Council issues challenge to Ofsted report

Education: A state school says that inspectors misjudged them, while the private sector claims record support
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The Independent Online
A LOCAL authority is challenging publicly the verdict of school inspectors that an inner-city primary is failing.

In a highly unusual move, Professor Tim Brighouse, Birmingham's chief education officer, has issued a statement saying that inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) were wrong to fail Christ Church primary school just after it had achieved "phenomenal" national test results.

The school has appealed to Ofsted, alleging that the inspectors were "intimidating".

Just over a year ago, inspectors found that the school, where more than two-thirds have free school meals and a similar proportion speak English as a second language, had "significant weaknesses". After a second two- and-a-half-day visit by different inspectors this June, the 231-pupil school was told it was failing. Six weeks later, however, Brenda Hyde, the head, received this year's national test results.

They were, says Professor Brighouse, "phenomenal". In English, 59 per cent of children reached the expected level, compared with 28 per cent in the previous year. In mathematics the figure was 66 per cent compared with 31 per cent and in science 69 per cent compared with 14 per cent.

Professor Brighouse also sent in his own local education authority advisers whose view was the same as that of the first set of inspectors - the school had weaknesses, particularly in planning and marking pupils' work, but it was definitely not failing.

Heads and local authorities have been reluctant to challenge Ofsted decisions but Professor Brighouse said: "The acid test of a school is `would you send your own children there?' - in this case, I would have no hesitation. There are occasions when you think Ofsted and HMI have got it a bit wrong - this is one of those occasions. Indeed, they have it more than a bit wrong."

Professor Brighouse's challenge comes after a furore over the reappointment of Chris Woodhead, who leads Ofsted. Mr Woodhead and Professor Brighouse, who are joint vice-chairmen of the Government's Standards Task Force, have clashed before over Ofsted's report on the local authority.

Ms Hyde said: "I was told after the inspectors had been in the school for only a day that it was likely to fail. Last year, a team came in who said that most of the teaching was satisfactory or better. Now it is unsatisfactory. Does that mean another team can come in and find that it's completely different?"

Only two of the 10 teachers at the 231-pupil school had changed and one of the new teachers had just received a good Ofsted report at his previous school. The other, Ms Hyde said, was not observed.

The school has been told that it cannot challenge the decision. However, the Rev Simon Holloway, vice-chair of the governors, said: "The governors agreed to appeal over the way the inspection was carried out. It was intimidating and demoralising If the same thing is happening in other schools we believe that if one school challenges the system this may stop the rot The previous inspection was a positive experience."

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said that a reply to part of the school's letter had been sent and another letter would be sent about the rest. "Inspection is about more than just test results for a particular year," she added.

The inspectors' report showed that the quality of teaching was satisfactory or better in only half the lessons. For the juniors, under one-third of lessons were satisfactory.

The only way the school could overturn the inspectors' judgement would be by going for a judicial review, she said.

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