We were very pleased with our last Ofsted inspection and report, dated June 2018, where the school was judged to be 'Good' overall and 'Outstanding' in the key area of 'Personal Development, Behaviour and Welfare' of the students. You can access the whole report here - Ofsted Report.
Unlike recent, previous inspections, the two Ofsted inspectors were both former teachers who came to the school with an open mind and an appreciable understanding of education. Throughout the inspection they asked us insightful questions and took the time to consider, without prejudice, our answers. What is usually a highly stressful experience was in fact made considerably easier by the inspectors' professionalism and appreciation of the school. This was despite the inspection taking place in the penultimate week of the summer term in the middle of rehearsals for Macbeth. We hope this represents a sea change in Ofsted inspections whereby inspectors are there to observe without prejudice and act in a more supportive and respectful manner.
Here are some of the highlights from the report -
Pupils’ personal development is at the heart of the school. Everything that leaders do is based on this belief. Together with the staff, they have created a caring culture where pupils thrive.
Pupils’ behaviour is outstanding. Leaders provide a safe and happy environment. Pupils develop extremely positive attitudes to learning, to staff and to each other.
The curriculum is very strong. Staff plan highly engaging activities that capture pupils’ interest. Pupils are skilfully taught knowledge and skills in a wide range of subjects. As a result, pupils enjoy learning and make sound progress.
Leadership and Management
Leaders believe that confidence and well-being are essential for pupils’ long-term success. Leaders are rightly proud of the confident, well-rounded young people the pupils become.
The curriculum is carefully designed. It provides pupils with a breadth of knowledge and frequent opportunities to think for themselves. Leaders regularly review the curriculum to ensure that it is up to date and relevant. This can be seen in recent developments to reflect examination requirements and big issues, such as migration. Younger pupils develop a good understanding of the world around them from a wide range of activities that they enjoy. A bespoke curriculum is available for each pupil at secondary level. Extra activities, such as the performance of ‘Macbeth’ and the very effective use of the outdoor space, provide pupils with excellent opportunities to deepen their understanding.
Pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is a strength of the school.
Quality of Teaching, Learning and Assessment
Pupils do well in the school and thoroughly enjoy their lessons. They develop very positive attitudes to learning and many demonstrate a thirst for knowledge. Pupils relish the range of subjects that they cover and value their teachers. Pupils develop very powerful and positive relationships with staff.
Staff make sure that lessons spark pupils’ interest. This ensures that most pupils are highly engaged in their learning. Teachers think carefully about the subject matter being covered and make sure that it is relevant to the pupils.
The outside space is used very effectively as a learning space. Here, strong teaching and engaging activities provide pupils with a wide range of rich learning activities. A good example of this was the tree house building activity for primary pupils. This covered a wide range of science, Maths and English skills and delighted the pupils involved.
Pupils make very strong progress in subjects where teachers have high expectations of the pupils and make them think hard about their work. Teachers use their thorough subject knowledge to expertly question pupils, deepening pupils understanding of the subject being taught. For example, during the rehearsals for ‘Macbeth’, staff skillfully questioned pupils to draw out their knowledge.
Personal Development, Behaviour and Welfare
The school’s work to promote pupils’ personal development and welfare is outstanding.
Pupils get great pleasure from being at school. They have excellent relationships with adults and each other. Pupils feel very safe and are well looked after; their personal development is given a high priority by all staff. This approach is fundamental to the character of the school. This was summed up by a member of staff who said, of leaders, that ‘the well-being of staff and pupils is their core philosophy’.
Staff help pupils to develop their confidence and self-belief in a wide range of areas.
Personal, social, health education lessons also provide excellent support for all pupils. One such lesson, covering cyber bullying, expertly engaged all pupils and helped them to deepen their understanding of this complicated issue.
