HC 980 OFSTED Annual Report

Written evidence submitted by Michael Newman (Summerhill School)


Further to the Select Committee’s previous explorations of the Summerhill School case and its repercussions to other schools and the quality monitoring of Ofsted Reports, will Helen Jones still be shocked? - as she was quoted in "The Work of Ofsted, Sixth Report of Session 2003–04, 15 September 2004":

"Q45 Helen Jones: We have raised a couple of issues with you of where things appear to have gone wrong. I think what would help the Committee is if you could tell us what processes there are within Ofsted, when there are complaints and when things go wrong, for making sure that similar things do not happen again. Certainly, from what I have heard this both about Summerhill and St John Rigby, I am not clear about that.

"David Bell…

"Q46 Helen Jones: I am not asking you about the complaints process, I am asking what Ofsted has in place internally in order to enable it to learn from complaints.

"David Bell…

"Helen Jones: I am shocked!"

With the Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw’s, report’s emphasis on increasing quality through leadership in schools, will the Select Committee ask him what he has learnt from the recent inspection of Summerhill School deeming it mainly outstanding in contrast to 1999 when they found it failing and threatened it with closure; how does his report address the issue supported by Gary Sturgess, Executive Director, Serco Institute, (Social Enterprise London Seminar 13 June 2007) that good schools rely not only on good leadership but require active contributions from all their stakeholders, including children; will he share with all schools and educationalists, as part of Ofsted’s cases of good practice in schools, the processes that result in the outstanding outcomes at Summerhill for the development of responsible, active citizens especially given that the Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education, signed by the UK, promotes children’s active democratic participation in school governance; and will he explain why he is unilaterally withdrawing the inspection process that has been successfully used with Summerhill since 2000, including its last inspection (October 2011,) within the period covered by his annual report. A process legally agreed to by the DfE in the Independent Schools Tribunal IST/59 outcome.

Numbered Paragraphs

1. Summerhill inspection by Ofsted during Sir Michael Wilshaw’s period for his Annual Report finds a mainly outstanding school.

2. Same school that survived an attempt by Ofsted to close it in 1999 by winning its fight in the Royal Courts of Justice.

3. Difference between the two inspection outcomes is the process of inspection won in the court agreement.

4. How the inspection process defended the values of Summerhill School.

5. The process allows expert advisers to support Ofsted in understanding and respecting the values and philosophy of the school during their inspection.

6. The court agreement also ensured the right of children to express their views to the inspectors through their democratic meeting and individually.

7. Why can this successful process not continue and Ofsted learn how it could be applied to other schools.

8. Three questions to the Chief Inspector of Schools.

Main Text of Submission

1. One of the 361 Independent Schools inspected by Ofsted in 2011-12 was Summerhill School (Inspection number 361357, 5–6 October 2011). It received an overall judgement of good to outstanding, good for teaching and outstanding for everything-else. Outstanding for all its pastoral areas and for its "pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and outstanding promotion of pupils’ welfare health and safety, including effective safeguarding procedures".

2. This is the same school that in 2000 had to fight in the Royal Courts of Justice for its survival against an Ofsted report in 1999 and an accompanying Notice of Complaint. Contrary to the information given on the Ofsted website that presents an image of a failing school that has become good to outstanding, the school won its court case and continues its philosophy and values that were attacked by the 1999 Inspection team.

"The school meets its aims very successfully… Pupils’ behaviour is outstanding and they make good progress. The curriculum and teaching and assessment are good. The national minimum standards for boarding schools are met and overall effectiveness for the boarding experience is outstanding." Summerhill Ofsted Report 2011, 361357

3. This outcome was not due to an improved school but due to an inspection process that respected the unique values and philosophy of the school, founded and run by the UN respected educationalist, teacher and writer A.S.Neill. The process was an outcome of the court case in 2000 and a legal agreement between the school and the DfE (Independent Schools Tribunal IST/59).

4. After nine years of hostile inspections leading to a highly criticised report in 1999, criticised by the Independent Adjudicator and two independent teams of professors, researchers and inspectors, the school at last had a process that allowed its inspections to be scrutinised and reviewed as they happened. This resulted in the inspectors changing their decisions of what to inspect because of the insistence of the advisers, and even in one inspection the DfE adviser, Prof Geoff Whitty, phoning the executive level at DfE to check the situation with regard to choice of attending lessons and the entitlement of the children to a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’. The inspectors were very happy with the school but felt we did not fulfil our legal obligations. The phone call corrected their fears.

5. This process has been conducted by two observers representing the school, Prof Ian Stronach, Co-Director of the Centre for Educational Research and Evaluation Services; and ex-student, parent and educationalist Dr Dane Goodsman; and an observer from the DfE, who has included Prof Geoff Whitty, Director of the Institute of Education, now on the Ofsted Management Committee, and previously Prof Paul Hirst.

6. The court agreement that nullified a Notice of Complaint also gave the right of the school’s children to meet formally with the Inspectors to express their views, the first legal right for any children in England.

"a) The views of the school as expressed in the Meeting and submitted to the Inspectors at the time of the inspection and the aims of the school will be taken fully into account on that inspection;" and "c) The pupils voice should be fully represented in any evaluation of the quality of education at Summerhill;" (Independent Schools Tribunal IST/59)

7. In 2012/13 Ofsted and the DfE are proposing to withdraw from the legal agreement because they feel it is no longer needed, that the Inspectors are now capable of inspecting Summerhill according to its specific values. The school disagrees and I feel that the process that has lead to the fair and appropriate inspection of the school should be examined as a possible process available for other schools that have suffered because of Ofsted inspecting them without respecting their values.

8. Could the Select Committee ask three questions of the Chief Inspector:

(i) Could he provide evidence of what Ofsted has learnt from the Summerhill case and how it has ensured that such a case will not happen again?

(ii) Could he explain what Ofsted learnt from the inspection process that has lead to a report of good and outstanding for the school, and whether the process would be useful to other schools. The select Committee could help him by interviewing Prof Ian Stronach, Dane Goodsman, Prof Geoff Whitty and staff and children from the school about their inspections and its process.

(iii) On the centenary of Janus Korczak’s democratic orphanage in Warsaw, with its children’s courts and newspaper; the outstanding judgement of Summerhill’s citizenship and values learning; the HMI conclusions for the state school that A.S.Neill thought was the most democratic in the country, St George’s-in-the-East, that it was "the school of the future" (1947), will Ofsted, in support of the European Council’s Charter on Citizenship Education, that all schools should have democratic participation in their governance from its stakeholders, including children, develop inspection processes and feedback advice using case studies such as Summerhill, Korczak, Robert Owen, and St Georges to promote children’s rights and participation in our schools.

February 2013

Prepared 18th February 2013