So we now have in writing what their pupils and parents have known for some time: Shenfield High School (SHS) is a “good” school.
The inspection system is under fire at the moment following front page stories of advanced notice of visit dates for favoured schools and for appearing to act for political reasons to rapidly downgrade previously “outstanding” schools for not teaching “British values” (whatever they’re supposed to be).
I struggle to take seriously a system that seeks to judge new schools with no exam data alongside existing schools that have their grading affected by every mark achieved by their students. However, it is the system we have and, crucially, an Ofsted report is often the starting point for parents selecting their school preferences for their children.
For that reason, I was delighted for all connected with SHS with the outcome of their inspection last month. I am hoping that it signals the end of a pretty unpleasant period in local education during which they have been subject to, sometimes deliberate, misinformation and smears.
I am particularly pleased to note praise within the report for the determination of, and “high expectations” set, by headteacher, Carole Herman, and her senior team. The Chair, Leanne Hadden, is also mentioned by name for leading a notably supportive group of governors.
This key attribute of working together has contrasted so greatly to the local environment in recent years.
As I explained in my column two months ago, when Ms Herman was appointed as the new headteacher of SHS, the governors believed they were recruiting for an expanding school which was integrating pupils from the soon to close Sawyers Hall College (SHC) and would run vocational courses on the former site.
This plan had been driven via local consultation and agreement between Brentwood’s schools as the best way to cater for the widest number of our students. The challenges that the school would face in the short and medium term were well understood at the time so a school leader with a strong record was sought.
Having led her existing school from “satisfactory” to “outstanding” and with a local connection, having been brought up in Ongar, Carole Herman fitted the bill. But within months the funding for the plan was pulled as the new Coalition government took office.
Local school collaboration that had agreed the plan started to disintegrate as the new mantra was that “competition” would raise school standards. Having agreed the closure of SHC due to falling numbers, the need for vocational options was ignored, and a new school was approved to take its place. SHS would still have to integrate their new SHC students but with potentially less revenue as their intake was now under threat from the new, initially preferentially funded, school.
This is not just my view, the Department for Education impact assessment for the establishment of the proposed Becket Keys free school makes it clear that several local schools were likely to be adversely affected if it opened.
So “Team Shenners” have had to endure a long period of (conveniently forgotten about) challenge and are only now getting recognition for it. Because good teaching and leadership are the key to school improvement, like Brentwood County High School (BCHS), the governors made a strong new headteacher appointment only to find the “competitive” landscape stacked against them.
Worse, the process of establishing a new school actually encourages proposers to be negative about existing provision. It is difficult to promote collaboration in an area when proposers state that the current “family of schools” isn’t good enough or, patronisingly, that they “do their best”.
I hope such nonsense is now a thing of the past and, instead of looking for sticks to beat individual schools with, the community can once again seek to support all schools to provide the best educational chances for the widest number of our young people.