School launches legal challenge saying 'inadequate' grade over gaming is 'nonsensical'

A secondary school rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted for entering all its year 11 pupils into a vocational PE qualification says it is fighting the “flawed” and “nonsensical” judgment.

St Antony’s Catholic College, in Trafford, has denied it is “gaming” after the Ofsted verdict and launched a legal challenge against the report which its headteacher described as a “travesty”.

The report is the latest example of Ofsted’s crack down on schools it believes to be narrowing the curriculum.

In September, Harris Academy Orpington was rated ‘requires improvement’ after inspectors flagged that pupils were inappropriately entered into a qualification intended for pupils with English as a second language.

At St Antony’s, all pupils who left the school in 2019 and all current Year 11 pupils have been made to take a vocational qualification in sport science – as well as the 60 per cent of pupils currently in Year 10 who are not studying French.

The school said Ofsted had responded to their challenge by warning that a “blanket decision” to enter all pupils onto one course cannot demonstrate “attentive consideration” of what is in the best educational interests of each pupil, and St Antony’s decision to enter all pupils into sport science “appears to fundamentally violate the general principle that each child must be supported to achieve their full educational potential specific to their educational needs and aptitude.”

The report, published on Friday, said this narrowed the key stage four curriculum and has “not been in pupils’ educational best interests” as it prevented pupils from “choosing courses which meet their interests or aspirations”.

“Pupils have had to take this vocational qualification irrespective of their ability or interests. The time allocation for this subject means that pupils have fewer option choices and do not receive their entitlement to do physical education.”

Pupils study the Cambridge National Award in Sport Science, which is equivalent to one GCSE.  One of its four modules is a formal exam, while the other three are centre-assessed coursework. There is no practical element.

Inspectors also flagged that Year 11 pupils over the past three years have had to take their English literature exam a year early in Year 10, leading to “weak outcomes”.

“Leaders must stop entering pupils for this examination before they are ready. This will give pupils the best opportunity to achieve their full potential in this subject.”

In a statement posted on the school’s website on Thursday, headteacher Fiona Wright insisted the Ofsted inspection had “incorrectly” judged that the school is “systemically gaming its results”.

The inspection was carried out on October 1 and 2, and Wright said the school had been fighting to overturn the judgement since October 3, including submitting a legal challenge last Monday.

In her statement, addressed to parents and carers, Wright said: “I suspect you may be as devastated as I am to have this label attached to our incredible school.

“Our school did not change the day after three strangers arrived with either a flawed framework, inappropriately applied it, or both.

“The framework was four weeks old when we were inspected and, clearly, a travesty has occurred here and, from what I read elsewhere, in a number of other schools.”

Wright added she will “continue to fight to have this unjust judgement overturned”.

Although leadership and management was rated ‘inadequate’ at St Antony’s, the school was found to be ‘good’ in personal development and behaviour and attitudes, and ‘requires improvement’ in its quality of education.

Inspectors noted that pupils enjoy coming to school and teachers have “high expectations”. However, it said leaders do not have “high enough ambitions of pupils’ achievement”, with the proportion taking the English Baccalaureate in recent years described as “well below the national average”.

Provisional data for 2019 shows an EBacc entry rate of 6.9 per cent at St Antony’s, compared to a national average of 40 per cent.

Wright told Schools Week the school believes the sports science qualification benefits and is enjoyed by pupils and, as it has fewer guided learning hours than GCSEs, allows more room on the timetable for pupils’ GCSE choices. She said the school had already planned to make the qualification optional next year.

She also insisted that year 10 pupils who take sports science have the same amount of practical PE lessons as those who do not, and said the decision for pupils to sit English literature GCSE exams in year 10 had been made to alleviate stress in year 11, but this will no longer take place.

Wright added that the school will be submitting a complaint about the conduct of the inspection team “and their failure to adhere to their own processes”.

A spokesperson for Ofsted said: “We stand by the judgement.”