Discussion Forum
Failing Schools

From James G
Saturday, 28 November 2009

What's going on with the schools in Hebden Bridge area?
Most people will be aware of the problems at Stubbings, looks like the head is looking at some serious consequences.

We are waiting for the release of the inspection report of another Hebden Primary which will put the school into a OFSTED 'category' over safeguarding concerns.

Then another primary school further down the valley towards Halifax will see its league table ranking plummet next week when its disastrous maths KS2 maths results are released. Several parents have already taken their children out the school which is due its OFSTED inspection very soon.

From Rebecca Y
Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Stubbings is a good school with excellent, hard-working, committed staff who provide a caring, nurturing environment for our children. I hope parents who are currently deciding where to enrol their children will see beyond the headlines and find out for themselves what a special place it is.

From Paul D
Thursday, 3 December 2009

James - I don’t think we have any failing schools and again it’s a little frustrating to see the same name cropping up whenever failure is mentioned. The concerns at Stubbings were always about after school provision, they've since extended into whisperings about the quality of provision – but ask parents who have, or do use the school and the picture is very different.

Safeguarding concerns have affected a number of schools using private after school provision that was located at Stubbings. Again it must be stressed this provision was not provided by the school, so any questions around insurance (or lack of it) and CRBs should be directed at the provider (or the directors of that company), not the school, nor at any current members of staff. Moreover, there needs to be a little care taken in conflating some very different issues and coming up with what looks like a story. The Bridge Times, which must google all its content as opposed to actually employing professional journalists, did just that, smearing (in my view) not only the school, but one of our better local politicians.

The evidence in the public domain at least, suggests that we have very good schools, performing well even using the quite narrow criteria of test scores, schools highly regarded by parents and containing predominantly highly motivated and skilled staff.

Failure is a very strong way of describing some relatively minor issues around governance and fluctuations in outcomes that are cyclical and largely based on natural staff turnover. Leadership is often cited as the key, but local parents’ commitment to schools such as Stubbings should not be ignored. Parents are experts – we know the difference between a good and a bad school. Would you place your trust in parents or in an inspectorate accused of falsifying its data to suit a government minister’s agenda? In a classroom teacher, or in the inspector who spent more time driving to and from the school than observing her teaching? In an experienced school head, or in a newspaper editor who thinks gossip make good copy? We have good schools – that’s my point.

From James G
Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Hi Paul, your loyalty to the Stubbings cause is laudable, we shall see what happens there shall we....?

Lets also look at the facts now in the public domain:

Hebden Royd has failed its OFSTED inspection almost entirely due to Safeguarding issues.

Luddenden Dene will almost certainly fails its inspection - have you seen the league tables? 35% L4+ in maths is the lowest percentage for any subject in any school in Calderdale.

I'd also like to pick up on one other of your points:

"parents are experts - we know the difference between good and a bad school".

In my long experience of working in primary schools I must take issue with this. Parents may be experts in what they do in their own professions, if they have one. But few are experts in education. Any more than they are experts in medicine, that's why we have Doctors rather than self-prescription.

From Neil Moloney
Wednesday, 9 December 2009

I agree with Rebecca and Paul's comments on Stubbings. As a parent of a child at the school, and Chair of the Governors there I should know what I am talking about!

When Ofsted visited earlier in the year they had concerns about how the adults in charge of running the school (the governors, the local authority and the head) were working together. We have worked hard to sort out what was wrong and real progress has been made.

There were problems relating to the management of the out of school club but these have been resolved. Under the excellent headship of Kath Godfrey, the school is a place where pupils and parents are happy and where the staff are dedicated and caring. The school is not failing, it’s thriving.

From Graham Barker
Thursday, 10 December 2009

James - Having read your posts, I’m not at all sure what your point is. Are you saying that schools in the area are failing on the evidence of a mixture of Ofsted statistics, rumour and sloppy journalism?

Stubbings has excellent teachers who gave two of my children an education that couldn’t be faulted. Any current problems almost certainly won’t intrude into the classroom. The ‘safeguarding’ problem at Hebden Royd centres, so I’m informed, on whether an outside gate should be kept locked (Ofsted) or unlocked (fire authorities). Either way, nothing to do with education. I know nothing about Luddenden Dene but their maths results sound like an aberration for which there will be an explanation, and probably a swift remedy.

No school, or any other organisation, will run perfectly all of the time, and not all problems are automatically the fault of teachers. I’m hearing some disturbing things about the way Ofsted operates, so maybe that’s where you should be looking for at least some failings.

And you may perhaps wish to reconsider your comments about parents and their expertise. Significant numbers of parents in HB will be qualified teachers, or have relatives or friends who are teachers, or will even have clear memories of their own education to use as a benchmark. As for your medical analogy: if most of us didn’t routinely and successfully ‘self-prescribe’, every doctor’s surgery would have a queue a mile long.

From a parent’s perspective, when children are in primary education only two questions really matter: are they happy, and are they making steady progress across the board? As long as the answer to both is yes, the odd glitch in the statistics is of no great importance.

