John Bald is a former Ofsted inspector.
The scintillating Ofsted report on Michaela Community School, is a triumph for Headmistress Katharine Birbalsingh, for her colleagues, and for Michael Gove, whose reforms made the school possible. As Michaela does not yet have GCSE results, the report is based on direct observation and first hand evidence rather than data.
This adds to its validity, as gaming and fraud have become so prevalent that no evaluation based on GCSE can be relied on. Amanda Spielman was quite right to target the latest scam – a European ICT passport that takes two days’ work – in her brilliant talk to the Wellington Festival of Education last week. Nicky Morgan must be pleased to see her doing so well – confirming her appointment, against the objections of the Education Select Committee, was the most important decision she took as Secretary of State.
The strengths in Michaela’s report cover every aspect of its work except physical education, where it has constraints because of its site. Our opponents have accused the Headmistress of elitism, and yet inspectors found pupils with special needs making outstanding progress, alongside the “rapid” progress of all groups of pupils from their starting points.
The pupils are supposed to be bullied into submission by the school’s discipline, and yet they “develop a love of books and reading”, “share their ideas readily…ask questions of others, and listen attentively.” Leadership and management of teaching is “extremely strong”, giving staff a “shared understanding of successful teaching approaches”. “Pupils’ knowledge and understanding of fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, respect and tolerance, prepare them exceptionally well for life in modern Britain.” “Teachers routinely set demanding tasks that motivate pupils and encourage them to think hard. Pupils’ exemplary social skills are developed through the activities teachers select.”
Every section of the report could be quoted in similar vein, and it is supported by very high levels of satisfaction from parents on Ofsted’s Parent Voice. If you are a parent, please read this report, as well as the Parent Voice profile, and compare them with those of your children’s school. If yours are not as good, ask the headteacher and governors – perhaps one governor to begin with – what is to be done to improve the situation.
Our Party’s current troubles stem largely from the fact, as I explained in my last article, that too many people did not feel they had good reasons to vote Conservative. Michaela Community School is a very good reason to do so. All of us who have supported Katharine Birbalsingh since she stood up and told the truth at our Conference in 2010 will want to stand and cheer.
So, what next? The first of the major examination changes has taken place this year, with the abolition of coursework / controlled assessments in English and maths. Most other subjects will follow next year, and this will put paid to one form of overwork for teachers and cheating by management.
The pointless AS examination has shown a rapid fall in entry this year, and schools could easily save a lot of money by dropping it and setting their own examinations instead. Languages, however, continue to suffer at GCSE, and schools are actively discouraging anyone not certain of a higher grade pass from studying them at all. Amanda Spielman’s action against such attitudes needs to be clear and strong enough to cut them out.
Finally, we need to correct some of our own mistakes. The first is the over-reliance on management that began with Labour’s catastrophic education acts of 2005 and 2006. Too many headteachers were given the same powers as Sir Michael Wilshaw and Katharine Birbalsingh when they did not have the skills and character to exercise them properly, and this has led to cheating and bullying.
Sir Michael’s comments on mediocre academy chains need to be considered in the same light – there are too many fat cat salaries and expense accounts, and not enough action against financial abuse. Finally, the crucial error of allowing academies and free schools a complete opt out of the National Curriculum should be altered to a formal requirement to use it as a baseline, offering more where possible, but not less. This is what Mossbourne started, and what the best of free schools and academies are doing, and children deserve no less.