This morning I received a letter from the senior HMI for the South Eastern Region, entitled Positive feedback from a former pupil. Honest, no kidding. Positive feedback from a former pupil.
We don’t generally get these. I imagine that they are not the main business of the inspectorate, which functions very much on a deficit model (or not at all, if this story in this week’s TES is typical of their evaluating skills). So to find some unabashed positivity from an HMI was a bit of a treat. Exactly how unusual this is can be seen if I tell the story of how it came about.
A girl who I used to teach in my maths set, and whose mum is a long term encourager and supporter of Christ the Sower, decided that as she had done so well at her secondary school (The Hazeley Academy! Hooray!), a huge amount of that was down to what she had learnt from us (this in itself takes a lot of insight, teenagers being the generally forgetful and short-term creatures that they are). The girl and her mum, between them, decided to contact OFSTED and say what a lovely school we were.
Ha. This is where the fun starts. They found a number on the OFSTED website for pupils to ring and contact the organisation. The girl rang and after answering various security questions, was put through to a pleasant person who asked her what her concern was. Oh, said the girl, I don’t have a concern. I just wanted to tell OFSTED how good a school Christ the Sower was. Well, the person on the phone was a bit nonplussed and said that they couldn’t accept positive reports as that number for under 18’s was ONLY to report concerns. They advised to phone the main number where they would find someone who might be able to help.
So, more ringing, more security questions and another person asking what the concern was. Oh, said the girl. No concerns, I just wanted to tell OFSTED how well I have done and that it was down to having really good education at Christ the Sower. Well, the second nonplussed person said that he didn’t think he was allowed to take that report but he referred it to his supervisor. (Short pause ensues whilst unusual conversation takes place in background). Well, says the OFSTED person, this is very unusual, we don’t usually get calls like this. I’ve never had one before, but we can certainly take the call and we will make sure that we contact the school to give them the feedback. Do you want to tell me which school it was and why you think it’s so good?
And there you have it. Occasionally people grizzle about schools and escalate their concerns to OFSTED – all well and good, I suppose. But how many have the persistence to ring them and say good things about the schools they loved and which did them good. Every school – every school – is good for children. The difference in ratings describes two things – exactly how good they are for how many children, and in what way that goodness manifests itself. If schools were bad for children, the children would, I bet, just stop coming.
One way of helping OFSTED get beyond a deficit mindset and into praising schools as a lifestyle choice, might be if we all rang them up and told them how good our school was for us. My grateful thanks to this girl and her mum for being dogged enough to persist in goodness.