Ofsted’s ‘Fight or Flight’ report on school performance categorises schools that have had consistently weak inspection outcomes over the last 13 years as ‘stuck’ schools, compared to ‘unstuck’ schools which have previously had poor inspections but have since improved.
The report highlights Darlington as an area with one of the highest proportions of ‘stuck’ schools in the country. However, Chris Zarraga, Director of Schools North East, commented that “when looking more closely at the context, Darlington has very high levels of long term, high impact disadvantaged students, which is proven to have a severe impact on school performance, especially when using current performance measures. Research from Durham University Evidence Centre for Education shows that when levels of disadvantage are taken into account, Darlington performs no worse than elsewhere in the country.”
Although the report goes some way to properly acknowledging the importance of the context schools operate in, Schools North East would argue that this is nowhere near enough. The importance of a context specific approach is one that Schools North East has called on all political parties and education policymakers to adopt in its recently released Manifesto for North East Education, along with targeted schools support appropriate to a school’s needs and context.
Highlighting Darlington in this way is part of a wider ‘false narrative’ about the performance of the region’s schools compared to other parts of the country, using current performance measures which do not take this context into account. This leads to the inaccurate and detrimental labelling of dedicated and highly professional school leaders within some of the most difficult contexts in the country.
Encouragingly, the report argued that the most effective initiatives to help struggling schools are those that are context-specific, and that there is a need for flexibility in the implementation of improvement strategies. Schools North East welcomes and supports this approach as currently the government does not ask, or adequately fund, Ofsted to support schools following inspection.
Schools North East is committed to ensuring that the North East region’s context is taken into account, to ensuring that our schools get the targeted support that they need, and also to dispelling false narratives of poor performance in the region.