DfE expects school improvement too quickly, says former RSC

Failing schools need time to turn around, despite the Department for Education’s expectation of “quick” results, says a former regional schools commissioner.

Jennifer Bexon-Smith said “broken” secondary schools needed a “minimum” of five years for improvement.

I’ve worked at the DfE, expectations are much quicker than that. But realistically I do think some of these schools take a long time

She also warned that Ofsted reports did not show a full picture of what was going on in schools rated ‘inadequate’.

The former RSC for the East Midlands and the Humber, who retired in 2017, was quizzed at the Schools and Academies Show in Birmingham this week about Schools Week’s recent story on schools left in limbo by a lack of sponsors.

Andy Mellor, a past president of the National Association of Head Teachers, who is based in Blackpool, said a school in his area had recently dropped from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘inadequate’, despite the efforts of the best-performing academy trust in the locality to turn it around.

Bexon-Smith said Ofsted was “only ever a snapshot over those two days”, adding: “I’m not sure it necessarily reflects all the work that very often is going on in these schools.

“I’ve worked in many broken schools, and I think particularly at secondary, to really embed change, to really get down to the root causes of problems and difficulties, you’re talking about a minimum of a five-year journey,” she said.

“Now we all know, and I’ve worked at the DfE, expectations are much quicker than that. But realistically I do think some of these schools take a long time.”

Paul Whiteman, the NAHT’s general secretary, who joined Bexon-Smith on a panel to talk about social mobility, said that some schools struggled to get a good Ofsted grade “no matter how much money or talent you are throwing at them”.

He also said the Ofsted model “tends to be more reflective of your circumstances rather than what’s going on with the school”.

Ofsted itself has warned of the plight of “stuck schools” that keep a low grade for years at a time.