Twenty-four hours after the publication of a damning Ofsted report on her school, Court Fields headteacher Elaine Faull is in a reflective but defiant mood.
“People will read the report and say ‘Why is she still here?’,” said Mrs Faull. “I’m not in denial. There are things that we have to improve but that process is well under way. If they’d visited six weeks later I think we might have seen a different outcome.
“I was asked by Somerset council if myself and the management team had the capacity to make the necessary changes. Clearly they felt that we have because we’re still here. If we failed to make those improvements then I would have to reflect on my role here.”
The Ofsted report rated Court Fields as Inadequate on three of its four main criteria. Only pupil behaviour and safety was regarded as Satisfactory. Maths and science results were regarded as not good enough and the inspectors said that teaching generally needs to improve rapidly across the school.
In the school’s defence Mrs Faull pointed out that the Maths results from the November exams, not available at the time of the inspection last November, are already improving significantly with 53% of Year 11 gaining Grade C or above, a figure almost certain to rise with the June exams.
Overall the Head is far from happy with Ofsted’s impartiality. “I don’t think the report is a fair judgement of the school,” she said. “They came here with an agenda that they were going to fulfil. We asked them to observe some of the teaching rated as Outstanding in the previous report from 2011 but they weren’t interested.”
So what’s the back-story as they say in Hollywood? How did Court Fields make the journey from being a highly successful school just four or five years ago to being placed this week in the lowest three or four per cent of UK schools, judged to be “failing to give a satisfactory standard of education to its pupils.”
It seems the rot set in just over three years ago when Mrs Faull was asked to spend a whole term away from Wellington, ironically helping to turn around another Somerset secondary school that was struggling and needed outside advice. Shortly afterwards a senior Court Fields deputy head left to take charge of the struggling school – recruiting within months eight of his most able former colleagues.
“With hindsight I wouldn’t have spent that term away from Court Fields,” said Mrs Faull. “But we’ve replaced the colleagues who left with some outstanding new teachers and we will get back to where we were. It’s about resilience.”
The other element of this unhappy story involves the decision by Court Fields governors and management to reject academy status. Was it provocative to Ofsted and the Department for Education. “I think Ofsted had written the report before they came in,” said Mrs Faull. “The national policy is that all schools become academies, so they didn’t come to Wellington looking for good.”
On a lightning tour of the school and dropping into three or four lessons Court Fields seemed a long way from the public’s idea of a failing school. “It’s not Waterloo Road,” emphasised Mrs Faull. “the atmosphere is calm and purposeful and I’d urge parents with worries to come in and see for themselves.”
With the school’s reputation so tarnished the Head knows she has an uphill struggle in front of her but says she is kept going by the support of those around her. “I’ve been very humbled by the way staff, pupils and parents have rallied round myself and the other school leaders,” she said.
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