School inspections branded damaging

BAD school inspections are sparking off a downward spiral of low morale, teacher sickness and behavioural problems among pupils, an Essex headteacher warned yesterday .

By Juliette Maxam

BAD school inspections are sparking off a downward spiral of low morale, teacher sickness and behavioural problems among pupils, an Essex headteacher warned yesterday .

Robert Emuss, headteacher of Coppins Green primary school, Clacton, and president of the National Primary Schools Association, this week met with Ofsted's senior primary schools inspector Roger Shippam calling for urgent action.

Mr Emuss told the government inspector about problems schools face when they are put on special measures and suggested ways in which the Ofsted inspection process could be improved to offer more support to failing schools.

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The number of schools put on special measures increased by a third in the last academic year. In north Essex four primary schools are on special measures: Frobisher, Jaywick; Holy Trinity, Halstead; Templars Infants, Witham; and Langenhoe Community schools.

Ofsted is currently overhauling schools inspections and is undergoing a public consultation.

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Mr Emuss said: “The new Ofsted framework they're building needs to be a far more supportive method of inspecting schools, not one which goes in with a big whip and puts schools into special measures.

“When a school goes into special measures it's the most demoralising thing that ever happens. Morale hits rock bottom. Many good teachers leave. It immediately affects children. You get behavioural issues and you get lack of support from parents and the spiral continues.

“There's no doubt about it when a school goes into decline staff start having nervous problems, not just class teachers, but also learning support assistants and the senior management team, and then you start getting illness and they take time off. Supply teachers replace class teachers and this affects children's learning and morale.

“Through Ofsted we have to try to break that spiral and find a way we can support schools that are not doing very well.”

Mr Emuss told Mr Shippam schools should be told what improvements are needed, given a chance to make them and only then put on special measures if necessary after re-inspection.

Mr Shippam agreed to add Mr Emuss' comments to his consultation report.

Mr Emuss stepped in to lead Frobisher School while it was without a headteacher.

He said Frobisher had now found the strength to pull up its socks and looks set to emerge from special measures early.

Martyn Long, headteacher at Templars Infant School, said one teacher had taken early retirement since the school went into special measures at the end of last term.

“It's a very rough time for teachers, a very difficult time,” he added.

Julie Willmott, a teacher at Langenhoe, said: “We were really upset. We were shocked when we were put on special measures. Everybody just wants to leave. Everybody felt so low and there was no recognition for what they had done.”

She said it had an unsettling effect on pupils. “We are getting more tired and run down. That makes the children more jumpy. They know something's going on, but don't know what. It's like a divorce.”

Another Langenhoe teacher, Cathy Roberts, said: “It knocks the morale out of you. We have had to work incredibly hard to keep morale up. Fortunately we have most incredible support from parents.”

Colchester and North East Essex National Union of Teachers case work secretary Fran Wagstaff said: “Putting schools on special measures often has a devastating effect on staff morale and self esteem. There's no audit of the numbers of staff who leave with no secure job prospects or due to stress or unrealistic working hours.”

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