A free school criticised for a job advertisement that warned candidates they would need to work “ridiculously hard” and be “wedded” to the role has been rated ‘outstanding’ across the board by Ofsted.
Mercia School in Sheffield faced a fierce backlash in February over its advert for an assistant headteacher. The role “may dominate your life on occasions” and the successful candidate must “live and breathe the school”, it said.
Applicants were asked if they would be “OK with the team contacting you in the evening”, “meeting in holidays” and holding detentions on Saturday mornings.
Critics said it showed why there was a teacher recruitment and retention crisis and that it backed up their own decisions to leave the profession.
But others praised its honesty. It was later taken down.
Ofsted visited the free school, which opened in 2018, for the first time in February, rating it ‘outstanding’ in every area.
Inspectors described a “warm and welcoming” school with “positive relationships…at the heart of the school’s approach to education”.
Leaders’ “ambitious vision for the school has been realised”, and the head and senior leaders “have created an exceptional learning environment, where staff and pupils can flourish”, the report said.
Head thanks parents for ‘leap of faith’
Inspectors also noted the “high” staff morale. “They are proud to work at the school. Leaders have prioritised professional development to ensure that staff are expertly trained to perform their roles.
“Those responsible for governance are knowledgeable and committed to the school. They have a strong understanding of the quality of education that pupils receive, and provide highly effective challenge and support to leaders.”
Dean Webster, the school’s head, said he “would like to place on record” his appreciation to parents and carers who took a “huge leap of faith” sending their child to a new school.
“I hope this report vindicates their decision. We thank all our families for their unwavering support, it means a lot to us all.”
Mercia’s controversial advert asked applicants if they could “cope with huge demands throughout the day, which include teaching a high load, managing pastoral issues and being on alert from 7am through until 6pm”.
Niamh Sweeney, the deputy general secretary of the National Education Union, said at the time that senior leaders “can certainly expect higher demands of their time, but we will never get anywhere in dealing with the workload crisis in this country by embedding it further in working culture”.
‘Unapologetic for doing all we can’
The government’s landmark working lives of teachers and leaders report, which was leaked to Schools Week in March, found senior leaders worked an average of 56.8 hours a week. Two in five worked more than 60 hours, equivalent to five 12-hour days.
Webster said he was “unapologetic for doing all we can to ensure our pupils receive an exceptional education”.
“We will remain committed to ensuring all our pupils achieve their ambitions by driving high expectations and ‘sweating the small stuff’.”
The school will open its Mercia Collegiate Sixth Form in September to pupils “from across the city of Sheffield; with an ambition for scholars to gain entry to the most prestigious universities in the world”.
Ofsted also found pupils were “polite and understand the importance of respect”.
“They recognise how the structures that leaders have put in place help them to stay safe and learn. Pupils feel happy and safe in school. Bullying is extremely rare … pupils’ behaviour is exemplary. Parents and pupils are proud to be part of the school community,” its report said.