OWS0289

Written evidence submitted by Red Rose School, Lytham St Annes, Lancashire

 

Established in Jan 1997, Red Rose School is a registered independent Special School for up to 52 children ages 7 to 17 who have Specific Learning Difficulties [SpLD] (Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, High functioning Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Specific Language Impairment and associated emotional difficulties). Most pupils have an Education Health & Care Plan (EHCP) and are placed in the school by their Local Authorities (LAs). Prior to the June 22 Ofsted inspection that rated us ‘Inadequate’ we had 3 Outstanding ratings all undertaken at timely intervals (the latest being February 2018).

 

Ofsted Complaints Process

 

Through Jun 22 - Jul 23, we have completed the full Ofsted complaints process from Step 1-3, and the next step of the Ofsted Ombudsman. Our experience is one of anger, frustration and exasperation in trying to gain adequate and open answers from an inflexible ‘closed shop’ organisation. It’s accountability is largely unchecked. We have been subjected to a flawed inspection process that is unjust, lacks transparency and can use discriminatory practices under the cover of state protection, such as defamation of character in its public reporting process.

The Ofsted Ombudsman lacks teeth and is unable to support schools’ valid concerns about Ofsted’s practices. It investigates the superficial i.e. whether Ofsted followed its protocol of complaint handling, but it is unable to investigate the heart of a complaint i.e. how Ofsted carried out the inspection, gained its ‘evidence’ for judgement and the misconduct of inspectors.

 

An inspector’s ‘evidence’ is the notes he /she made at the time of inspection. Apart from purely factual information, these notes are subjective and based on an inspector’s knowledge/experience or lack of, perception and quality of information gathering. During an inspection, the voice of school professionals is fed through the inspector’s ‘notes’. This is flawed e.g. concerns raised by the headteacher to the Inspector on both mornings about the inspectors’ ‘mainstream approach’ do not appear to have been noted. Through the complaints process Ofsted reported that no concerns had been raised during the inspection whereas the opposite was true. In investigating a complaint, it appears to be a school’s word against an inspector’s ‘evidence’ but quality or accuracy of the inspector’s gathering of evidence is not questioned.

 

The 1st step of a complaint lies with the inspector who carried out the inspection. In our case, we had serious concerns about the inspector’s disregard of our information, lack of expertise in our specialist provision and her serious misconduct including gross misconduct. Therefore, we had minimal confidence that she would question her own judgements.

 

The 2nd and 3rd steps were Ofsted’s internal reviews of the inspector’s evidence (her notes). As a school there was no access to these notes and we were dependent on the inspector’s accurate recording of our discussions / information. The internal reviews do not appear to question the inspector’s evidence; accountability is lacking. Notes are viewed as an accurate representation of the inspection. Throughout the complaint’s process any mention of misconduct was swept under the carpet.

 

The complaints process appears to be a nominal nod to an obligatory requirement, but it lacks integrity. A complaint that results in withdrawal of an inspection report is rare; this suggests a near-perfect inspection process. This cannot be true.

Our experience showed that our school’s word against an inspector’s notes, led to ‘whitewashing’, lip service paid to a minor point (in our case, this was acknowledging 2 incorrect points regarding a policy), or rebuffed entirely. Despite being able to prove that there are numerous errors of fact in the Ofsted report these were ignored. So there is a published government report on our school which is full of errors of fact. In any other organisation that report would have been withdrawn.

 

If requested, we would be prepared to give verbal or further written evidence.

 

How well Ofsted is fulfilling its role in inspecting schools and whether or how it can be improved.

 

Fundamental to a true representation of a school is the inspector and his /her manner and expertise in the type of school being inspected. We had experience of an intuitive and experienced inspector in our 2018 (and previous) inspections, and an inspector in 2022 who claimed ‘experience in inspecting SEND schools’ but a background of working a few months in a Pupil Referral Unit.

 

The personality, background experience and attitude of the Ofsted inspector set the stage for the subsequent judgement.

