Ofsted at Queen Emma School

Please see the note at the end of the article for details on how you can help Queen Emma Primary School

From Dr Sean Lang, Chair of the Governing Body, The Queens’ Federation

Many residents will have read in the press of the controversy surrounding the recent Ofsted inspection of Queen Emma Primary School. The Governing Body of the Queens’ Federation, which includes both Queen Edith and Queen Emma, has challenged Ofsted over its report on the school and submitted a formal complaint about the way in which the inspection as carried out. We have also lodged an application with the High Court for Judicial Review of the report.

The inspection took place in late October and, like the previous inspection, categorised the school as ‘Good’ for Quality of Education, Behaviour and Attitudes, and Early Years. However, for Personal Development the school was rated as ‘Requires Improvement’ and for Leadership and Management, which was rated ‘Outstanding’ in the previous inspection, the school was rated as ‘Inadequate’. Because this related to Safeguarding, the school was given an overall rating of ‘Inadequate’ in what is called a ‘Limiting Judgement’ – a one- or two-word summary of the whole school. It is these two individual judgements plus the overall limiting judgement that the school is challenging.

It is no great surprise that complaints about inspections tend to come from schools which have received a poor grade. However, our complaint is much more serious than just disappointment, or even outrage, at an unfair judgement; our assertion is that the Ofsted inspectors, and particularly the Lead Inspector, repeatedly broke Ofsted’s own procedures and even the law in their conduct of the inspection. We allege that the report is not just unfair, but factually inaccurate. Moreover, our complaint is that the intimidatory conduct of the inspection left members of staff, including the Executive Headteacher, in deep personal and emotional distress.

The reason given for the ‘Requires Improvement’ judgement in relation to Personal Development was because the inspectors alleged that not all children have access, on grounds of cost, to extra-curricular clubs and societies. This is not true: the school guarantees to pay for any child who cannot afford a club or activity, so we can say categorically that no child is excluded by financial considerations from any club they might wish to join. Ofsted has turned down our complaint on this point without even addressing it.

More serious is the Safeguarding issue which led to the ‘Inadequate’ judgement for Leadership and Management and to the Limiting Judgement for the school as a whole. Any parent reading this might be forgiving for feeling a sense of alarm, since children’s safety must be a priority for everyone in education; however, I can reassure residents that Safeguarding at Queen Emma was inspected in a detailed Safeguarding Audit carried out by the Local Authority not long before the Ofsted inspection and found to be exemplary. Moreover, we allege that, despite their claim to the contrary, Ofsted did not uncover any evidence of Safeguarding concerns at the school. Some of the details of the issue must remain confidential, but in essence we allege that Ofsted did three things:

  1. That they knowingly gave incorrect information about a child’s attendance;

  2. That they conducted an unlawful investigation into an individual child;

  3. That the Lead Inspector dismissed evidence which did not fit with her own interpretation.

Point (2) needs a word of explanation. Ofsted is an inspectorate: it has no statutory powers of investigation. If Ofsted is notified of Safeguarding concerns, its role is limited to communicating them to the Local Authority Social Care department for investigation. We allege that the Lead Inspector did not do this, but chose instead to conduct her own investigation.

At the end of the end of the inspection, the Lead Inspector removed a substantial amount of sensitive and confidential material relating to individual children and their families from the school premises and took it home with her. This is illegal under the Data Protection Act; it is also forbidden by Ofsted’s own procedures. This is the only part of the school’s complaint which Ofsted has admitted. Not all the missing material has been returned.

One consequence of an ‘Inadequate’ Ofsted grading is that the school receives an Academy Order from the DfE. This removes it from Local Authority control and places it in a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) of the DfE’s choosing. This will break up the Queens’ Federation. Queen Edith built Queen Emma up and the two schools operate closely together: they share one Executive Headteacher and one Governing Body, and the management structure of the two schools was designed for the Federation as a whole. Forcing Queen Emma into an Academy would have immediate implications for staffing and would almost certainly involve redundancies at both schools. As a rough initial estimate, we think it would cost the two schools somewhere in the region of £90,000 or more.

One of the most distressing aspects of the inspection was its impact on the staff. Since the tragic events at Caversham, many staff at schools up and down the country have told of the impact of Ofsted’s manner of inspection, including mental illness, heart attack, physical collapse and suicidal feelings. In Queen Emma’s case, staff reported feeling bullied and intimidated, and many reported feeling that their life’s work had been treated with contempt. One member of staff compared their presence in the school to a hostile occupation.

The Federation is united in denouncing Ofsted’s report and the methods by which it was compiled. We enjoy the strong support of the Local Authority and of parents at Queen Emma. We know that this is a wonderful, successful school, where our children flourish and are well taught and safe. We consider this Ofsted report a travesty of the truth and an insult to the hard work of all the staff who make the school the outstanding place it is. That is why we are taking legal action to get the report overturned.

Help us fight this injustice!

Legal action is notoriously expensive. Our schools are at the very heart of the Queen Edith’s community: these are our children, and our hopes for the future. An attack on Queen Emma is an attack on the whole Queen Edith’s community. That is why we are appealing to the community to support Queen Emma in our fight for justice. The Queen Emma PSFA has set up a Crowdfunding page at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/queen-emma-challenging-ofsted where you can contribute to our stand.

Every child, every teacher and every school deserves to be inspected with professionalism and integrity and we will not rest until Ofsted accepts that and practices it. Join us.

Dr Sean Lang
Chair of the Governing Body
The Queens’ Federation

If you would like to know more about Queen Emma’s challenge to Ofsted, you can contact me at: chair@queensfederation.sch.cambs.uk.