In 2006 we moved counties and were looking for a new primary school. We chose our school for a number of reasons and not particularly for the Ofsted report, but we were pleased to see it was marked as "Good". The school maintained this rating at the 2007 inspection. By then the children had been there a year, and we knew we had found an extraordinarily good school that nurtured their needs
In 2010 when Ofsted inspectors came in, we were told the rating system had changed. Prior to the inspection, the headteacher changed the rules of parents entering the premises, as she'd been warned another primary in the area had failed their inspection because parents were allowed on site and this was a breach of safeguarding rules. Suddenly inspection felt a threatening process. Teachers reported a marked change in the tone of the inspection. Inspectors were rude and dismissive. During a school mass, one of them sat throughout making notes with no respect for the religious ceremony he was part of, and seemingly ignoring the importance of the event for the cohesion of the school. It noted that parents overwhelmingly valued the school and believed their children were being taught well. The inspectors dismissed this with a comment that parents did not have a good enough understanding of education to make this judgement. The report downgraded the school from good, to satisfactory. As parents, we had witnessed no change in the quality of the teaching, the ethos and spirit of the school, or our children's enjoyment. What had changed was the approach from Ofsted.
At the same time, we'd observed another phenomena, locally a couple of secondary schools had failed Ofsted and had been placed in special measures. Thanks to the new Academies Act, this empowered the secretary of state and/or the local authority to force schools into academy status. The local authority followed up by embracing the academisation of schools as it fits with a local agenda of being a commissioning authority. Local secondary schools quickly got the message - academies are the norm, and if you hold out, you have the constant pressure of a critical Ofsted report which will force you into academy status. Three years later, the vast majority are now academies. Not only that, primary schools are being encouraged to form academies in groups, and our own school (which had a "needs improvement" Ofsted this year, despite, again, no change in quality or ethos from our perspective) has joined with other primaries and the local secondary to become a multi-academy.
The process of becoming an academy is deeply undemocratic. Either the secretary of state decides for you (as he did with the popular Downhills school in Tottenham despite parents voting against the decision), or the school decides. And you have a six week consultation period to make your mind up. In our case, this meant one meeting was organised at short notice on a cold winter's night, attended by less than 50 people, none of whom felt any more informed at the end of the meeting then they had at the beginning. And the benefits of academisation are yet to be seen. Across the country there are reports of head teachers, and leadership team having massive pay increases for effectively doing the same job they have always done, meanwhile lower paid staff have their terms and conditions changed, salaries reduced, and often, in the case of administrators, hours reduced. This has certainly been the case for at least one local academy. Results have been patchy to say the least. The first two local schools to become academies have had varied results. The first, is still failing to achieve national standards on GSCE's and has recently had a poor Ofsted report. The second, is apparently more successful, but other local secondaries have complained because of the way that school has presented their GSCE results, which have apparently excluded the poorer performing students. That particular school is also undertaking an aggressive marketing exercise to encourage the brighter pupils in each year group to apply, effectively creating a selection process by the back door. This sort of behaviour is being replicated across the country.
It's a depressing story, but the picture is about to become even more depressing. Michael Gove recently announced that local authorities whose child protection teams were failing could be put into independent hands. And yet again local authorities are finding Ofsted have changed the criteria by which they judge authorities. Whilst there are undoubtedly local authorities who have had severe failings in terms of child protection, this is a complex area of social care provision, which is often impossible to get right. At least, under a local authority mantle, there is some accountability and system of control.
Whilst Gove's announcement brings the possibility of respected providers such as NSPCC and Barnardo's into the marketplace, the worry is that it also brings in G4S, Serco etc, who are already providing children's services despite a poor track record in this area. The prospect of companies, who have been widely condemned for their mistreatment of vulnerable people across the world, who have been proved to be inefficient with public funding, being in charge of child protection services beggars belief. But it's on its way, and judging by the way academies were rolled out so quickly, all it is going to take is for a few Ofsted failures, and local authorities will quickly get the message. Outsource, or it will be done for you.
The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.
Regulators Preparing for Privatisation © Anonymous 2014.
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