The mystery of Oldfield School’s missing Ofsted report

Oldfield School in Bath has a long history of being graded Outstanding and throughout Headteacher Kim Sparling has been at the helm. I worked there briefly and took part in their successful 2003 inspection. The school was rated as being Outstanding again in 2012 after converting to Academy status, but following a “number of complaints and allegations made to Ofsted about the effectiveness of safeguarding arrangements at the school,” Oldfield was reinspected under Section 8 (and Section 5?) last December. The report remains unpublished.

However on 11th February, this letter was sent to the school from the Lead Inspector Simon Rowe (HMI), concluding, “The school’s safeguarding arrangements meet requirements.” He goes on to elaborate that despite the excellent attainment * behaviour at the school there are some issues:

Although the school’s safeguarding arrangements meet requirements, the single central record contains administrative errors and is not routinely maintained so as to ensure that vetting procedures are implemented rigorously. The governing body has not ensured that statutory training undertaken by the designated officer for child protection has been refreshed in a timely manner.

The school’s governing body has too little understanding of its statutory responsibilities. Its members are over reliant on information provided by the headteacher and it does not ensure that complaints, grievance and whistleblowing procedures are sufficiently robust to enable stakeholders to have confidence that their concerns will be handled in proper manner.

These seem like fairly serious points but not to worry because all this apparently “meets requirements”.

Later, Rowe makes this curious aside:

During this inspection, Ofsted received a number of complaints from staff and from the local authority which lie outside its remit. The issues underpinning these complaints have been passed to the Department for Education for further consideration.

The local paper, The Bath Chronicle has been cataloguing events and a group of concerned staff and parents have been orchestrating a campaign to get the full report of the December 2013 inspection published. (Sign the petition here.) The story has even been picked up Warwick Mansell in The Guardian, but as yet it languishes in some DfE vault.

Or at least it did until the children’s charity Fair Play For Children decided to put up a badly photocopied copy of the report on its site. National secretary, Jan Cosgrove explains why: “The information supplied to us seemed to raise issues of the public interest, we were aware many parents wanted to see the report, and we firmly believe there ought to be transparency where safeguarding is concerned.”

Quite right. And in the spirit of transparency, I thought you might be interested to have a look at this unpublished report described by the ASCL as a “draft, confidential document with no legal standing”. In light of Simon Rowe’s letter sent 2 months later it makes very interesting reading.

In December Rowe found the school required special measures. Here a few snippets:
The headteacher’s leadership style intimidates staff, resulting in a climate of fear which pervades the school. Despite very effective teaching, threats and bullying are commonplace, with many staff working in fear of losing their job.
There is a lack of common respect and courtesy in the way staff are managed, which has significantly reduced any willingness to take individual initiative.
Staff are fearful and worried about making minor administrative errors.
Inspectors strongly recommend that the school should not appoint newly qualified teachers.
Procedures to investigate complaints are not carried out correctly. The headteacher filters information that is shared with the governing body and applied pressure to parents and carers to drop their concerns.
The school’s admissions policy is not applied fairly. For example, the headteacher has exerted pressure on families with pupils with special educational needs to dissuade them from taking places at the school.

Small wonder that the school did not want the report published, but how is it that Ofsted (and Simon Rowe in particular) have been persuaded to backtrack to such a significant extent? The DfE is investigating…

But in the meantime a new Chair of Governors has been appointed who seems to have a handle on things. Oh, but hang on: the previous who seems responsible for some of the grosser safeguarding issues has been kept on as Vice Chair. Is that normal?

UPDATE: I’ve just found that education journalist, Warwick Mansell has also written about the strange goings on at Oldfield on the NAHT website. He explains some of the complexities of Section 8 inspections but ultimately this seems to lead to yet more questions. He adds more detail in his Guardian column.

10 Responses to The mystery of Oldfield School’s missing Ofsted report

  1. I think this demonstrates the true value of blogging. The more information available to the profession the better.

    I don’t know the details of this school but ir reminds me of a school not far from me where staff and headteachers had a run-in over bullying and control. The head teacher left.

    Educationalists should uphold the highest standards, it is truly wrong that schools should get into this state. On a general point colleagues should work together to thwart the bullies that exist in far too many schools, and support their unions who, whilst not perfect are often the only resistance to the bullying culture that seems to be getting worse.

    Education needs to change, at least in this case OFSTED is on the right side of the argument and clearly have highlighted an issue.

    I hope some educationalist journalists pick up this story and run with it. OFSTED shouldn’t be backed off where they find bullying and intimidatory cultures.

  2. This is of course not a surprise to me, or I expect to any serving teacher. Heads are given more and more powers (and expected to achieve ever higher outcomes) with little management training . A significant number don’t realise that managing adults is not the same as dealing with difficult Y9 students. Governors are not professional and unsure about their roles.

  3. MLeonard says:

    As a local parent and teacher I and my colleagues have been following this for some time now with increasing incredulity – thank you for bringing it to the attention of the teaching community at large. The Head is well know amongst local teachers to be leading the way in bullying and intimidation – and yet Ofsted are clearly being forced away from uncovering this and doing something about it – we read the full report last week and it was utterly unbelievable – Ive never read anything remotely like it at any time in my career. Thanks

    • David Didau says:

      As I say, I briefly worked at the school and have some experience with Ms Sparling’s methods. Like you I was flabbergasted by the content of the report. The Guardian seem interested in pursuing the story so let’s hope something positive comes from all this.

  4. Jan Cosgrove says:

    We also posted the previous Ofsted report (outstanding), the letter of Feb 2014 contradicting the draft report, and a phone call from someone claiming to be a concerned member of the publlic who demanded we take down the report …. who turned out to be the Chair of Governors who has since stepped down albeit to Vice-Chair ….

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