Most of my teens were spent at a school placed in ‘special measures’. It was pretty rough around the edges: fights on the tennis courts were a weekly affair, kids smoked in the toilets and disruptive behaviour was the norm.
I spent five years at that school and, while it was far from perfect, I’d say those years really moulded the person I am today. I grew up and worked alongside people from all walks of life and all backgrounds, most of the teachers seemed to be passionate about what they did and, when I came home after a long day, I was fortunate in that my parents would be there to help with homework should I need it.
Today’s news highlights how hundreds of schools are underperforming. In fact, 130 schools have not improved for more than a decade. For any parent I can only imagine how unsettling this must be, to see that your child’s school is “failing” them, and that’s precisely why I want to say: please don’t panic. With your support, and the support of a handful of teachers, your child can be brilliant.
I hold my hand on my heart when I say that I honestly don’t think my experience of school and education would have changed if Ofsted had judged my school as anything other than ‘inadequate’. My teachers cared and my parents cared: and they’re the two things that mattered most.
This is not to say schools shouldn’t strive for strong Ofsted results and my experience is certainly not universal. Charities acknowledge that kids from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t have improved prospects regardless of whether their school is rated amazing or inadequate. This is heartbreaking and something which desperately needs to change. As Sir Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, puts it: “Children deserve to be well-served by the education system no matter where they live and no matter what their background.”
Ofsted reports are undeniably important. But they are absolutely not the be-all and end-all
I was lucky in that I had a stable and supportive upbringing. While my parents were divorced and financially our situation wasn’t always great (at one point mum had to rely on food handouts from family members and friends), by the time I hit my teens life felt pretty ‘normal’.
My parents were instrumental in getting me through school with decent grades. They supported and encouraged me, they pushed me to take risks but equally they taught me that it was okay to mess up and fail. During my teens, both sets of parents (they’d both remarried) ran their own businesses and taught me about the importance of having a strong work ethic. Equally, they let me be a kid and have fun.
Meanwhile the teachers at my school worked so, so hard to help us pass our exams and it was often a thankless job. I remember one day we were told the Ofsted inspectors were coming in and you could literally see the stress of it all etched onto their faces. After all, you tell a class full of kids to be on their best behaviour because Ofsted are coming in and, chances are, they’ll do the exact opposite.
I know for sure that some of my teachers would’ve taken it personally when Ofsted judged the school as ‘inadequate’. But I do not believe to this day that they failed me. In fact, when I was at college and I truly felt like I was failing, I went back to my English teacher from secondary school and she gave up her time to tutor me - unpaid. I’ll never forget her kindness and commitment.
In 2005 - a year before our school became an official ‘academy’ - many of my peers passed their final Year 11 exams with Cs or above and it was a really proud moment. Equally, some people failed their exams, but they still went on to be somebody.
These kids who had lived much of their secondary school life in ‘special measures’ went on to become journalists (hiya!), managers, hairdressers, members of the Forces, plumbers, teachers, mums and dads.
Ofsted reports are undeniably important. But they are absolutely not the be-all and end-all. If your kid is determined to learn and has a passion for life then, ultimately, I believe they’ll do fine. Just make sure you’re there for them every step of the way.