Guest blog by ‘Pamela Stephenson-Connolly’
For those who like closure in their stories these are frustrating times. With only 2 weeks of the school year left it has been announced that, due to illness, Copland’s final Ofsted inspection visit will not now take place. This will mean that the HMI’s written report of the visit may have to be put back on the shelf for a while. This is quite unnecessary, however, as the 3 reports published after earlier visits this year indicated that the actual inspections had little influence on the final reports, the content and assertions of which were overwhelmingly determined by the DfE/Ofsted’s pre-written narrative of which the reports simply formed a part. LINK to http://wembleymatters.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/copland-is-getting-goves-reverse-trojan_11.html
The nature of the narrative arc was set in the first Ofsted report this year (‘the interim headteacher and associate headteacher and very strong governance of the IEB are driving change well’) and it soon became clear that the reports’ principle purpose was to portray the ‘saving’ of a school by Gove, his ‘useful idiots’ Pavey, Marshall, John, Price and the rest of the IEB, through forced academisation, ‘tough’ but necessary action, (60 staff and half the curriculum axed), and finally the salvation that would be The Ark Rescue (and thence onward ultimately to privatisation). The report on the final inspection, now postponed, would have provided the climactic instalment.
There are some, however, who are sceptical about the official reasons given for the cancellation of the inspection and support their case by reference to the tone of fevered over-excitement in the last report in March ( ‘We can see hope now.’ This new-found optimism is palpable!’ etc). These sceptics contend that this March report in fact read more like the climax (‘richer quality of learning…yes!…rigour…yes!…challenge…yes!…more this, more that…...yes yes!… more rigour still…. yes yes!….best practice…yes yes yes!………..cutting edge……more more more! …….yes yes yes! …ooooohhh ……’ etc) and that the inspectors reached this climax too early. In a kind of Ofsted premature ejaculation they came too soon to what they should have delayed until later, ie the final triumphant inspection report written to justify the whole year’s evisceration of the school, its curriculum, its staff and its soul. The inability to defer gratification left Ofsted with nothing left in the tank for the final report, hence the cancellation.
The rumour surrounding this theory now joins a litany of other half-believed stories which have circulated in recent months at the school. Here’s a sample.
Rumour 1. Subject: No Ofsted Inspection (Alternative explanation 1)
According to this one, after the Trojan Horse fiasco, nobody believes Ofsted anymore and Copland’s new owners, Ark, didn’t want their new property tainted by association. Ark wide-boy and Tory party contributor Lord Fink had a word with Cameron who told Gove, ‘No inspection or I’ll unleash Theresa May on you and you stay on the naughty step for another month’. ‘Sorted, Dave’, was apparently Gove’s reply.
Rumour 2. Subject: New School House Names
Apparently, the Ark functionary who decided to impose the name Harold M.Elvin Academy on the new school is determined to continue this theme in other areas. Accordingly, the new school house names are to be similarly influenced by stars of 1970s Philly Soul and will be called
Delphonics, Stylistics, O’Jays, Spinners, Trammps, Sweet Sensations
Plans to change the boys’ school uniform to wide-lapelled velvet jackets, flares and platform shoes with contrast laces and to adopt ‘Betcha By Golly Wow’ as the school motto were considered a step too far, however.
(The proposal for ‘Backstabbers’ to be the Leadership Team Motivational Song for the new Ark era was nevertheless accepted unanimously).
Rumour 3. Subject: No Ofsted Inspection (Alternative Explanation 2)
This rumour claimed that the final Ofsted inspection would, in fact, still take place and it would be on Thursday 10th July when almost all the staff would be on strike and the school would be closed to students. An inspection of an empty school would achieve 2 objectives. Firstly, the incidence of pupil misbehaviour would be substantially less. (The March Ofsted report’s claims that ‘behaviour is much improved and the school is a more respectful place…’ were laughed at by staff who know the reality. ‘The worst it’s ever been’ was what I was told by one experienced teacher in a position to know and with no axe to grind. Hardly surprising when support staff, student supervisors and an entire mentoring department have been scrapped this year and the remaining hard-pressed staff regularly receive messages asking them to help out ‘as we are rather understaffed today’. No kidding!).
The second reason to visit on a strike day would be so that the HMI could see at first hand one great growth area at Copland which is a direct result of the IEB/Marshall regime. Up until last September Copland’s annual loss of teaching days through strike action averaged less than 1 day per year. This year, since the imposition of IEB/Marshall, that figure has improved by about 800% year on year. Having shot their bolt over teaching and learning standards in the March report, Ofsted could have at last begun to retumesce on this one great sign of progress. ( ‘We can see solidarity now. The new-found disillusionment and militancy is palpable!’). It would have made enjoyable reading.
Copland will close next Wednesday and that’s not a rumour. None of the staff forced out over the last year have received any kind of recognition from IEB/Marshall: no leaving ceremonies, no presentations, no collections, no leaving speeches, no spoken thanks, no written communications of gratitude for their contribution. Nothing. Instead, those taking ‘voluntary’ redundancy have received a letter which begins with the sensitive formulation: ‘I write to confirm your dismissal from the services of the school on the grounds of redundancy’.
In a way this is a fitting end to a decline which began with Ofsted failing Alan Davies’s Copland on Safeguarding. (Failing to safeguard the students, that is, not the public funds in the school budget. Ofsted had been quite happy with Davies/Evans/Patel’s financial management of the school, as had Brent Council. It was the staff who blew the whistle on the £2.7 million scam and the staff who suffered the consequences: a series of clueless appointments at senior management level (with new managers primed by Brent to regard the staff as ‘the problem’), and a refusal by Brent either to pursue the missing money or to balance this refusal by acknowledging its responsibility for the resulting budget deficit).
So it goes. For the moment, the city boys, the privatisers, the self-seeking ‘non-political’ careerists and the bullshitters are in the ascendancy. Schools as exam-grade factories will dominate for a while. But they’re only a manifestation of a particular point on the greater narrative arc of our society. If Copland’s teachers have achieved anything in the school’s varied and mostly honourable history it will have been to have helped produce kids who will grow into adults who will appreciate the limitations of this essentially sterile ‘vision’ and come together to do something positive to change it.
I wonder where that would feature in an Ofsted inspector’s checklist of teacher achievements.