The Outstanding SchoolNovember 22, 2010
For a short while I worked at Mallon Park School. OFSTED had rated it as “outstanding”. Its exam results were a little better than average (i.e. a lot better than all the other schools I have worked in), but given its intake this was a significant achievement. This was a school which served a very deprived community but achieved far more than similar schools. It was better than the other schools I have worked in, but it was still a battleground school.
It differed from my other schools in the following ways:
- SMT had real presence around the site. On every lesson change-over they would come out of their offices and go to the main thoroughfares of the school. During lessons they would pop into classes to keep an eye on students. They were known to, and feared by, the students.
- SMT were reliable. Not once during the time I was at the school did I feel a member of SMT had lied to me. Not once did I feel that something I had referred to SMT had been ignored.
- The conflict between the key departments and management did not exist. There were members of SMT and Heads of Year teaching in, and helping to lead, all the important departments.
- There was much better targeting of resources at key students. The results owed a large amount to correctly identifying which students would affect results and using early entry to ensure that as many of them as possible were prepared for their exams by the most senior teachers. There was a lot of “gaming” of the exam system, with exam boards being carefully chosen for maximum advantage.
- Those aspects of poor behaviour that senior management could confront around the school were far less of a problem. Uniforms were largely excellent. I never saw a mobile phone in a student’s hand while I was there.
Some bad features of the school system persisted even in an outstanding school:
- A significant number of incompetent but ambitious middle managers, failing to do their job and blaming classroom teachers for their failings. This was particularly noticeable in the case of some of the year heads who simply couldn’t teach and had no idea how to support teachers.
- An SEN department making excuses for bad behaviour. My description of INSET on SEN came from Mallon Park.
- Low academic and behaviour expectations for pupils. Outside of the current crop of target students expectations were shockingly low, particularly for the least able. Some of the bottom sets contained students who simply were not used to learning in lessons, and were quite shocked when I expected them to start working without first being nagged by a teaching assistant. Behaviour was still a massive problem for new staff.
- High levels of bullshit in teaching practice. The whole school were initiated into “Kagan Structures”. One department used WALT, WILF and TIBs. “Assesment For Learning” was widely interpreted as meaning “using mini-whiteboards” and “getting kids to tick boxes”.
The OFSTED designation “outstanding” has been used more and more in recent years. My experience of an outstanding school was that it was significantly better than the “good”, “satisfactory” and “notice to improve” schools I had worked in previously. However, I don’t believe there was one teacher in the entire school who would have considered, even for a second, sending their own kids there. “Outstanding” probably does indicate that a school is not the usual disaster area. However, often (but not always) it is still only good enough for other people’s children.