School slams 'unjust' Ofsted rating after criticism for 'gaming' and off-rolling

A Merseyside school has hit back after it was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted and criticised for past off-rolling and forcing pupils to study vocational courses at GCSE.

Phil Abram, head of school at Haydock High School in St Helens, said the Ofsted report published yesterday is “unfair and unjust”, and accused the inspectorate of being solely interested in “collating evidence against the two-year key stage 3 and people not doing the EBacc”.

It comes amid growing concerns about Ofsted’s new curriculum focus, including an apparent clampdown on schools that teach GCSEs over three years. It also follows pushback against accusations by the inspectorate that schools are using vocational qualifications to “game” school league tables.

The inspection at Haydock found pupils had to study vocational courses from year 9 “regardless of their needs, interests or aspirations”. All year 11s study a vocational course in animal care, and year 10s study a vocational sports science course.

Ofsted said pupils are “prevented from gaining qualifications that may be useful to them in the future”, and that making all pupils study these courses is “not in pupils’ educational best interest”.

At Haydock, key stage 4 begins in year 9. The Ofsted report claimed all pupils study English, maths and science, but some are only allowed to choose from a maximum of two other GCSEs, and some are not able to study a language or both history and geography.

But Abram said this was “nonsense”, and insisted pupils were only unable to study certain subjects if classes were too small to be viable and that pupils only took vocational courses if they chose them or to replace “core” subjects like PHSE and PE.

“We thought that was a positive use of time. Ofsted turned that into us gaming the system,” he said. The school will now have to look at moving to a three-year key stage 3 and making all pupils study languages, history and geography at GCSE.

Earlier this month, St Antony’s Catholic College in Trafford denied it was “gaming” by entering all of its year 11 pupils into a vocational PE qualification. The school has launched a legal challenge against its ‘inadequate’ grade.

Abram said Haydock had challenged the report, resulting in minor corrections, but cannot afford to take legal action. As a local authority school rated ‘inadequate’, it will now have to join an academy trust.

Inspectors also said Haydock had previously “removed a significant number of pupils from the school roll” when it was not in their best interests, although this practice has now stopped.

Abram said it had been the local authority’s policy to remove pupils from the roll once they move to alternative provision, but this ended last Christmas when Ofsted raised concerns about the practice.

According to the headteacher, the new Ofsted framework “doesn’t work for certain schools”.

“If you look at our demographic, you will see we’re not a high-attaining school. We are trying really hard and pushing in the right direction, but it’s difficult.

Government data shows Haydock’s progress 8 score jumped from -0.33 in 2018 to 0.21 last year. More than a third of its pupils – 35.2 per cent – have been eligible at free school meals at some point in the past six years, compared to an England average of 27.7 per cent.

The school also has more than double the average proportion of pupils requiring special needs support (22.8 per cent compared to 10.8 per cent).

Ofsted recently admitted schools with more pupils from deprived backgrounds are still less likely to be judged ‘good’ under its new framework than those with more affluent pupils.