When is the right time to go?

This morning I woke up and read a few tweets about OFSTED on #helpSean and the blog that resonated the most was by @heymisssmith following her recent visit to Ofsted Towers .

I remember my own visit to @mcladingbowl in Manchester last August. I went with a spring in my step and came away with a conviction that things were changing for the better. I sat up half the night writing my blog, checking and re- checking my notes to ensure I presented a fair and balanced view of the meeting. Mike was passionate about schools delivering an excellent standard of education to every child and I wanted to convey that passion. I had asked PRU colleagues on Twitter what questions they wanted me to ask him and was fortunate to be able to pass on Mike’s considered replies. He admitted he knew little about PRUs but accepted that we were teaching vulnerable, damaged children whose SEMH was a barrier to learning and seemed sympathetic to our commitment to breaking down those barriers before we could impact on this.

Fast forward nearly 12 months and we have a new lead in place…Sean Harford. Sean seems a nice man, forward- thinking and  committed and , like Mike, wants to seek the views of the twitterati  amongst others. Trains converge in London, a meeting is held, views are exchanged and tweeps busily tweet and blog their findings. Sean even sets up a hash tag #helpSean and all is right with the world. Except it isn’t.

There is at least one dissenting voice who writes a  ‘not about OFSTED ‘ blog which strikes a chord with this very disillusioned Deputy. So what has changed for me? Well….OFSTED. They descended upon us a few weeks ago and left us with an RI judgement! Now I have promised a good Twitter friend that I will not blog about it and I won’t blog about the process because a) as a school we have decided not to appeal (you don’t poke a stick in a hornet’s nest) and b) I don’t want to be unprofessional and bitter. We just need to get on with things now. However I will blog on why we got RI…..in a word…data.

First up our lead asked for everything we’d got on data. Now, foolishly, I was very confident that our processes were good as their roots were in our last, outstanding, inspection. Numbers in a PRU are small so we very much personalise it using PIVATS which measure very small steps of progress; this is important for our children, many of whom come with undiagnosed SEN and significant behavioural difficulties/ SEMH. The conversation got off to a bad start when the LI talked about national progress indicators …..I admit I didn’t know what he was talking about (sadly for us) but quickly found out they were NC levels based and dated back to 2010!!!! But , you may say, this is ‘life after levels’ and only possibly relevant to years 2 and 6 at primary level? Not in the world of OFSTED!! However, Mr LI was prepared, seemingly, to give us a light touch on this, particularly as it was in our SEF to look for something more robust and relevant. Interviews with governors/ managers were held with everything pointing to ‘ good’. Happy days! The next day we got word that HMI were coming in and suddenly everything changed. Our local authority were very supportive and being ‘ helpful’ handed over some data reports they had concocted…..but LI and HMI now had a plethora of data which conflicted and confused. Holed up in a little room they came to a very different conclusion from the previous day and despite judging behaviour and safety ( our core purpose) as good….the data told a different tale……RI. Now there is a lot more to our story because RI reverses every judgement……teaching and learning, management, governance…..you name it and it is all crap! Even though nothing less than good was observed, ‘bad’ data trumped the lot!!! The children (mostly) did us proud but that counted for nought! Rubbish data? One Y6 boy with extreme anger issues moved from Level 2 to Level 4 in four terms after we engaged an attachment specialist who delivered a therapeutic teaching programme!! We have 13 year 6 this year and ALL have taken SATS….a testament to the success of our teaching and learning!!! Not as simple as it sounds….pupils everywhere…one boy was so anxious his mum came and sat in each day! I thought of Mike and his insistence on the best for all. 13 disaffected, anxious boys all taking SATS….surely we delivered the best we possibly could? Didn’t we? Apparently not, according to HMI…sorry I mean OFSTED!….I still don’t know about the role of the HMI….we thought to oversee the work of the LI…..but on day 2 he pulled all the strings and judgements were reversed without us having any recourse to challenge. He stuck closely to the side of the LI and thwarted any attempts by our HT to engage said LI in conversation or ask him why he had changed his mind in such a big way. Sorry my twitter friend but I will stray from professionalism by saying the whole thing was an utter disgrace. The subsequent report was a work of fiction (it had to be cos of judgement) but hey ho we have to live with it! We can’t challenge it in any meaningful way because worse things may follow! Sean, consult away, but your meetings have as much relevance to real life as a winged horse does to a donkey meet in Blackpool!

So, moving to the title of my blog….when IS the right time to go? And why? I love my job and like to think, in a small way, I make a real difference to the lives of our pupils. OFSTED please note…..I have taken at least a dozen pupils this academic year to consideration of an Education Health and Care Plan from scratch!!!! And one statement reversed before appeal!!!! All except 2 are destined for specialist provision!!! OFSTED would be better advised to look into permanent exclusions and why they happen rather than criticise our provision which seeks to repair damaged lives!! Recently I lost my dad and death concentrates the mind wonderfully. I really feel now that I have had enough and hope to take early retirement next summer…..I have battled away for our kids but it has worn me away to a shadow…literally….I am physically getting thinner and my life revolves around work. Enough is enough. So what next? I actually want to stay in education and hope to start a consultancy in SEN and behaviour management. I hope to do well…..there’s a lot of need out there. Also I feel I need to be in mainstream striving to prevent exclusion and looking at unmet needs. PRUs are unnatural, if vital, and do not prepare our kids for real life…..they form a protective bubble around them and cocoon them from their problems. The talk at the moment from schools is about extending our PRU provision rather than tackling problems head-on, but that is pie in the sky! In recent years, PRUs in our county have halved , and a halfway house set in a large primary school has shut! Our PRU is now at capacity so soon schools will be forced to take permanent exclusions themselves! Economic reality is the only reality I’m afraid! That aint gonna change any time soon! Conversely, some schools are saying that our PRUs don’t give value for money and object to being top sliced to fund us. If that happens we will no longer be able to give free help and advice and I foresee problems spiralling out of control which will be costly in the longer term……in lives as well as cash!

So yes I am thinking of going…..I have told my HT so she can plan for the future…..no one is currently capable of carrying out my SENCO role and this needs thinking about. I do care very much for our school and am willing us to overcome the ill- judged RI and succeed; we deserve to. I have one more year in me (just) and I will make it count but fighting the good fight has knocked the stuffing out of me I’m afraid! My fear is that OFSTED and their ilk will destroy provision that seeks to help those on the fringes of society due to political and economic pressures but on a personal front it’s time for someone else to take up the baton. I admit I cried this morning…..it has been, admittedly, an emotional week clearing out my dad’s house…..but my tears were for our kids and our school and our decent, committed staff. And for me.

Acronyms : I’ve done it again and used acronyms which others may not understand! Sorry for that!
SEN…special educational needs
SENCO….special ed needs coordinator
RI…..room for improvement…bad but not as bad as inadequate!
LI…..lead inspector
HMI…her majesty’s inspector
SEF….self evaluation form
OFSTED…..dreaded inspection machine
PRU….pupil referral unit….home of excluded pupils
NC…..national curriculum
PIVATS….assessment scheme measuring small steps of progress
SEMH….social emotional and mental health
EHC PLANS. ….replace statements for children with spec ed needs
SATS…..exams for Y2 and Y6 phased out this year
I think that’s it now!!