A primary school which told its pupils that exam grades are unimportant has had its Ofsted rating slashed from “good” to “inadequate”, seven years after its new age head teacher Rachel Tomlinson took the reins. The verdict reverses its previous improvement up the Ofsted ratings scheme achieved under Ms Tomlinson’s leadership.
Over the last year Barrowford Primary school in Lancashire has been the subject of numerous media reports, thanks to its rejection of traditional teaching methods, including any form of discipline. It first hit headlines last year when a letter sent home to its year 6 pupils telling they were all “special and unique” went viral.
The letter read “The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day. So enjoy your results and be very proud of these but remember there are many ways of being smart.”
In June it emerged that the school, whose motto is “Learn to Love, Love to Learn”, had absolutely no discipline policy, as it did not believe that children should be deemed “naughty”. Instead, school policy states “It should be explained to the child that they have made a wrong choice.”
Barrowford’s 355 pupils, aged between 4 and 11, are encouraged to sort out disputes between themselves using phrases such as “you have emptied my resilience bucket”, whilst teachers dealing with unruly pupils are told not to discipline them, but instead to inform the pupil that they are impacting the teacher’s “emotional well-being”.
At the time the school was still enjoying an Ofsted rating of “good,” gained in September 2012, a designation achieved in all five rated measures. That rating, an improvement from the school’s previous designation of “satisfactory” had been achieved under head teacher Rachel Tomlinson, who joined the school in 2008.
Three years on, and under the same leadership the school has now been downgraded by two grades to “inadequate” overall, the lowest grading that Ofsted can give. It has been rated inadequate on two out of the five measures, quality of teaching and early years provision, and requiring improvement on the remaining three, leadership and management, behaviour and safety of pupils, and achievement of pupils.
“More-able pupils do not reach the higher levels in the national tests and assessments for seven- and 11-year-olds. Pupils’ achievement over time is not good enough, particularly in year groups where teaching is weak,” inspectors noted.
Pupils themselves told inspectors “No one minds if we don’t do our best work,” while the teachers’ assessments were deemed “overly generous,” not accurately reflecting “the current skills, behaviour and abilities of the children.”
On the plus side, inspectors noted “Pupils are prepared socially and emotionally for a life in modern Britain.”
Despite marking the school drastically down from its previous assessment, the inspectors also listed as a strength “Standards are improving and are getting closer to those attained nationally by seven- and 11-year olds as a result of some well-targeted small group teaching, particularly of disadvantaged pupils.”
Chris McGovern, a former head and chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said “This school has used its pupils for an experiment and should hang its head in shame.
“Children and their parents have been led to believe that these child-centred teaching methods are the way forward but the fact is they are creating a generation of school leavers who are unemployable.”