On The Wight were unable to attend a public meeting following the Ofsted report release, however we approached Parent Council member, Dave Miller, who obliged by providing the summary below, in his own words. Ed
Seating was quickly increased to accommodate perhaps 300-400 attendees in the main hall at Cowes Enterprise College (CEC) last evening as the local community gathered to hear of improvement plans at the College, and have the opportunity to offer their feedback.
In a back-to-basics format, with no PowerPoint presentation nor microphone in sight, the Local Authority (LA) Chief Executive, Steve Beynon, facilitated and clarified the purpose of the meeting. Praise was expressed for students at the College, based on feedback from the Lead Ofsted Inspector, noting that students were polite and articulate. The role of the LA, following the inspection, was explained and relevant parties facing the audience were introduced.
College Improvement Partner being appointed
In addition to the Chair of Governors, Alan Wells, the Chair of the Cowes Pathfinder Trust, Rachael Fidler, and the Acting Principal, James Stewart, was Kent-based Educationalist and Improvement Partner, Nigel Blackburn. The engagement of the Kent-based team apparently resulted from enquiries made by the Local Authority, with the team judged to have a track record of supporting schools out of Special Measures, and having available capacity.
A brief summary (‘highlights’ is probably an inappropriate term) of the Ofsted Report was provided by the Chair of Governors, and it was pointed out that the inspection report noted the governing body as one of its strengths. The Chair of the Cowes Pathfinder Trust majored on the desire to “Move things forward”.
The Acting Principal gave a passionate address, clearly recognising the core need to strengthen the educational provision to meet the needs of the students, particularly around curriculum, and ‘learning and teaching’.
Finally the engaged Improvement Partner gave a brief résumé of his educational background both as a headteacher of a three-times Outstanding school, Ofsted Inspector, and leading Improvement Teams to support other schools.
Eight improvement ‘strands’ were identified, including increasing the number of outstanding lessons, the curriculum ‘diet vs. offer’, and an ‘Every lesson counts’ programme. There was cautionary advice that improvement was ‘not cheap, in time or resource’.
It was recognised that support to the college should be targeted to support the College to develop enhanced capability to allow onward improvement following a period of external support.
Floor opened for questions
After that thirty-minute session, questions were taken from the patient and attentive audience.
Initial questioning sought information on timescales for improvement. Whilst such timescales were case-specific, a positive example cited by the Improvement Partner was a school going from Special Measures to Good (two Ofsted categories) within 14 months.
A less favourable case was a school in Special Measures for four years. Ofsted will now undertake further monitoring inspections at the College, with potentially two visits between now and the end of the academic year.
Interestingly at this point, when the Improvement Partner was asked how long the team were engaged for he looked to the Trust and Governor representation, and an answer appeared to be to the summer term (initially at least) – somewhat shorter than the likely time to exit Special Measures.
Calls for resignations
Following some year-group specific questions, some tougher challenges came from the floor, questioning why the Local Authority had not used its power of intervention to remove the trust or governing body. Amid significant, but not universal, support from the floor there were calls for the Chair of Governors to “fall on his sword like the past principal”.
In response, another speaker expressed support for the governing body, and the need for stability for the College, noting the Ofsted-cited strength. This view also received significant support, whilst others present called for the chairs of the trust and governing body to hang their heads in shame, and questioned why action had not been taken before the Ofsted inspection if they were aware of inadequacies.
The response from the trust was that the situation was being ‘performance managed’ within the bounds of employment legislation, but that things could now progress more quickly.
On the core educational front, genuine parental concerns were expressed with the available curriculum, and delivery. Cases of students having had seven maths teachers over a year were cited alongside concerns over teachers having to teach less-familiar subjects.
Sufficiency of teaching staff was also a common concern, with students on occasions having multiple sessions per day in the LRC (Learning Resource Centre), undertaking ‘independent learning’. The subject of teachers having to mange some disruptive behaviour in the classroom, at the expense of quality teaching, was also a cited issue.
To his credit the acting principal recognised difficulties, and vowed to do everything he could to resolve issues, seek to improve communications, and would meet parents for any individual issues.
It was widely recognised that this was a difficult time for teachers and staff and that morale had been impacted since the inspection.
Impact of School reorganisation
More than one question was raised in relation to the contribution from the school reorganisation from three-tier to two-tier, and questioning why the Ofsted rating was now so much lower than the predecessor high school, and indeed middle schools. Previous claims that a switch to two-tier would encourage mainland teachers to apply for Island teaching vacancies were also recalled.
The reduced number of members within the Senior Leadership Team was questioned, challenging how the college could undertake all the cited improvement measures.
Upon clear questioning over the resourcing required, the chair of governors provided an assurance that the College had the funds to return to ‘Good’ in 14 months.
Further, the terms ‘back-up’ and ‘top-up’ from the Local Authority were used.
Following good separation of the issues of the Ofsted inspection, and the new build, a question arose that there was a suggestion that the new building would not be available for September 2013.
The Chief Executive read out a prepared statement from the relevant director advising that, following commissioned independent authorities’ reports, there were issues that remained to be resolved and that no transition date could be committed to.
Update: Below is the prepared statement that Steve Beynon read out at the meeting:
As has been widely reported, we are not currently in a position to be able to confirm when the new building will be complete.
The Council has undertaken its own detailed inspection of the site on a room by room basis. In addition, we have brought in both Mechanical and Electrical and Architectural experts to investigate areas of specific concern. A significant number of defects and outstanding items of work have been identified that must be rectified before the building can be occupied for teaching purposes.
The Council’s inspection reports together with the reports from the two independent experts have been provided to the main contractor. We are now working with them to identify a practical programme for addressing the identified issues. We will be able to provide a proposed completion date only when we are satisfied with the remedial programme proposed by the main contractor.
In response to a follow-on question he advised that he was not able to respond as to whether the prime contractor had gone bankrupt.
Clearly uncomfortable for some, but a useful session for parents to have gained some understanding of the current situation, the plans to ‘move things forward’, and an opportunity to be heard.
Dave Miller (CEC Parent Council member & co-opted Educational representative on Scrutiny Panel)
Feedback to the Parent Council welcome via the clerk, or I am happy to receive input at [email protected]