This school works hard to include everyone equally. Pupils have a very well-developed awareness of the importance of equality. They treat everyone with respect. One parent described the impact of the school’s approach to their child, who has anxiety and SEN. She said that her child is now happy and enjoys school after many negative experiences in other schools.
The very rare cases of bullying are dealt with extremely effectively. The school promotes highly positive relationships between pupils. Staff seek out every opportunity to help pupils to understand how their actions can affect other people. This leads to a very positive environment where arguments and disagreements are rare.
The behaviour of pupils is outstanding.
Pupils behave well in and around the school, showing high levels of respect and care for adults and each other. Staff are proud to work here and are confident that children are safe. They all feel that pupils’ behaviour is exceptional, and that any issues are dealt with promptly and sensitively.
Outcomes for Pupils
Most pupils leave the school with at least five strong GCSE examination results in a range of subjects. Outcomes are particularly strong in some subjects, including English, Psychology, Art and Geography. By the time they leave the school, almost all pupils achieve at least expected levels in English and mathematics. Consequently, pupils are well prepared for the next stage in their education.
Pupils in the primary years develop a sound understanding of the range of subjects covered by the curriculum. They are skilled readers who enjoy reading a wide range of books. In some areas of learning, pupils develop knowledge and understanding that is well beyond the expected levels for their age.
Early Years Provision
Children enjoy their learning and make good progress. Staff skilfully engage them in well-planned activities that gently stretch children’s learning. The combination of engaging activities and the highly supportive environment enables children to thrive. Most go on to become confident learners who enjoy challenging tasks. As a result, children start Year 1 with levels that are either in line with or higher than the national average.
Areas to Improve
Like all schools, there are of course areas to develop. Education should never be static but always dynamic and evolving. Ofsted identified two areas where they felt the school could strengthen outcomes, by -
ensuring that writing and mathematics tasks contain sufficient challenge to stretch the most able pupils
making sure that teachers have consistently high expectations of the quality and quantity of work that pupils can achieve.
Although we would agree that writing and maths are two key areas that should always be at the forefront of every child's education, whatever their ability, at the New Forest Small School we do not believe that Literacy and Numeracy lessons should dominate the early years and primary curriculum as is standard in many schools.
Many children who join our school have been put off education because they have had far too many Literacy and Numeracy lessons, which have pushed out other subjects that truly do engage children. We believe that literacy and numeracy should be an integral part of all subjects, rather than delivered over zealously in isolation. This means that children at our school tend to be slightly behind their counterparts in other schools in literacy and numeracy in the primary years, but are far ahead in terms of knowledge of the world, self-knowledge and personal development. As our children hit the secondary years their literacy and numeracy skills catch up and eventually overtake national averages, as seen in our GCSE results.
After explaining our approach to literacy and numeracy to the Ofsted inspectors we were assured that we were not far away from achieving the desirable outcomes and so we intend to bridge this gap in expectation, without compromising our core educational approach and philosophy.
The other area that Ofsted felt we could improve was in our expectations of Maths GCSE results. The report states that, 'In the secondary classes, pupils do not do as well in mathematics as they do in many other subjects. The levels that pupils can achieve in their GCSE examination has been capped by the school’s decision to enter some pupils early for their examinations. Although this means that most pupils pass the GCSE examination, some do not achieve the grade of which they are capable.'
This was a somewhat contentious point for us as our Maths GCSE results are very good - 84.4% have achieved an A*-C (9-4) GCSE grade, against the national average of just 59.8%; and 18.8% achieving an A*-A (9-7) grade, against the national average of 15.7%. Given that a significant number of our GCSE students joined the school after seriously struggling in other secondary schools, we feel that our results are nothing short of miraculous. However, the school will take on board Ofsted's recommendations and will look to ensure that all students achieve the grade that they are truly capable by tasing our own expectations.
To conclude, we were made to believe that the school is very close to gaining an 'Outstanding' from Ofsted, and as long as it does not compromise our ethos, we will be working hard to continually improve and provide our students with the finest education.