All posts tagged 'Ofsted'

Are heads right to bridle at KCC's "hire-and-fire" plan?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, March 12 2014

Kent County Council is facing some awkward questions and unwanted publicity over a draft protocol that sets out to head teachers what might happen to them if they preside over a failing school and have been in charge for two years or more.

Under the proposals, heads will effectively be eased out, put on gardening leave and replaced. Given that under Ofsted's own inspection regime, if a school is in special measures it is regarded as failing to have the necessary leadership skills to improve things, you might well ask why head teachers are complaining.

Especially given that KCC has drawn up the policy document after being requested to by the Kent Primary School Forum. Cllr Roger Gough, the politician in charge of schooling and standards, admits he is slightly puzzled by the furore - as diplomatic as ever.

It is not as if head teachers don't know that this is the likely scenario - indeed, it happens more or less every time a school is failed by Ofsted, not just in Kent but every other part of the country. And many parents would find it hard to understand why, if their child's school is failing to make the grade, there is no change in the leadership of that school.

So, do heads have a genuine grievance? The long shadow of Ofsted looms daily over schools. Heads, governors and teachers live in an almost constant state of tension and nervousness about a visit from inspectors.

At the same time, education authorities bear the corporate responsibility of improving standards at all schools - yes, even academies - and education officials at County Hall have the DfE breathing down their necks, which is then transposed to schools.

It is a toxic combination. You can forgive heads for feeling a little aggrieved at the stark way in which KCC has set out the likely sequence of events although invoking the Argentinian junta's policy of "disappearing" military dissidents is a little over the top.

The analogy one head made with football club managers struggling to keep their team from relegation and keeping demanding owners happy with results is a fairer one.

The problem seems to be that heads, rightly or wrongly, feel that KCC has got the balance between offering support and threatening sanctions skewed towards the latter. 

There is no doubt that Kent does have a problem with recruitment at the top. In a selective system, the challenges facing non-selective secondary schools are sometimes seen as a disincentive to aspiring heads although there are a number of all-ability schools that prove that becoming an outstanding schools is not beyond them. 

KCC insists its overriding priority is to provide schools and heads with appropriate support, although given the axe that is being taken to school improvement services that becomes more difficult.

Under the stewardship of its director Patrick Leeson, standards have steadily improved but there are some signs that sustaining this improvement is going to be a greater challenge.

Heads are right to flag up their concerns about recruitment.

They are also right to question what looks like a fairly uncompromising approach by KCC to under-performance. 

The authority appears to have forgotten its own mantra that  'one size does not fit all.'

 

 

 

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Hard luck if Ofsted visits on a bad day

by The Codgers' Club Friday, February 10 2012

by Alan Watkins

One could almost hear the discussion a few months ago between Jim Hacker, if he had responsibility for education, and the chief inspector of schools at Ofsted.

It probably went something like this:

Hacker: Right! We’ve been in power now for more than a year, and the schools are not providing evidence that their kids are better off under our parties.

Inspector: That’s because ....

Hacker: No excuses! My job depends on showing improvements. Change the ground rules.

Inspector: As I tried to explain, Minister ...

Hacker: All those schools with satisfactory records! It’s not good enough. Re-grade them as unsatisfactory.

Inspector: Yes, Minister.

Good belly laughs all round.

The trouble with Yes Minister and Jim Hacker was that it was always so close to the truth.

Not that Michael Gove would have done anything like this, of course.

I was chatting with a head the other day. Her school is officially satisfactory with good grounds for Ofsted to say it should achieve a “good” rating.

Since she was appointed she has transformed her school from failing to the point where it can see an excellence label on the horizon. You would think she would be delighted – she’s not!

Instead of being praised, she now faces the sack if surprise visits from Ofsted are still “satisfactory” within the next two years.

She (as well as her governors and all her teaching team) face ignominy.

They will be sacked and replaced by a team who will manage to tick a few more boxes on the Ofsted checklist.

