour.
The inspectors discovered that a new school adviser from the council was well-informed about its progress and added that because the school is not one which causes concern, "support has been at a low level with local authority resources directed to less-well-performing schools".
Four schools improved their ratings from "satisfactory" during their last inspections to "good this time".
PORTWAY JUNIOR SCHOOL
The inspectors said that pupils at Portway Junior, in Allestree, were making good progress and that they behave well in lessons and around the school. They said they feel safe in schools and their attendance is well above average.
The city council came in for praise from the inspectors in the Portway Junior report.
They said the council provides " good support and challenge" and the school improvement officer knows the school well through "robust data analysis" and "joint teaching observations with the head teacher".
They added that the knowledge is used to signpost leaders to other schools and external agencies which demonstrate and promote outstanding practice.
BEAUFORT COMMUNITY PRIMARY SCHOOL
Inspectors praised the effective use of teaching assistants and the strong focus on developing speaking, listening, reading and writing skills as the Chaddesden school moved from "satisfactory" to "good".
They were also impressed with good classroom management which leads to good behaviour and supports learning well.
After questioning the school, the inspectors found that until recently, the council had provided "limited challenge or support for the school". They said that a new link officer had "improved communication and provided more rigorous challenge" but had not been in the post long enough to impact on school development.
ROE FARM PRIMARY SCHOOL
Good behaviour, above-average attainment in maths and improved attendance led Chaddesden's Roe Farm Primary to move from "satisfactory" to "good".
Head teacher Kate Williams was praised for her "outstanding" leadership and for making pupils "feel safe and well cared for" in the school.
Again, the inspection team felt the council had "an appropriately light touch for a good school". They said that school leaders have agreed with the council that they will "access support when they need it". The school has strengthened the impact of its senior leadership team as a result of accessing local authority support, according to the inspectors' report.
ST MARY'S CATHOLIC PRIMARY SCHOOL
Pupils are proud to attend St Mary's, in Broadway, according to the inspectors. Good use is made of computing to support learning and pupils behave well and are polite and respectful towards each other and to visitors, helping to move from "satisfactory" to "good".
The report notes that staff care for pupils and pupils say they enjoy coming to school and feel safe, as reflected in their rapidly-improving attendance.
When asked about the school's relationship with the city council, the inspectors were told "the impact of the council's support and challenge over time helping the school to improve has been variable".
Some of this was put down to changes to city council representatives working with the school, resulting in six officers in six years. They concluded that the school does not feel it has been challenged as effectively as it could have been.
The report concluded that there have been "recent signs of improvement in the quality of support provided by the council" and the school continues to still buy into the council's school support package, which is available to all schools to choose to do or otherwise.
Three schools were told they "need to improve to become good", which replaced the "satisfactory" of the last reports, meaning they did not improve on paper in the past three years.
MURRAY PARK SCHOOL
The inspectors said the Mickleover schools' students' achievement, quality of teaching, behaviour and safety and the school's leadership all require improvement.
They added that students' achievements vary considerably and the impact of teaching on students' learning is inconsistent.
The inspectors also criticised the attendance levels, while number of fixed-term exclusions "remains stubbornly high".
But they did praise a shared ambition among school leaders and improvements in behaviour.
The inspectors noted that the school is well-known to the city council and that it is providing a range of training, support and "professional challenge which is much appreciated by the school".
CAVENDISH CLOSE JUNIOR SCHOOL
Inspectors criticised the Chaddesden school because pupils do not make consistently good progress in all classes.
The inspectors also said that teachers do not always plan work that meets the needs of all pupils, meaning that pupils needing extra help or more-able pupils do not always make enough progress.
But the inspectors did note that standards are rising and pupils are making better progress than in the past.
Attendance has improved and pupils' behaviour in lessons and around the school is good.
The inspection team also criticised the council's support to the school, which they labelled "limited" because of too many changes in officers – resulting in four in three years.
But a new support officer in the post since last September has been more helpful and has been able to challenge pupils' achievement through an analysis of test data. The council has provided the governing body with training, enabling members to challenge the head teacher about pupils' progress.
DALE COMMUNITY PRIMARY SCHOOL
Standards in reading, writing and maths need to improve at Dale Community Primary, in Normanton, and the quality of teaching needs to be consistently good.
The inspectors said that plans for improvement are not checked regularly and so it is difficult to see the impact on pupils' achievements.
But they did praise pupils' behaviour and their keenness to learn, They also noted that the school has strong links with the community and its parents. They conceded that improvements since the last inspection were helping to raise results, especially in literacy.
The council came in for some criticism when the inspectors discovered that it had "not been aware that many aspects of the school require improvement".
This meant that council officer visits to the school have "been infrequent and support has been minimal". The inspectors concluded that improvements were down to the school's leaders, although the council had provided training for governors.