 

In our 22 inspection, an initial comment from the inspector was, ‘these children should be in mainstream’. In response to the morning, ‘touching base’ enquiry with the headteacher, who voiced the staff’s concern regarding the inspector’s mainstream approach, the inspector rebuffed this with, ‘all inspections are managed in the same way’.

 

Key instances are outlined below of the inspector’s misconduct where the 2nd ‘trainee’ inspector was not present. Our word against hers has not resulted in a change to the outcome:

 

  1. On frequent occasions when trying to explain the SEND needs of our pupils or how teachers adapt their teaching styles to meet the needs of the pupils etc. the Lead Inspector raised her hand to block the head teacher and other teachers from responding to discussion. However, the conduct was rude and disrespectful and reflected the attitude of the inspector.
  2. The Lead Inspector’s initial phone call gave verbal regard to needs of ASD /anxiety-driven pupils i.e. she suggested sending a photo of herself /other inspector, and taking advice of the pupils she should speak with. In practise, there was no photo or regard for pupils individual needs. The intensified anxiety and emotional upset to our SEND pupils was evidence of this:
  1. The Lead Inspector entered a room in which a formal external exam was in progress for a pupil. She engaged the teacher acting as the pupil’s Reader for the exam, in conversation. This distracted the student who has attention and other Specific learning difficulties including autism. The teacher advised the inspector that this was a formal exam, but the inspector only left when the exam officer came over. There were the clear, official notices of the exam in progress on the door and corridor doors leading to the room. The Lead Inspector, as conveyed in her notes as quoted by Amanda Spielman to our MP, stated that there was no signage on the door and that she apologised and left immediately when realising it was an exam. This was untrue and evidenced in our report of the disturbance to the exam board, following the exam.

 

Accountability and transparency in Ofsted’s response to reported misconduct in an inspection

 

We anticipated or at least hoped that our thorough description of the conduct as described above would be investigated and an accountability / further consideration reflected back to us. However, throughout the complaint process any mention of misconduct appeared to be swept under the carpet. For example, the statement by Amanda Spielman in her letter dated 6 Mar 23 to our MP, Mark Menzies:

 

The issues that Mr Lannen raised about the lead inspector’s conduct have been discussed as part of our line management arrangements. As a result, I cannot comment on this aspect of your letter any further.

 

The Ofsted Ombudsman responded similarly, adding to our sense of a misconduct ‘cover up’. To a school suffering from poor inspection practice and a punishing public report, being told that the matter is under ‘line management’ is unacceptable. This lack of transparency and accountability leads schools to rightly feel that injustice has been inflicted. Battling against an inflexible system seals the perception of a punitive authority who are ‘above the law’ and cannot be trusted. The organisational flaws in Ofsted’s practices directly cause emotional and physical suffering on school professionals who want to give their time and care to the pupils they teach.

 

Ofsted’s Inspection Evidence Base

 

The published report hinges on the Lead Inspector’s evidence base: his or her ’notes’ made during the inspection. If there is one factual error or proven false statement in the Ofsted /DfE published report, then logic dictates that the report is factually incorrect and must be withdrawn or withheld from publication. For example, in the recent ‘Progress Monitoring Inspection’ (PMI) report - June 23, where a typo was identified, the Ofsted team withheld the report until it was corrected. Where school professionals cite multiple factual errors or false statements as we did, then one must question why the Ofsted Complaints Team apply a different rule in ignoring these and publishing a factually incorrect report.

 

Schools are given a 5 day window to comment. We raised issues of misconduct anticipating that these would place a halt on the report. It did not, and Ofsted would not subsequently apply any concession to the window of time for reporting errors.

 

Factual errors and false statements of the school’s inspection report 2022 merited re-evaluation:

 

In the published report the Lead Inspector stated, ‘too often, the needs of pupils and students with SEND are seen as an insurmountable obstacle by leaders and staff.’