They have also found the rules keep changing that set their targets.

There are no problems with expecting improvement. Nor is there blame to be had in trying to achieve perfection.

What is completely ignored by the 'tick box’ culture encouraged by the inspectorate is the nature of the community served by schools.

My friend’s primary is typical of many in Kent and Medway. It has a mix of children – and a mix of parents. Most are responsible. Some are not. At home some children are ignored.

“For some parents – too many by far – children are status symbols,” I was told.

“When they come to an after-school dance they are made up to the nines, dressed in the latest fashion – they look like tarts, but they are only six and seven-year-olds.

“Some of my mothers are 19 and 20 – how old were they when they had their children? What understanding do they have of parenting, life and all the other skills? The answer is little or none.”

I often see mums pushing pushchairs and chatting on mobiles as their child tries unsuccessfully to get their attention.

“It’s the same in the home. Our children learn from nine to three – then they go home where there are no books, inappropriate television and violent video games, no house manners ...

"Some of our kids come to school without the basics like toilet training. They don’t speak. They have few personal skills.

“Parents arrive in the area and their children are suddenly dropped on us. We have kids from certain families where children come and go as they please.

“We have kids who arrive unable to understand a word of English. The trouble is the inspectors don’t recognise local problems such as this. All they are interested in is the ticks.”

Like lots of satisfactory schools, her team have been told they are unsatisfactory, coasting, not pulling their weight, failures ...

“If my school has not improved I shall retire – I’ve never said that before, but I shall.”

At another school there are dozens of children whose first language is not English.

They have appeared as their families move into north Kent. When the inspectors arrive there will be black marks against their place of learning for failing to teach them in the few weeks that they have been on the school roll.

There isn’t a school where conscientious teachers do not leave every day with bags full of work to mark, to check or to advise. They have forms to complete to confirm their projects are working, reports to produce on the ordinary and the exceptional, and pages to explain why a child has been punished and how.

They then work at home until midnight night after night after night. Is this what society really expects?

Surely our schools should be happy places of learning where teachers can pass on their experiences, and bring out the best in the children? Hard luck if Ofsted arrives on a bad day.

We may lose good heads if this happens – and is that really what we want?

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Categories: Education

Better news for Kent's most vulnerable children

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, November 9 2011

There is, finally, some good news for children who are among the county's most vulnerable.

Vulnerable childrens' services showing improvements>>>

A year after the county council was stung by a highly critical report by Ofsted which labelled virtually all aspects of its childrens' services as inadequate, inspectors have been back - and have concluded that things are getting better.

At the time of the original critical report, KCC was adamant that it would turn things around and rectify what were truly damning shortcomings which, it transpired, had left thousands of children at risk without a dedicated social worker.

It is too early to say that it has done everything that is needed - Ofsted makes some valid points about the fact that analysis of risk assessments is too variable and the timeliness of core assessments remains low.

But the authority has undeniably made significant progress in turning around the failing services and it would be churlish to deny otherwise. Of course, questions remain about how things have descended into such a sorry state without the politicians being aware but I suspect we will never get a clear answer to that.

The challenge now is not just how KCC can sustain those improvements but how it can develop preventative services which means fewer children get to the stage where they are deemed to be at risk.

In Cllr Jenny Whittle, the cabinet member for specialist childrens' services, KCC has someone who is genuinely committed to sorting out the mess and has successfully overseen a potential political banana skin that might have tripped up others.

But it will come at a cost. The council has had to plough millions of pounds into measures to address the crisis, creating an £8m pressure on its budget.

It has to address that at the same time as facing up to the fact that turning off the investment tap now risks reversing the progress it has made to date.

That is a real danger at a time when KCC will have to trim its overall spending by £65m next year.

If the recently-defeated leadership contender Keith Ferrin is to be believed: "We have to make the system work properly and that will require more investment than we have made so far."

