Education Quandary: Our children’s flourishing primary school has been put in special measures. Do inspectors know how much damage this does?

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

I'm sure that they do, at least up to a point, but I'm equally sure they would say that it isn't their job to worry about the effects of their verdicts. It is only their job to call it as they see it. The Ofsted inspection framework is undoubtedly harsh and arbitrary, based on checklists and tick boxes, and delivered in a way that – if the verdict is a bad one – appears designed to do maximum harm. Having said that, your school has been put in special measures mainly because the inspectors felt that teachers there were not tracking the pupils' progress closely enough to help them make good progress, and this is a very serious failing.

Parents are up in arms because they love their children's school, know that it "adds value" to pupils' learning, and fear that all the painstaking work of the previous head to rehabilitate this once-failing school into the local community will now be undone. But, while this negative judgment is obviously a real blow, the inspectors' finding does need to be addressed urgently.

Accept the judgment with the best grace you can muster, along with the extra help and support it will bring to the school. At the same time, mobilise parents to support teachers, and talk up all the good things about the school in the press, and in the local community. Nothing ultimately matters more to a school's local reputation than happy, successful children and its reputation on the parental grapevine.

Readers' advice

Our school was also put in special measures even though the weaknesses that the inspectors identified were already being addressed and good progress was beginning to be made. The verdict was based on historic data, but we were unable to reverse it and, as a result, although some improvements were put in place they were far outweighed by the fact that the school was unable to attract a good mix of pupils in the years after it had had this label slapped across it. Where were the inspectors then?

Helen Vaughan, Derbyshire

The whole point of inspectors is that they take a snapshot of a school at a moment in time. It is not their job to consider the history of any school, or the effect their decisions will have. They are trained to take cool and dispassionate decisions and it is because of their work that parents can get an objective picture of any school they are considering for their children.

Lee Aden, London, SW10

Schools put in special measures suffer in all kinds of ways. Teachers leave, and those who stay on can be traumatised and demoralised. Pupils know that their school has been deemed "not good enough", and feel the same. The school's reputation plummets and parents shun it. Yes, there can be good educational results, but do these really need to be outweighed by such public shaming? Surely we could find a much kinder – and better – way of helping schools to improve.

Paula Jennings, Oxford

Next week's quandary

We have just been to a parent-teacher evening at our two sons' secondary school. One form teacher kept using the word "metacognition" in talking about how he taught. We nodded and smiled but, quite honestly, we hadn't a clue what he was talking about. Are we stupid? What does it mean?

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