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Sudbury: Outgoing headteachers criticise Ofsted inspections

PUBLISHED: 09:15 07 May 2014

Headteacher Jane Sharp, who is retiring from Woodhall County Primary School in Sudbury.

Headteacher Jane Sharp, who is retiring from Woodhall County Primary School in Sudbury.

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Three headteachers who are all leaving west Suffolk primary schools at the end of this term have told of the “significant challenges” posed by changes to the Government’s Ofsted inspections.

More stringent assessments focussed on “data” rather than a holistic approach to education have also come at a time when the county’s schools have been undergoing a change to two tier education as part of the school organisation review (SOR).

By the end of this term, every school in Sudbury and Great Cornard will have undergone a change of headteacher within a three year period.

Among the latest to leave their posts is St Gregory’s Primary School head, Phil Knowles, 48, who is taking up a new role with the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich as an advisor to church primary schools.

Also leaving are Woodhall Primary headteacher Jane Sharp, 59, and 64-year-old Wilma Hyde, from Pot Kiln Primary in Great Cornard, who are both retiring.

Mr Knowles, who started at St Gregory’s in 2008, believes pressures associated with heading up a school have increased dramatically. He said the biggest change has been to Ofsted, which has become more “data driven”.

“When I started, the inspectors were interested in good practice, seeing good teaching and a range of things going on in a school, but now it’s more of a number crunching exercise,” Mr Knowles said.

“If you are not deemed to be working at the appropriate levels – which are becoming higher and higher – it can cause huge problems.

“Some schools in the area that have been traditionally regarded as good schools have all of a sudden found themselves in a negative category – such as Tudor Primary which was recently put in special measures – and that has an impact on the whole community.

“If a school that has been very highly thought of doesn’t do well at Ofsted, it paints a negative picture of what’s happening in a school, when there are actually an awful lot of good things going on.”

Mrs Sharp, who has recently overseen the expansion of Woodhall to accommodate up to 420 students, agreed that changes to Ofsted posed a significant challenge to headteachers.

She said: “Where the inspectors used to take into account a lot more of what the school was doing in a holistic way, they are really nitpicking over things like English and maths when it should also be about the whole child and the enjoyment of learning.

“Because the Government’s focus is on English and maths, it seems that they’re not interested in anything else – it’s a shame if those important things like taking part in school productions are getting pushed out because of data.”

Mrs Sharp said the whole SOR had been a “huge change for the town”.

Meanwhile Mrs Hyde, who has been at Pot Kiln Primary since 2006, added: “I have enjoyed the job in the main but there have been some huge changes which have posed a challenge for all teaching staff.

“My biggest achievements were bringing the school back out of special measures and going through the SOR and managing that process. The recent changes have certainly made teaching a more stressful and demanding job.”

In March, an Ofsted report said that the life chances of young people in Suffolk were being “damaged” by the county council’s failure to challenge and support schools.

Sean Harford, Ofsted’s regional director for the east of England, said there have been no “significant improvements” in pupils’ attainment and no “clear strategy” for how the authority will make improvements.

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