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I have been taken to task by KCC cabinet member for finance, Cllr John Simmonds, over my recent blog on the recovery of the £50m it had on deposit in former Icelandic banks.

He has written to say he feels the content was misleading. You can read his take here.

John Simmonds.doc (28.00 kb)

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After damning Ofsted report, how much progress has KCC made improving services for vulnerable children?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, March 30 2011

Just how much progress has Kent County Council made in responding to a damning Ofsted report issued last year that said it was failing to provide looked after children with adequate services?

The report – just about as critical as it could be – led to a public apology and KCC was put on notice to improve things within a year.

But if there has been progress, it seems backbench councillors don’t know much about it. And many are not at all happy that they don’t know much about what is - or has been going on - to remedy the shortcomings.

And they are distinctly unimpressed by the rather parsimonious amount of information that has been shared with them. The matter was ventilated at a meeting at County Hall of the cross-party Children’s Services Policy Overview Committee and it is fair to say that several members who might normally avoid saying boo to  a goose – or at least say boo to the powers that be – gave free reign to their frustration.

The chief critic was the Conservative backbencher Kit Smith, who at least has been consistent in his criticisms of a failure to be provided with information.

KCC, said Kit, had “a cat in hell’s chance” of complying with Ofsted’s Improvement Notice within a year on the basis of what he’d seen; and KCC’s overall response was “woolly”.

The normally mild-mannered Cllr David Hirst politely remarked to the meeting that among members “there is a growing anxiety on a number of things.” Translated: “What on earth is going on?”

Meanwhile, the rather more blunt-speaking Cllr Chris Wells said that whatever strategy KCC had, it wasn’t doing a very good job of communicating it to staff or politicians.

There was, he said, a culture at KCC that some people ought not to be taking an interest in this particular area of work. “It is not something that was seen as a driving force that should have members’ interests.”KCC had  little chance of turning things around within a year, he averred. “We are kidding ourselves if we think we are,” he said. “We are looking at progress that will take much longer than a year and we have to be honest about that and face it.

Acting director of children’s services Malcolm Newsam and cabinet member Cllr Jenny Whittle made efforts to offer re-assurances that things were moving in the right direction. It seems the full 50-page improvement plan will be signed off next week when it will become publicly available, with targets and deadlines.

But as one member of the committee remarked, KCC was in danger of sounding like a “gonna” organization – in other words, had plans for lots of things it was going to do but hadn’t yet done much.

My own impression – amid lots of rhetoric about outcomes being  measured against seven pillars – was that KCC has not been inactive but has certainly fallen down in letting people know (in coherent, intelligible language that we can all understand)  what it is up to.

And it cannot afford to be seen to be dragging its feet – even if it is not.

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There was something close to an admission that KCC’s frantic approach to filling vacant social worker posts has not been an unqualified success.

Mr Newsam told the committee that while it had helped address shortages in some areas, recruiting from abroad was not without problems, as they and newly-qualified social workers needed to be managed by those with considerably more experience.

“There is nothing sensible attracting inexperienced new people if we end up losing our most experienced people.”

He also questioned whether the additional money invested had had much impact. “It is very hard to see the impact of where that money is going. There is no coherent analysis of which funding streams are delivering real impact and better outcomes.”

Some interesting and illuminating comments.

 

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Categories: Local Politics

Children at risk: how Kent has let them down

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, November 19 2010

There are times when the word "damning" is inappropriately used by journalists but Ofsted's report into the state of services provided to Kent's most vulnerable children is one occasion when it is fully justified.

Read Ofsted's report here

The word "inadequate" crops up an uncomfortable number of times in Ofsted's highly critical report and whatever way you look at it, inspectors have uncovered a pretty lamentable state of affairs. No wonder the powers that be moved swiftly and issued a public apology for letting children in care down. (It's also the kind of report where you might expect heads to roll but none have just yet.)

