Assessing schools – don’t start and end with the prospectus

We are now well into this year’s round of open events in Brentwood’s schools and I have been fascinated to see how each of the secondary schools that serve the five parishes of the town has set about attracting students for next year. It has underlined to me how important it is to visit schools that you are considering for your child and to put prospectuses into a proper context.

A school’s prospectus is effectively a sales tool, for many the first contact that the school will have made with a parent. There are many similarities between those that I have seen to date. Most have a headteacher’s message, their approach to curriculum, transition policies, extra-curricular opportunities and how the school views its place in the community. I have been interested to see a difference in one area however this year with the addition of a new school in the town.

I have been unable to source an on-line version of the Brentwood Ursuline prospectus, if anyone can point me to a copy I would be very grateful. The other four schools have theirs available via their websites at the following links:

Becket Keys:

http://www.becketkeys.org/Prospectus.pdf

Brentwood County High School (BCHS):

http://issuu.com/cleverbox/docs/bchs_prospectus?mode=window&backgroundColor=%23222222

Shenfield High School (SHS) (NB: there are two documents here, “additional information” provides more detail on the school’s approach.):

http://www.shenfield.essex.sch.uk/information/school-prospectus.aspx

Note that there are two documents here, “additional information” provides more detail on the school’s approach.

St Martin’s School:

http://www.st-martins.essex.sch.uk/Mainfolder/downloads/about_us/School-Prospectus.pdf

Parents also have the advantage of matching the claims within prospectuses with more objective indicators such as exam results and Ofsted reports. Through no fault of their own, a new school cannot be judged in this way so much of what is in their prospectus has to be seen as intention and aspiration and the plausibility of that must be down to the judgement of the individual parent.

I was particularly struck by this when I noted the different approaches that schools took to describing their teaching staff. Following a change of policy in the summer, academies can now join free schools in employing non-qualified staff so maybe some schools are more concerned to reassure nervous parents?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jul/27/gove-academies-unqualified-teaching-staff

SHS and BCHS do not refer directly in their prospectuses to how they recruit. In my view, the narrative focuses on how the whole school community is aiming to meet the needs of each student under the leadership of the head teacher. As in every school, the leadership team and the governors are assumed to manage and recruit staff to meet that aim. We must judge them on how many students meet their potential.

The St Martin’s prospectus does of course largely follow the same theme but Mr Mike O’Sullivan’s “Welcome from the Headteacher” does include the phrase “we only appoint the best teachers”. This is a subjective statement that cannot be proved but can at least be assessed against Ofsted reports and exam outcomes.

As previously stated, new free school Becket Keys does not have that collateral to draw on and yet they devote a significant section of their prospectus to this topic and are not modest in their claims: “Becket Keys employs exceptional staff to ensure that all students achieve their potential.”

And how do they justify this judgement?

“Last year the school received over 200 applications for its first teaching positions; all candidates, including the Headteacher, were required to demonstrate their skills in the classroom in front of inspectors from RET and the Diocese. Only those who delivered good or outstanding lessons were interviewed.  This approach to teaching appointments is a permanent feature of the school’s recruitment policy”

It is my understanding that this approach is standard practice in schools. What is being described is “classroom assessment” that candidates for roles in schools are routinely required to undertake in addition to an interview.

However, Becket Keys are claiming that this process ensures that their staff are “exceptional” so what is the differentiator? It must be the “inspectors” that they reference. They state that

“we have an Ofsted trained Inspector in School on our senior team” but it is not clear if this is a member of teaching staff (in which case they wouldn’t have been involved in assessing their appointment) or someone from school sponsors RET (whose recent experience in a classroom is unknown).

As this takes up a full page of the prospectus, we contacted Becket Keys to ask the following:

“As a new school who do not legally have to employ fully qualified teaching staff to take lessons you appear to be rightly concerned to reassure prospective parents about your recruitment process. As you will be aware, it is standard practice to carry out classroom assessments of prospective staff before employing them but you are highlighting this in your literature. To be clear about your process and to clarify your stated claim in your prospectus that recruited staff are “exceptional”, we would be grateful if you could provide a response to the following queries:

You state that you “have an Ofsted trained inspector” on your “senior team”. Please could you clarify who this is and when they last conducted an inspection for Ofsted?

Please could you indicate who the “inspectors from RET and the diocese” are that you reference in your prospectus, what their qualifications are and when they last conducted an inspection for Ofsted?”

Unfortunately, in common with previous requests since March, Becket Keys have declined to answer. Interested parents may have better luck.

Stephen Mayo

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Comments

  1. Congratulations on getting a regular column in the Brentwood Gazette. It will be good for the general public in Brentwood to get a more balanced picture than they have been getting of what is going on in Brentwood schools.

    Reply

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