A free school that tried to gag Ofsted from publishing an “inadequate” inspection now wants the grade quashed after it was rated “good” just ten school weeks after being put into special measures.
Langley Hall Primary Academy, one of the country’s first free schools to open in 2011, lost a high court challenge to ban the education watchdog from publishing the report earlier this year. The report was published in July.
However, the judge ordered Ofsted to hand over all its inspection notes so an independent Ofsted-trained inspector, of the school’s choosing, could assess the evidence base.
Meanwhile Ofsted visited the school again in November, just ten school weeks after the “inadequate” report was published, and this time rated the school as “good” across all categories.
Sally Eaton, the school’s executive headteacher, said: “This is too short a period of time for us to make that amount of progress in order to move up two grades and clearly indicates that the original judgements were not accurate.”
The high court case is still ongoing and the school is pushing for Ofsted to strike the “inadequate” inspection.
It would be only the second provider to overturn an Ofsted grade in the last three years after pursuing court action. Schools Week revealed last month that Ofsted has faced 13 judicial reviews in the past three years.
The Co-Operative day nursery, in Nottinghamshire, overturned an “inadequate” grade which a high court judge found to be “rogue”.
Eaton said Langley Hall’s independent review found the first Ofsted report was “not undertaken in a fair and balanced way” and did not meet expectations required to “confirm the need to place this school in special measures”.
Eaton added: “These [special measures] inspection reports can destroy a school and leave a headteacher totally demoralised. We need to make sure we are supportive and building up schools and not marking them down.”
She said the school was fortunate the “inadequate” grading had not led to any staff leaving.
Inadequate inspection reports can destroy a school
“There is now much work to be done to repair the damage of the previous report and to ensure that the community knows about the outcome of this new inspection.”
The November inspection was initially a monitoring visit, but inspectors turned it into a full section 5 inspection at the end of the second day.
The subsequent Ofsted report, published this week, found that “weaknesses identified at the previous inspection have been tackled thoroughly” with the school’s effectiveness “significantly strengthened in a short space of time”.
The report added “governors, staff, parents and pupils recognise the positive changes made. They agree that the school has improved notably”.
But Richard Carleton, chair of governors, was critical of the way inspectors had penned the report, which he said was done “in such a way as to suggest that the school had made remarkable progress” within ten weeks.
Carleton added: “We do not believe this sort of progress would be possible, even for a school leadership team as motivated and determined as Langley Halls’.”
He said the senior leadership team had reviewed every policy, procedure and practice that was criticised by Ofsted, but found in many cases “no major changes were required as practices were already good”.
Eaton has now called on Ofsted to “learn lessons” from the episode that it can share with the sector.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “The school is pursuing legal action to have its June inspection judgement overturned. As a result, it would be inappropriate for Ofsted to comment while legal proceedings are still ongoing.”