 

This is shameful defamation of character of our staff. It is a subjective statement based on no evidence and where opposing evidence is available. The Lead Inspector lacked the fundamental knowledge of the EHCP and its annual review meetings where each pupil’s progress is reviewed in depth. These meetings in the school each year (42 of them each year) reflect school and parent views of their children with SEND overcoming personal obstacles. If the inspector’s statement were true, local authorities would have placed children elsewhere and we would not see our pupils achieving the results to thrive and succeed at colleges, universities and in the workplace.

 

As an independent special school we must meet the Independent School Standards (ISS). However, these can be open to interpretation (this point is raised in a later query about the 2019 EIF). In the 2022 inspection the Lead inspector did not have the expertise: her trainee ofsted inspector (from an independent school inspectorate background) had to clarify practice in independent schools to the lead inspector on more than one occasion within our hearing. In the lead inspector’s report cited that the building does not meet welfare or health and safety standards. However, at the recent PMI, despite no fundamental changes, the experienced inspector of independent schools told us that there were no issues with the building with regard to pupils’ welfare and safety.

 

The report stated that ‘the fire risk assessment is out of date’. The Lancashire fire service (LFRS) made a visual inspection survey of the school on 23 May 2022, one month before the inspection. All was in order and there were no changes to the building that required change to the fire risk assessment in our file.

 

The report stated there was no Health and Safety policy however, the policy was (and is) available on our website. This policy is essential for Local Authorities to place pupils with us. In making this statement, the Lead Inspector shows an ignorance of schools’ insurance that requires a comprehensive Health and Safety policy in place.

 

The report stated that ‘pupils do not achieve’. It is beyond belief that such a shameful subjective statement would pass Ofsted’s quality assurance without firm evidence from the 2-day inspection. Our standardised test data shows the opposite, but the inspector held up her hand to prevent seeing this data. Such statements are defamatory of our experienced and caring teachers and would not stand up to legal challenge.

 

Several examples and testimonies of our ex-pupil’s success in life were submitted to the Lead Inspector and the Ofsted Complaints Team. One of our newly-qualified teachers, who the Lead Inspector interviewed individually for over an hour, is an ex-pupil and who has succeeded despite severe SpLD including Autism. From her achievements within our school in overcoming her difficulties, she went on to graduate in July 22 with a PGCE and merit in teaching.

 

To make the definitive statement that ‘Pupils do not achieve’ is incredulous after a 2-day inspection and is completely false.

 

Impact of Ofsted Judgments on Schools & Parents/Pupils

 

Statements made by staff, parents and pupils.

 

Head Teacher

 

The fundamental inconsistency of inspectors became a huge concern for me. From a lengthy independent school background and specialism within SpLD and autism, the harrowing and disrespectful nature of the 2022 inspection was a polar opposite experience of both the inspector and inspection process in 2018. In that and the recent PMI, inspectors sought to understand the very different approach of our school in unlocking the potential for children to thrive after their inability to cope in mainstream education. The 2022 inspector did not show this awareness or regard. I and our staff were subjected to disrespectful treatment and our professionalism questioned. I was told ‘things move on’ when I gave my insight into valid reading methods that complement phonic knowledge. The expression was demeaning.

The inspector left late each day and at 6.45 on the 3rd, final evening. We were exhausted. We met as a staff team to debrief and share our experience, class teachers reported contrived discussion where their comments were twisted, many teachers had been silenced by a raised hand.

 

In the months following, a potential call or email from Ofsted left me sickened. I could not read the draft report. The trauma was echoed by specific staff. Recovery was not possible because the ‘inadequate’ judgement required meetings with parents and our local authority teams. It was heartening that all parties were strong in their regard for us, having evidence of the positive difference they saw in the children’s lives. Our truth was upheld by them, but not by Ofsted. Our Lancashire SEND officer has told us that the authority’s policy is that they cannot place LAC children where a school has an ‘inadequate’ grading. The impact is that children are denied the benefits of pastoral nurturing, small classes and education, that have made a big difference in the lives of those LAC children leaving for further education this year.