From Rev Tony Buglass
Thursday, 10 December 2009

I'm sure there are good Ofsted inspectors, who produce good and professional reports. There are others who are simply officious wallies. Several years ago, I did regular assemblies in a church school - it was an excellent school, my youngest son went there, I worked closely with the staff, they were all dedicated, brilliant, and produced good results. Their Osted inspection criticised them for a 'lack of spirituality' - when the head asked him to define spirituality, he said "Oh, you can't define it, but you know when it's not there." Leaving aside the fact that is incoherent nonsense, to leave a slur like that on a church school's report is seriously damaging, and in this case deeply wounding to very good teachers. Fortunately, a second inspection a few weeks later produced the gold-star report they deserved.

Having seen that, and been suspicious from the start of the politics behind the establishment of Ofsted, I am not willing to take their reports at face value. They need to demonstrate more clearly that they are right. In this case, if the school is condemned because they cannot satisfy contradictory demands by different authorities, it is up to those authorities to get their act together before uttering such damaging comments against hard-working and dedicated staff.

I have done regular assemblies in a wide variety of schools for nearly 30 years. I take my hat off to the teachers - they do a great job.

From Larry Kin
Monday, 14 December 2009

An inability to be able to offer a definition of a term with necessary and sufficient conditions for an appropriate application of that term doesn't indicate that one cannot recognise when that term is appropriately applied. Wittgenstein made a fairly convincing case for the claim that we cannot offer necessary and sufficient conditions for something to count as a game, yet we can reliably recognise when something is or isn't a game. So you might think that the inspector was being, contra the Rev, entirely coherent when he claimed that he couldn't offer a definition of spirituality but could recognise it's absence.

As an aside, the resolution of which doesn't bear on the above argument, it would interesting to see if the Rev could offer necessary and sufficient conditions for something to count as spiritual, and to do so without reliance on terms which fail to enlighten us as to the meaning of 'spiritual'. A failure to do so would presumably, by his own lights, suggest that he's not qualified to class his sermons as spiritual.

I do however agree that the Ofsted report sounds bad in the case he cites - an absence of spirituality at a school should be a positive not a negative thing, it leaves more room for informed and reasoned education and removes the indoctrination effect.

From Rev Tony Buglass
Monday, 14 December 2009

Larry, I think you're confusing "spirituality" with "religion" - they overlap, but they're not the same. I know quite a few folk in Hebden who will affirm that they're into spirituality but are not at all interested in religion.

As far as Wittgenstein is concerned, I beg to differ. We cannot always recognise when something is or is not a game - some folk may think it is, others don't. We might wish to explore the issue of adequate or inadequate definitions for something - I would argue that something is in part defined by its absence, by the shape of the hole it leaves.

As regards spirituality, it exists in many contexts not necessarily related to religion - music, poetry, aesthetics, etc. In the school in question, every morning the children came into assembly to a piece of music; they were encouraged to be quiet and listen. There were plenty of prints of artworks on the walls, as well as a fishtank and plants. I would argue that these are elements of a community aesthetic which has a spiritual dimension, as it engages people at a non-rational level, and enables a different kind of response. The Ofsted inspector was asked about this, but simply dismissed the whole thing by the incoherence which I quoted - "You know when it isn't there." Well, if you know when something isn't there, you thereby have at least some idea of what is absent. He couldn't see that.

As for my sermons, well, they are always profound, engaging, witty, practical and spiritual, accessible, intelligent, and never too long. Aren't they, folks? Folks? Anybody there?... :)

From Larry Kin
Monday, 14 December 2009

The claimed confusion of spirituality with religion (I assume you meant that I'm confusing the things rather than the words 'spirituality' and 'religion' despite your use of quotes which suggests the latter), seems unsubstantiated.

Wittgenstein exegesis is little off the point, but Philosophical Investigations sections 65 onwards makes it fairly clear that he thinks one can recognise when something is a game and yet one cannot offer a definition of 'game'. The key point was one doesn't need to be able to offer a definition of a term in order to be able to recognise when it is being appropriately applied - the game example illustrates this nicely, one can recognise that the term 'game' is appropriately applied to chess, yet one cannot give a definition of that term, similarly one might expect that one can tell when the term 'spirituality' is applied and yet not be able to give a definition of it.

I fear talk of something being defined by its absence is a rather stark category mistake, the sorts of things that are defined are words or phrases, I have no idea what it would mean to say that e.g. 'game' (i.e. the word) is defined by the absence of the word 'game'.

You argue that to know that spirituality is absent one most have some idea of what is absent, perhaps this is correct but in any case it fails to address the point that one doesn't have to be able to give a definition of a term in order to know that the term is being inappropriately applied - I cannot give a definition of the term 'game' but I know that it would be inappropriate to say that a brick is a game. Your earlier post suggested that the inspector merely claimed that he couldn't offer a definition of 'spirituality' but could nevertheless spot when there was an absence of it, that seems like a perfectly coherent position, for just the same reasons.

