Ofsted calls – when the teachers are on strike

A secondary school in Suffolk has been inspected last week, despite most staff taking part in industrial action at the time.

NASUWT members were on strike at Lowestoft’s Benjamin Britten High School when inspectors visited last Wednesday.

The union said that most teachers at the school – about 30 – took part in the industrial action and almost all year groups were disrupted.

When the school was last inspected it was judged to require improvement.

Ofsted said it did not defer the inspection as there was no request from the school to do so, and at least 25 per cent of pupils were present.

The Department for Education tells schools on its website that before making a decision about deferring, Ofsted inspectors will “take a view” to see if there is “sufficient activity” at the school if there is a strike or severe weather, for example.

NASUWT’s national executive member for Suffolk, Dan McCarthy, said the strike was over a dispute over pay and conditions.

“I am unsure as to why the school did not ask to defer. There is no logic to that. The only group to have a full timetable were the Year 7s.

“There was no full capacity in the other years. The Year 11s, for example, had study periods and individual timetables.

“The changes to the system of Ofsted, where they are more interested in data than seeing lessons, may explain why that was acceptable.”

Headteacher Andrew Hine said it was not the first time Benjamin Britten had been inspected without a majority of pupils in school. On its last inspection, when it was a 13-18 school, Years 13, 12 and 11 were on exam leave and Year 10 on work experience.

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Strikers outside Benjamin Britten High School Pic from twitter @micklyons1

He said: “This situation is unusual but not unprecedented. In fact when this school was inspected in June 2011, only Year 9 were present.

“The inspection team were able to observe a number of Year 7 and Year 11 lessons over the two inspection days. Inspectors also held meetings with students in other year groups who came into school to talk to them during the inspection.

“Lesson observations are only part of the evidence base Ofsted use to make their judgments. Even with students out of school, the inspection team still had access to school data, students’ work and to the staff who are in school.”

Earlier this year, a school in Falmouth was inspected in March on one day of the last national teaching strike. On the second day of inspection, no children were in normal lessons as the whole school took part in activities off-site.

In its report, Ofsted said the inspectors attended events as part of the Big Dig Day at Marlborough School.

“Teachers make sure the learning is stimulating with a range of activities and resources. Pupils participated in a range of activities as part of ‘The Big Dig Day’. For example, Year 4 visited Gyllyngdune Gardens with activities that included links to natural science and that included new vocabulary.

“One group of pupils made the link between thinning out and repotting the seedlings to a similar scene in the Harry Potter stories involving the Mandrake plants.”

The report did not mention the strike – and the school went on to move from “good” to “outstanding”.

In its guidance on deferrals, Ofsted says it should only happen in certain cases, including when “at least three-quarters of the pupils will not be at school – for example, owing to a school trip or a religious festival – for at least half of the period for which the inspection has been scheduled.”

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Ofsted was made aware that some of the teachers in the school were striking during the first day of the inspection.

“However, in line with our policy, the inspection was not deferred because more than a quarter of the pupils were at school. The school did not request a deferral.”

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