 

What was behind the scenes at our recent no-notice PMI is open to interpretation. It was led by a different area branch of the inspectorate - with an inspector whose status within Ofsted is head of independent schools’ inspection, and a HT of an outstanding special school. They were respectful towards us and the pupils. We have had a positive report but despite this, no change is made to the ‘inadequate’ judgement. The system is unjust.

 

The impact on well-being has been substantial. Although 12 months had passed since the 2022 inspection, my immediate response to the unannounced arrival of 2 Ofsted inspectors for the PMI - was tearful. It was fortunate that inspectors responded sensitively. Since the 22 inspection, morale has been reduced by the ‘inadequacy’ imposed on us despite knowing that it is untrue. We are a small supportive team who uphold one another.

 

The impact on workload since the 22 inspection has been substantial. We use pastoral, emotion coaching methods and individual learning approaches to reach and support each pupil’s progress, but additional workload has had to be done to ’tick the Ofsted boxes’ despite the successful way we currently work. The 2019 EIF enforces a conformity. A school is heavily sanctioned if this conformity cannot easily be seen in the paperwork or perceived by an inspector. Our curriculum and methodology were deemed outstanding in 2018 and embraced by the inspector, who summed up his visit in saying, ‘keep looking after those children’. We have not stood still but continued to develop and improve as guidance updated, yet Ofsted’s change to their framework plunged us to inadequate.

 

Degradation continues by placing the judgement report in the public arena. This has the effect of endorsing the inspector and the report including the personalised opinions that on other social platforms would be withdrawn as defamatory or legally considered as libellous. The sanctions are extreme and without effective independent oversight of the 2-day inspection and its reporting process. This is an appalling treatment of caring schools and staff particularly following DfE commendations for the front-line work in holding families together through the recent pandemic.

 

The EIF 2019, is a framework that needs quality of inspectors. In our case it needs intuitive and experienced SEND inspectors who have relevant teaching and leadership background. They need to see the priorities within a specialist school and evaluate wider criteria than simply academic. ‘Deep dives’ place huge demands on teachers and pupils, as pupils are emotionally dependent on teachers keeping the usual stability in leading lessons. Discreet observation and scrutinising planning would be more effective in a 2-day scenario. There is inherent failing in a system that suddenly degrades schools when there is evidence and recent inspections that show the school’s merit. The one-word grading is wrong, and a failing in one area that downgrades another area is also wrong. Schools are complex and cannot be fairly labelled after 2 days. Ofsted needs a thorough overhaul from its current punitive, sanction /reward system. The huge outcry around the nation should be welcomed in its insight into the current wrong and biased practices.

For independent schools who are inspected by Ofsted, it is a concern that the ISS are not evaluated in their own merit but are judged in the context of the 2019 framework. This disadvantages an independent school’s raison d’etre. At present it appears that an independent school needs to show full compliance with the framework as interpreted by inspectors in order to ‘pass’ the ISS.

 

 

Parent:

 

A Parent’s letter to Ofsted Complaints 12 March 2023 can be summarised as follows:

 

 

Note: Ofsted Complaints Team responded that they cannot comment on requests from ‘third parties’.

 

Pupil:

Robbie, ex-pupil: statement 23 April 2023

 

I am shocked by what Ofsted are saying about Red Rose.

Having suffered from Dyslexia all through my junior education I was always in a special needs unit. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend Red Rose School for my senior years from age 11 – 16. I will be 36 on 30th April. Going to Red Rose was the best thing that happened to me and Dr and Mr Lannen along with the other teachers taught me to have confidence in myself and never be called thick or stupid. The school had a lovely Christian ethos and this helped me to build my self esteem. I will still always have dyslexia but my time at Red Rose helped me to build strategies to cope with most situations in my adult life. I am pleased to say that because of them I have achieved a great deal. I now have my own business, Applied IT Systems and currently do contract work for the NHS full time and run my own business weekends and evenings. I always think about Red Rose. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. Thank you Red Rose.

 

 

July 2023