The most worrying aspect is that Ofsted is clearly concerned that the prospects of things improving are pretty slim, labelling the capacity for KCC and its partners to make things better as "inadequate." In other words, Ofsted doesn't like what it has seen about the abilities of those in charge to address a whole series of shortcomings.

I've often heard it said that KCC has become, over the years, adept at filling in self-assessment forms that give every impression that all is  hunky-dory when inspectors come calling. In the past, I gather that it selected the case files for Ofsted to examine but there are now different - and better - arrangements that mean Ofsted picks out what it wants to see. This may be one reason why Kent has come out so badly.

Perhaps the most telling part of the report is the passage that states that KCC and its partners had considerable evidence over the last two years that problems were coming but nothing was being done to address it.

Of course, there are particular issues for the county - especially the on-going problem of children being placed in coastal towns by London boroughs. But you could argue that should have made KCC and other agencies more attuned to the issues.

The irony is that KCC will now be looking at getting outside help to turn things around. A few years ago, the authority stepped in to help Swindon when its social services department was unravelling. It was hailed a great success at the time.

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At least county council leader Paul Carter did not try to shirk the job of responding to Ofsted's findings, holding  a series of press briefings to give his account of what had gone wrong. Others might have tried to fob the job on to someone else but commendably, he did not.  

 

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Categories: Education | Local Politics | Politics | Public Sector

A mini constitutional crisis at County Hall...

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, September 16 2010

It seems some county councillors had misgivings about a decision to invite me to talk to KCC's cabinet scrutiny committee yesterday about the new transparency programme at County Hall. I'd been asked if I wanted to contribute to the meeting rather than cover it (although I ended up doing both) on the grounds that it might be useful for the council to have a media perspective on the initiative.

KCC sets out plans to open its books>>>


I had some reservations about appearing myself but agreed. But it seems my presence as a witness was giving some members cause for concern and before any discussion on the great transparency agenda took place there was a debate about whether my presence could be deemed to be against the council's constitution.

Conservative spokesman Cllr Roger Manning outlined what his concerns were first, which revolved around whether, as a witness, I could potentially ask members questions - although I was there to answer them. "I need to be clear in my own mind that we are acting within our constitution. It seems to me that we are setting a dangerous precedent" he said, before going on to add that he was anxious lest the authority be inundated with witnesses at future meetings who might also ask councillors questions.

Fellow Conservative Jean Law questioned whether it was in the gift of the chairman of the committee - Lib Dem Cllr Trudy Dean - to permit witnesses to ask questions as well as answer them. Cllr Dean replied that it had always been normal practice to allow questions from witnesses.

I was as bemused as anyone who might have been looking in at the webcast of the meeting. I certainly hadn't gone along with any intention of quizzing councillors. Although I'm bound to say it struck me as somewhat odd that some considered the idea that journalists should ask elected politicians questions somehow questionable.

Still, it was interesting to be the focus of a debate about whether, in agreeing to my presence, there might have been some dreadful constitutional crisis at County Hall.

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Still, I did have a salutary reality check when one member of the committee - Swanley Conservative councillor Robert Brookbank - interjected before the debate to demand to know who I was, declaring: "I have never heard of him." If I was a politician, I suppose I'd be describing that as a wake-up call.

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There was a robust defence of how the council is looking after vulnerable children at yesterday's meeting by managing director Rosalind Turner, who decried the willingness of agencies to press the nuclear option at the merest hint of possible harm and request KCC to carry out a risk assessment.

It follows a critical Ofsted report that flagged up delays in the time it is taking to assess vulnerable children in Kent.

It's undeniably the case that heightened sensitivities have created the risk averse culture and as always, striking the right balance is incredibly tricky, more so when any failing will inevitably trigger a slew of unfavourable headlines and searching questions.

No wonder it's hard to recruit social workers.

Don't press the nuclear option, says children's chief>>>

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Categories: Councils | KCC | Local Politics | National Politics

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