EDUCATION watchdog Ofsted has slammed beleaguered Tilbury Manor Primary for not making enough progress in its attempt to come out of special measures.
The school has limped from controversy to controversy over the past few years, reaching a nadir when the school were placed under special measures last year leading to the departure of the head. There was also a very public investigation into the school’s accounts.
Many thought that the introduction of interim head and specialist consultant, Adrian McNeillis would spark a rapid turnaround in the school’s performance.
Some months ago, Mr McNeillis told the press that “Knowing what needed to be changed was quite straight forward” and that “Now we have everyone moving in the same direction.”
Unfortunately, many interpreted the “same direction” as a forward motion whereas the disastrous inspection report makes some withering criticisms.
The criticisms included the following:
1. Pupils’ achievement is still low. This is especially the case in Key Stage 1, where standards of both reading and writing are significantly below the expected level. Children in the Reception classes are making too little progress because they spend much too long playing with toys and are not doing activities that develop their vocabulary and understanding of the world.
2. A scrutiny of pupils’ writing showed enormous variation of quality between different classes in the same year group. For example, standards of punctuation, grammar and presentation in one class in Year 3 are very poor. This is in stark contrast to another class in the same year group where standards are much better. Pupils’ writing is not developing rapidly because teachers have not given them opportunities to practise and develop their skills across a range of different subjects.
3. Teaching has not improved since the inspection in July 2013. A large proportion of teaching remains inadequate across almost all year groups. There are pockets of good teaching, and some that is occasionally outstanding. This is overshadowed by a large number of teachers who regularly teach lessons of a very poor quality.
4. Low expectations and poor communication are common features of the inadequate lessons. Teachers do not clearly explain what they expect of the pupils, and often accept work that is of a very low quality – sometimes even praising it.
Weaknesses in teaching start in the Reception classes. Poor organisation and time- keeping contribute to an environment which lacks structure. For example, in one lesson, the teacher was not present at the start of a lesson, arriving eight minutes after the children had assembled. This reduced the learning time and also made the start of the lesson too rushed.
Children were quickly told where they needed to go, without any justification or explanation of what they would be learning. When they arrived at a table to practise writing, they were encouraged to work quickly so that they could then ‘go and play’. The activities that they chose were not linked to their work and they were not directed or guided into play that would help to develop specific skills. This resulted in minor squabbles as children competed for the most popular activities. Throughout this, the teacher focused on a very small group of children and was oblivious to the needs of all of the other children.
5. The assessment of pupils’ work is inaccurate in some classes, where it is over generous. This prevents teachers and school leaders from gaining a true understanding of exactly how well pupils are progressing and what they need to do in order to improve. This is most apparent in Year 3, but is also present in Year 4. Teachers’ marking has improved since the inspection. Some pupils, for example in one Year 5 and 6 class, receive very high-quality feedback about how they are doing and how to improve. The pupils respond to their marking and enjoy the opportunity to be part of their own learning. In another Year 5 and 6 class, however, marking is weaker and does not give pupils enough help to make gains in their learning. Marking in this class is sometimes inadequate as it is wholly negative and is itself a barrier to progress.
6. In many lessons, pupils behave well and disruptions are uncommon. The corridors and shared areas are generally calm and orderly. When very large numbers of pupils are in corridors, for example during lunchtime, the noise levels are high and some pupils take advantage of this and are too boisterous.
Pupils’ attitudes in lessons are a reflection of the quality of teaching: where teaching is strong, pupils are enthused and work with sustained concentration. They strive to present their work well and are proud of their books. Conversely, in lessons where teaching is weak pupils’ attitudes are poor and they have little regard for the quality of their own work. Pupils as young as some of those in Year 2 are bored and listless in lessons because the work is either too easy or they do not understand it. Children in the Reception classes and in the outside area argue with one another because they lack guidance or direction. These disagreements sometimes go unchecked by nearby staff, and children have to sort them out themselves.
Positive Comments in the report included:
1.In January, the school introduced a new approach to the teaching of phonics, early reading and writing in Key Stage 1 and the Reception classes. This is now well established in most classes. Teachers, learning support assistants and pupils have adapted to the structure and routines quickly and there are clear indications that pupils’ early reading is beginning to improve as a result.
2.Where teaching is good, the picture is totally different. Pupils understand exactly what is expected of them and they respond very well. In one reading lesson, pupils were all challenged to learn and develop new skills. They moved to their tasks quickly and worked hard, responding very well to support and guidance from their teacher and the learning support assistants in the classroom. Their work was good and they understood what they needed to do to improve.
3. Pupils enjoy playtimes and games, and sporting pastimes are popular. Pupils say that behaviour in the playground has improved considerably since the arrival of the new leadership team.
4. The new leadership team of Executive Principal and head of school have quickly gained a secure understanding of where the priorities are for improvement. An external review, commissioned by the governing body, supported this and provided a clear picture of the quality of teaching. The leadership team have identified where the teaching is most urgently in need of support and are targeting resources in these areas.
The changes in leadership, and the recent improvements, result from a strong and effective partnership between the local authority, the governing body and the proposed academy partner – the Gateway Learning Community (GLC). All three partners share the same goals and are committed to getting things right for the local community. The school is anticipating a conversion to academy status in the near future, and is already working very closely with the staff from the GLC so that improvements continue.
Leaders recognise that the current curriculum is inadequate, as it does not provide enough structure for learning that steadily builds on what pupils already know and can do. A revised curriculum, is replacing the existing version.
YT will be gauging reaction from a number of organisations during the week.