'Dazed but unbowed' - new head of Queens

THE scale of the task facing head teacher Tony Cooper was spelt out starkly in an interim OfSTED report which says Queens School, Wisbech, remains inadequate in many key areas. Mr Cooper, drafted in for a year to turn around the fortunes of the ailing s

THE scale of the task facing head teacher Tony Cooper was spelt out starkly in an interim OfSTED report which says Queens School, Wisbech, remains "inadequate" in many key areas.

Mr Cooper, drafted in for a year to turn around the fortunes of the ailing school, is confident he has put in place many of the measures needed to improve performance.

But this week an interim assessment by Alan Alder, who visited the school over two days in mid November, says much of the school's progress since being subject to special measures remains inadequate.

News Editor JOHN ELWORTHY looks at the OfSTED update and examines some of its findings.

DAZED but unbowed was the reaction this week as Tony Cooper continued his Herculean task of reviving the fortunes of Queens School.

Despite the frequent use of the word "inadequate" in his interim assessment, OfSTED inspector Alan Alder finds considerable optimism in the changes now under way.

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Some might be viewed as a broad brush analysis whilst others, such as the requirement for OfSTED to approve the recruitment of any newly qualified teacher, have immediate and practical application.

But in the battle to regain control of the classrooms, Mr Cooper is considered without equal.

Councillor Jill Tuck, chairman of the interim executive body set up to oversee improvements, says she has "every confidence that improvements will be in evidence when the inspectors visit again in the spring"

She said: "Although I am disappointed with the comments from the inspectors I accept that we have a long way to go.

"After all this judgement comes only nine school weeks from Tony Cooper being in post and the Interim Executive Board being formed.

"The staff and leadership team are working extremely hard to improve standards and the whole school experience for the students at Queens."

And a county council spokesman added: "It must be stressed that this judgement was made about progress since May 2006, when the last inspection took place. In terms of school improvement, very little was achieved between May and the end of the summer term.

"It is possible that there was a further decline during this period. The report does, however, highlight that since September, there has been 'a strong and clear direction for the school's work' but recognises that it is too soon for much of this work to have had an impact."

Mr Alder says provisional results from the 2006 GCSE examinations and the year 9 national tests show that standards and progress have declined further since 2005.

Although the number of students leaving with no qualification is better than that of students in similar schools, Mr Alder says there are "unacceptable variations between the performance of students in different subjects."

Whilst performance in technological subjects and child development is good, it is poor in physical education, French, drama and art.

"Inspection of students' current work confirms that standards are low and students' progress inadequate, too many have poor literacy skills."

Although the decline in attendance has been halted, says the OfSTED report, it has not improved on the unsatisfactory level reached at the time of the last inspection in May.

"Policies for improving attendance have been introduced since September, but it is too soon for the impact of these measures to be fully felt," he said.

But Mr Alder is pleased with progress thus far, and says behaviour has also improved " but there is a long way to go."

And to emphasis the point about the tougher regime, he notes that the number of fixed exclusions has risen because "tolerance of unacceptable behaviour has decreased."

But Mr Alder says he retains many concerns about the quality of teaching and learning - both of which he labels as inadequate.

"There is still too much inadequate teaching and students make too little progress as a result," he says.

"Nevertheless some improvements are evident," citing examples of Mr Cooper's policy of strengthening teaching by reducing the number of unqualified and temporary teachers.

However many lessons remain inadequate, he says, and lesson planning is weak, work is not matched to students' abilities, and the qualities of marking varies considerable.

But Mr Alder, who met some of the school's new management team and also some of the students, believes the interim executive board is beginning to show results "for example in helping to tackle racism."

New systems have been introduced, for example in clarifying responsibilities within the school, and relationships with parents have "improved markedly."

Overall he says its too soon to evaluate how the improvements will impact on the school and he is fearful "the quality of work done by those who have responsibility for subject departments is inconsistent and not yet good enough to bring about the improvements needed."

However Mr Alder believes that with Mr Cooper at the helm "there is a strong and clear direction for the school's work. The head has got to know the school's strengths and weaknesses quickly, has prioritised what needs to be done well and uses his considerable experience well in judging how to bring about improvement.

"He has gained the respect of both staff and students.