By Jonathan Miller, JFS headteacher
A letter to JFS parents last Friday from Michael Glass, our chair of governors, starts: “As some of you may know, JFS was the subject of an unannounced Ofsted inspection over two days in the early part of July. Due to the summer holidays, the final report has only just been released.”
Schools are often able to predict when an Ofsted inspection is due. As a school which had at our last inspection received 39 out of 39 Outstanding Grades, we were not expecting a visit.
We were even less expecting the news that, rather than having the normal 24 hours’ notice for the final planning of a schedule, the team of inspectors were arriving in half an hour.
The reason for this absence of notice was that the visit had been triggered by a handful of complaints about the school.
Importantly, the report acknowledges that the inspectors could find no evidence of many of the allegations which had been made.
The inspection itself consists of lesson observations, a series of meetings, scrutiny of students’ work, consideration of the feedback from parental and staff questionnaires and an examination of a considerable amount of documentation the school provides.
The meetings included those with governors, various members of staff to examine different features of life at JFS as well as considerable interaction with our younger students in lessons, in meetings and in the corridors. Unfortunately, inspectors did not have the opportunity to meet the 560 students in years 11 and 13 who had finished their public examinations.
At the end of the first day of the inspection, the lead inspector held a meeting of the team at which I was invited to attend. This gave a summing up of the information which had been gleaned and identified where evidence has not yet been obtained by the inspectors.
It was clear at that point that our teachers had excelled themselves as usual but that the handling of this particular incident was going to shape the report. I have now had two months to reflect on this outcome and my reaction remains much as it did in early July.
First, I was extremely pleased to see such positive feedback on some fundamental areas including our teaching as well as student progress, as was shown by our public examination results – again impressive in the summer results available after the inspection. I took particular pleasure in the statement that JFS has an aspirational vision.
For me, this confirmed that we are never complacent or content with what we have achieved in the past but always strive to provide a better service for the students in our care.
This is why, since the previous inspection, I have wanted to measure our school against the standards set by a number of external organisations. This has led to our awards of Investors in People (2011), the NAACE Challenge Award (2012), Investors in Careers (2013) and, just last July, the award of Investors in People Gold Status.
Second, I entirely accept the areas for improvement identified by the team of inspectors. Many of these already formed part of systematic plans for self-improvement and were challenges that had been identified. We have made plans to deal with these and work has started.
I have already written to parents about student attendance, one of the issues raised, while a meeting of the governing body was dedicated to a consideration of the steps we now need to take.
We always wish to improve and do not rest on our laurels. However, I must also agree with the large number of parents and professional colleagues both within and outside the JFS school community who have been in contact in the last few days. They simply do not believe that the grade presented by this report is an accurate reflection of the JFS they know. They feel that the report puts a disproportionate emphasis on issues that do not go to the heart and soul of the school.
I hope those with an interest will make up their own minds and speak to JFS students and their parents, the best judges of our school. Feel free to visit us – we have open mornings so you can see JFS on a normal day.
The published report stands and will not change. We will respond to this latest challenge by putting in place what is needed to ensure that, when the inspectors return, this is a short-lived blip in the series of Outstanding Ofsted reports JFS has always previously received.
I am committed to achieving this; our students, the children of our community, deserve nothing less.