Holding schools to account – whose job is it?

The Oaks Primary School
in Ipswich, an ASSET Education school, was recently judged 'outstanding' b

The Oaks Primary School in Ipswich, an ASSET Education school, was recently judged 'outstanding' by Ofsted. Picture: Rachel Edge - Credit: Archant

“We are outstanding!” announced a beaming Year 5 pupil to the assembled ASSET Pupil Parliament last week.

It was the first meeting of the new Parliament and the children were describing their schools to each other. You could sense the pride this pupil felt in his school’s recent Ofsted outcome.

Later in the day we were going to talk about how Ofsted makes its judgements about schools and design our own criteria - the pupil’s checklist for judging the quality of a school! But we had to start by getting to know the important characteristics of each school - each one unique and special in the eyes of its inhabitants.

We heard in turn about the chickens, the two reading dogs, the libraries, the pirate ship, and the school that doesn’t have a uniform. It was interesting to see what they included, what they left out and what mattered most to them.

When Ofsted are inspecting a school they always talk to the children and will seek their views on almost every aspect of the school that they need to make a judgement on. Inspectors even hear children read to check their ability levels and attitudes to reading. In order to be judged ‘outstanding’ a school needs to go through a thorough two day inspection called a ‘Section 5’.

It feels as if inspectors leave no stone unturned, unlike their one day ‘Section 8’ inspections which are pretty light touch in comparison.

A Section 8 inspection is designed to check that a good school remains good and usually occurs approximately once every three years.

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Currently ‘outstanding’ schools don’t generally get re-inspected unless problems emerge and become apparent to the authorities.

This means that judging whether your local school is providing a good quality of education is not always easy for parents.

If there has been a recent Ofsted inspection then you can be pretty sure. But it might have been years since the last inspection and, if that is the case, the inspection would have been conducted using an old criteria framework which will inevitably have changed quite a bit. Schools need to account to Ofsted for the quality of provision they provide and it is absolutely right for a school’s Ofsted inspection report to be your first port of call for checking the quality of the education provided – but inspections are too infrequent to rely on Ofsted holding schools to account and other more local and more frequent mechanisms are needed.

If every community is going to have a good school at its centre so that children living in that community get a good education then it follows that communities themselves need to be able to hold schools to account and have mechanisms to be able to know how good their schools are.

Unfortunately we do hear about schools that are failing without the community seemingly being aware and others where communities are angry about the quality of education provided by the school with no power to take any action or do anything about it.

Having good local governance in place is essential.

Governance with a mechanism to take action and express their views to whichever authority runs the school whether it be a local authority, the diocese or a multi-academy trust.

Schools need to be accountable to their local community, to every parent and child living there and they need to serve their community by providing a great education for all the young people growing up in it.

Days spent with our Pupil Parliament children from across our ten schools are always the bright spot in my calendar.

Listening to children has got to be one of the most important things we can do. They will tell you how it is, what they think of school, how they are learning, what is getting in the way and how things could be better.

Ultimately they are the consumers and only they know what it is like to experience what the school offers so if you want to know how good a school is, you know what to do!

- Clare Flintoff is the chief executive officer of ASSET Education, which runs 10 schools across Suffolk.

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