I note you haven't given a definition of 'spirituality' but have merely offered some examples with which one might come to recognise when it is being appropriately applied, so you don't seem to be much better off that the inspector even assuming that you case against him was a good one. The sorts of things you cite as being spiritual only serve to reinforce my suspicion that the presence of spirituality should be counted as a demerit in a school report.

From Maureen Brian
Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Larry, leave the Rev alone already!

If someone - Ofsted inspector or anyone else - says that X is missing but cannot indicate how s/he knows it is missing, what s/he expected to find but didn't we have a problem. How would that person recognise "spirituality" if it did exist?

My first thought here, as an atheist, would be that here we have a jobsworth who mistakes religiosity for spirituality but is too insecure to discuss such matters, especially with the local Methodist Superindendent. Not a promising start if something must be done about it and pronto.

I remember when I was a school governor and setting up a new school - the forced marriage of two ill-matched schools in a great hurry. Our first job, in a deprived and very mixed community, was to create a space within which all the pupils and all their parents would feel safe. An overt display of anything at all sufficient to be noticed by an idiot would have defeated that purpose.

That doesn't mean we ignored things under the spirituality/religion heading, just that respect for the individual child and where s/he was coming from was significantly more important that putting on displays for passing inspectors, especially inspectors who could not define their terms.

As for games, please give that a bit more thought. Playing the markets and in seven-figure sums was, I am sure, a great game for some people a couple of years ago. Much bullying is described, at least initially, as "just a game" - except for those on the receiving end in both cases.

From Rev Tony Buglass
Wednesday, 16 December 2009

"The sorts of things you cite as being spiritual only serve to reinforce my suspicion that the presence of spirituality should be counted as a demerit in a school report."

Then I'm very glad you're not in charge of education. Music, art, literature, aesthetics - not good things? Are we back to Mr Gradgrind and hard facts, or AJ Ayer and logical positivism? I think not - being human is much more than that, and educating our children is much more than teaching them facts and figures. It's about a wide range of nurture.

As far as spirituality, definitions and/or presence thereof, the next school inspector knew exactly what she was talking about, and the school was well-praised.

From Larry Kin
Thursday, 17 December 2009

Clearly spending time appreciating the arts is a good thing, as is being taught how to appreciate and critically evaluate the arts, as is having art on the walls to brighten the place up. If the claim is merely that such things are an appropriate part of an education then we're in agreement.

It looked though like you were claiming something stronger, it looked like you were claiming that there was something non-rational about one's engagement with the arts and it was this non-rational aspect that should in part be fostered. The implicature from what you said was that this non-rational part to the engagement isn't simply unmediated emotional responses to the works of art (since we have words to talk about emotional responses, namely 'emotional responses') but was something else. It's this move to the belief in the something else that's worrying and shouldn't be taught or fostered since it's entirely unnecessary to resort to it to achieve the aim of appreciating art.

I don't really see how the logical positivist programme precluded an appreciation of the arts, certainly it's taken to preclude the existence of that which cannot be empirically verified (and so probably an independent realm of the spiritual on most usual interpretations of the term 'spiritual') but it's quite a leap to suggest that it's not consistent with the claim that all that exists is that which is empirically verifiable that there is no room for the appreciation of art.

Of course the logical positivist programme is dead, but there are plenty of replacement metaontological theories and it's eminently plausible that one can couch within one such theory an account of the world that allows for an appreciation of the arts but which avoids requiring one to posit spirituality as something that exists independently of the delusions of those who feel the need to plug explanatory gaps with it rather than search for some more plausible explanation.

Presumably you checked with the subsequent inspector that she could offer a definition of 'spiritual' of the form 'x is spiritual if and only if ...' so that you could be sure that she'd applied the test appropriately.

From Howard B
Thursday, 17 December 2009

Ayup lads,

Apologies for bursting any bubbles, but I think Ofsted's policies have less to do with Wittgenstein and more to do with a knee-jerk to Ofsted's own failings; particularly the high profile cases such as Baby P and Victoria Climbie, ad infinitum.

These schools (or one in particular) are not failing, they are 'under notice to improve', due to recent changes introduced by Ofsted, regarding unprecedented detail relating to safeguarding children. E.g. if you've got a hole in fence, you are under notice to improve; it is a child protection issue and child protection 'trumps' everything else. On the other hand, if a school has no perimeter fence, then it won't have a hole in it. Therefore that school would be acceptable.

Hopefully, the wealth of support and encouragement from parents will help such first-rate schools overcome the demoralising disappointment of Ofsted's stance.

Anybody know who Ofsted is answerable to? Do you think Ofsted is going to mar the Government's educational aspirations (err targets)?

Personally, I think we should downgrade any respect for Ofsted rather than for the schools in question.

If anyone would like to start a new thread to showboat Wittgenstein, please line up quietly outside the assembly hall.

Primary school results, as reported on the Hebweb - for the last 10 years