Principal slams Ofsted and calls for new school inspection regime

Principal of Wymondham College Melvyn Roffe celebrates an outstanding Ofsted report with students. Photograph Simon Parker Principal of Wymondham College Melvyn Roffe celebrates an outstanding Ofsted report with students. Photograph Simon Parker

Tuesday, July 15, 2014
12:15 PM

The outgoing principal of a Norfolk college has called for a new inspection regime where schools are only assessed for meeting a minimum standard, after criticising Ofsted for the “destructive” nature of the current system.

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The approach to sport

Melvyn Roffe also commented on Ofsted’s approach to sport – another area in which Wymondham College takes particular pride.

“It was interesting to hear public comments from Ofsted recently, who seem to have finally woken up to the idea that school sport might be quite a good thing,” he said at his school’s speech day.

“It was a shame, but not a surprise, that those comments were couched in terms of criticism of state schools compared to our independent sector colleagues.

“They would have done better to celebrate the superb work of sports staff such as those at Wymondham College, who support teams in a wide variety of sports and at all levels and ensure that every year we play upwards of 600 competitive fixtures against schools of all kinds.”

However, an Ofsted spokesman said: “Our survey reports including competitive school sport, teaching of music, religious education and PSHE, along with the many good practice case studies we publish, highlight how the best schools are helping their pupils to achieve beyond the core subjects.

“The competitive school sport report revealed unacceptable discrepancies between the proportion of pupils attending state schools and their representation in elite sport. However, it also highlighted a number of state schools that are doing just as well as independent schools in supporting their pupils to excel in sport.”

Melvyn Roffe, who leaves Wymondham College this month to become head of a private school in Edinburgh, said the regulator currently strikes terror into the hearts of teachers across the county for fear their schools will end up being held accountable for things which they have no control over.

He stressed that if schools are failing children, they should be held to account – but said the current regime encouraged leaders to focus on teaching to Ofsted guidelines, rather than pursuing overall excellence.

Rather than an overall judgement of inadequate, satisfactory, good or outstanding, he said: “It should be about setting minimum standards and then commenting on how much better than the minimum standard you are.

“That encourages schools to be innovative, to not fall below the minimum standard, but have the confidence to do different.”

A fierce critic

This is not the first time Melvyn Roffe has blasted government education policy.

Last month, Mr Roffe said he regretted Wymondham College’s move to become an academy and blasted the Department for Education for “micromanaging” schools – claiming that the change to an academy came after he believed the school would gain more freedom.

He said: “What happened was the reverse. We have had more control from central government rather than local government.

“I don’t believe he [Michael Gove, pictured below] intended academy status to reduce autonomy. I wish he had the courage to say there are schools doing a good job and they should be allowed to do a good job.”

Mr Roffe added that the DfE was always “looking over your shoulder, and driven by pettiness”. However, a spokesman for the DfE hit back, saying: “These claims are wrong. Our academies’ programme takes power away from politicians and bureaucrats and gives it to heads and teachers who know their pupils best.

“Academies don’t belong to a remote bureaucracy. Instead, they have the freedom to run their school as they think best – by setting pay and conditions for staff, changing the length of the school day and term, shaping their own curriculum and controlling their own budgets.”

However, a spokesman for Ofsted said: “Far from rewarding schools for conforming, Ofsted wants to see schools and their leaders exercise their powers and use their professionalism to ensure children do well in all aspects of school life.”

Mr Roffe said: “My criticism is with the whole structure. The destructive nature of the process really hasn’t been commented on enough.

“Where schools are not doing well for children, they should be held to account. However, Ofsted’s frameworks encourage people to teach to the test.

“When we have had Ofsted here, we’ve always said they’ll come and see what they see and that if they disagree, we’ll have a professional conversation about it. However, if you are a school which is operating in a more challenging environment and if you have more things you are not in control of, then I think the terror is the sense of being held accountable for things you have no control of.” He also said inspectors’ judgements were “subjective” but “presented as some great truth”, adding: “I think it would be much better if we had a bit more humility from Ofsted.”

In his address at Wymondham College’s speech day last week, Mr Roffe said: “Education is increasingly standardised and risk averse.

“We are judged by an inspection regime which rewards conformity rather than excellence.”

He added that the ability to “do different” was what helped schools “achieve success that is not shallow or temporary, not achieved by glitzy PR or fiddling the figures – it is success that is real, solid, deep-rooted, wide-ranging and long-lasting.”

What do you think? Write, giving your full contact details, to: EDP Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE, or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk

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