Diary of a headteacher: How do you judge your school?

Written by: Diary of a headteacher | Published:
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We know how Ofsted and the league tables rank our schools, but how do you, as a senior leader, judge your school’s education provision?

How good is your school? A better question would be: “How effective is your school?” Even better still: “What does your school do brilliantly?”

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we judge the quality or effectiveness of our schools and there are a number of issues that do not sit comfortably with me.

How good is your school? The obvious answer here is to find the Ofsted report and look up the Progress 8 score – easy. As school leaders we are held accountable by Ofsted, who, every few years visit our school for a day or two and impart their judgements on our effectiveness.

Rightly or wrongly, this is the system we work in and they are the gatekeepers; headteachers ignore this at their peril. But how accurate are these judgements?

As headteachers, can we be satisfied with the validity of these judgements on which our careers hang by the thinnest of threads? I have always felt that inspections are driven so much by the data that the inspectors arrive with and that there is not a great deal of wriggle room.

Surely there is a better way of judging the effectiveness of a school? There are most certainly more appropriate ways of helping a school become more effective. School leaders across the country have been crying out for a self-improving education system for years, but sadly we seem as far away from that as we have ever been.

We are also accountable for the academic progress our students make and as we all know, the headline figure we all look for now is Progress 8. I remember thinking that this was a big step forward from the five A* to C including English and maths measure; surely it is more appropriate for schools to focus on the progress of all students in all subjects, rather than focussing on attainment and placing a disproportionate incentive on tipping students over the C-D borderline?

We are two years in now with Progress 8 and although I would agree that it is better than its predecessor, it is still riddled with issues. I have recently read some very interesting critiques of Progress 8 and the technical problems that exist with this measure and this has left me with the question: “What are the essential ingredients I need to consider when judging the effectiveness of my school?

Most schools will purport to be committed to developing “the whole child” and dedicated to students’ holistic growth into adulthood. But is this really the case? Are those schools that relentlessly chase a Progress 8 score by any means really bothered about the all-round development of their students?

My knowledge of the game-playing that exists in schools and the dark arts of massaging a Progress 8 score upwards tells me otherwise.

My own children aren’t old enough yet to attend secondary school but in a few years’ time I will be doing the rounds, attending open days and making decisions about the next steps in their education.

With my knowledge of how schools work, will I really be swayed by a couple of decimal points on a Progress 8 score? Will I be deeply scrutinising the school’s EBacc percentages, or the proportion of their students who gained “the basics” in the previous set of results? Not likely.

While I will obviously consider these aspects, I know their limitations and I can see beyond them towards features that I feel are much more important.

What I will be looking for is a commitment to high-quality teaching, a place where good behaviour is the norm and where a values-driven culture is modelled by staff and students. I’ll be looking for a school led by senior leaders who are dedicated to high educational standards, but who are also humble, empathetic and understanding.

Ultimately I’ll be looking for the things that I think make schools great and I know that deep down, if teachers and leaders are truly committed to continual improvement and growth, then achieving great results and developing amazing young people become the by-products of this commitment. Can all this be represented by a number, or a word that has an implied judgement? I think not.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his fourth year of headship at a secondary school in the Midlands.


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