Head calls on government to put children before data

Dawn Martin Head Teacher of Gossops Green Primary School (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-150906-093731008
Dawn Martin Head Teacher of Gossops Green Primary School (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-150906-093731008
  • Concern over decision to convert failing schools to academies
  • Four county academies are already failing

A headteacher has called on the government to start putting children before data.

Dawn Martin, of Gossops Green Primary, spoke out after it was announced schools deemed to be failing would be converted to academies because it was felt they would improve faster.

My view is there is absolutely no research available to support the idea that becoming an academy raises standards.

Dawn Martin, headteacher, Gossops Green Primary School

Mrs Martin, who has been at the school in Kidborough Road for eight years, said: “My view is there is absolutely no research available to support the idea that becoming an academy raises standards. It’s not a magic button and I think it’s naive to suggest that.”

Her concerns were easy to understand, especially after Nicky Morgan, secretary of state for education, refused tell the BBC how many academies were failing.

While having no hesitation in announcing up to 1,000 state-maintained schools were currently rated inadequate across the country, Mrs Morgan declared: “I’m not going to go into all the numbers” when asked for the same information about academies.

As of May, seven schools in West Sussex fell into the “failing” category – and four of them were academies.

The academies were Eastbrook Primary, Southwick; Kingsham Primary, Chichester; The Globe Primary, Lancing; and Littlehampton Academy. The schools were Billingshurst Primary, Oakmeeds Community College, Burgess Hill; and Central CofE Junior School, in Chicheser.

While stressing she fully supported the monitoring of schools’ progress, Mrs Martin questioned the way in which they were judged and called for Ofsted to take more into account than simply the children’s performance in key subject such as English and maths.

She said: “I think they must take into account the context of the schools more and take into account more than English and maths, such as the pastoral support that’s offered to children and their families, the quality of care that’s offered and whether the children are resilient and confident. If your English and maths data are not in line with the national data then you are vulnerable.”

Bishop of Chichester the Rt Rev Martin Warner, who has dozens of church schools under his care – including Central CofE Juniors – was not opposed to the idea of academies but shared Mrs Martin’s doubts over the way schools were being judged.

He said: “If we are taking responsibility for delivering education, it’s got to be outstanding. If we are not, it’s got to be taken out of our hands.

“It’s too important of a responsibility for us to be presiding over poor quality schools. I welcome that. We also need to interrogate it. I’m not going to buy into the Government’s policy without critique of that.”

One of the areas which Bishop Martin said needed “interrogating” was the way Ofsted judged schools, saying there were catchment areas across the county which would often yield lower attainment.

Having been twice rated as ‘requires improvement’ over all following Ofsted inspections, Mrs Martin acknowledged Gossops Green was one of the vulnerable schools under the Government’s current criteria but said there would be no move to convert to an academy “unless we’re pushed”.

Staff were extremely disappointed with the school’s rating and Mrs Martin questioned one part of the judgement in particular.

Ofsted gave the children a ‘good’ rating for behaviour. Knowing the youngsters well and having had no reason to expect anything but an ‘outstanding’ result, Mrs Martin questioned the mark.

She said: “When I asked about it they said they could not be outstanding because their data was not outstanding so their attitude to learning must therefore not be outstanding.”

Such a judgement of the children did not sit comfortably with Mrs Martin who pointed out the data by which a school was judged would not be up to scratch if it was educating a group of youngsters who tried their hardest but were not as academically able as others.

She added: “They need to look at education in a wider sense and not being so constrained by data. Somewhere we’ve lost the child in the middle of all this data.”

Explaining why there was more to a child’s education than coming top of a league table, Mrs Martin said: “Every proud moment I’ve had at Gossops Green has been to do with children’s achievements, especially when they achieve more than they thought they could.

“The party line from the Government is this is just about raising standards. I think it’s about undermining local authorities.”

West Sussex County Council said it already used “a full range of improvement measures” to help schools improve.

While acknowledging the seven schools and academies judged ‘inadequate’, a spokesman said she did not know how many others would come under the Government’s academy spotlight.

She added: “Until we know what ‘failing’ means, it is difficult to say.”

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