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Retiring headteacher blasts Ofsted and the academies system

Watchdog ‘does not have any appreciation of what schools do’

03 May, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Barrie O’Shea with some of his charges

A VETERAN headteacher who transformed a school that had been “completely blacklisted” has criticised Ofsted and the “appalling academies system” that could have been forced on his school.

Barrie O’Shea was parachuted in to save Dun­combe Primary School in May 1989, before Ofsted and academies – the use of outside sponsors to run schools – existed. He was its sixth head in five months.

Speaking to the Tribune 30 years on, and before he retires at the end of this term, Mr O’Shea said that he was given time to introduce a “community- focused” approach at the school, which took five years before he started reaping the rewards.

He said: “During those five years there was no Ofsted. That was fortunate. We had time to install a good set of teachers, a strong culture and a sense of humour in the place. Ofsted does not have any appreciation of what schools do, it only has an appreciation of results. It’s not a fair system.”

The primary school in Sussex Way was months away from closing in 1989 when Mr O’Shea was asked to take up a temporary position there from his post at Christ the King Primary School in Finsbury Park.

Mr O’Shea said: “The school was completely blacklisted from everything in the borough. You couldn’t get supply teachers to come because it was too dangerous.”

But then Mr O’Shea got the job permanently, and never left.

It is now rated “good” by the schools’ watchdog and the staff are prepared to help pupils and parents if they are having issues with housing or immigration – beyond the child’s education.

Mr O’Shea said: “This is an outstanding school, but it can’t be outstanding under Ofsted’s regulations. It is only down to results and results mostly depend on the social class structure of your intake. I’m very happy with the children I’ve got here but I don’t want to be compared with a place with a totally different intake.”

He added: “If you go to a school where the children have families at home working on their reading and writing then they are going to get ­better results and will be rated better by Ofsted.”

If a school is rated “inadequate” by Ofsted then it is forced to become an academy by law.

Academies are run by trusts and they are funded directly by the Department for Education.

Mr O’Shea said: “We looked into becoming an academy a few years back, but the governors and I decided that it was a complete disaster.

“They’re a way of taking ownership away from the schools and they’re a way of making money for people other than the school. We think academies are utterly appalling. We very much feel that the school serves the community and not an outside organisation.”

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said: “We know that teachers work hard for pupils and parents across the country every day.

“We look at lots of things on inspection, and test results are just one part of that. Inspectors also speak to pupils, parents and teachers, and we look at pupils’ work and their behaviour to get a full picture of school performance.

“From September, we will be focusing even more on the substance of education which will support teachers to do what they do best – teaching children a really good curriculum.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Converting to become an academy is a positive choice made by hundreds of schools every year to give great leaders the freedom to focus on what is best for pupils.”

‘Our ethos is lifelong celebration and care’

Barry O’Shea: ‘We look after our kids, we look after their families, we look after the families of our staff’

BARRIE O’Shea is now teaching some of the grandchildren of the kids he taught in the past, the stalwart Islington headteacher told the Tribune as he prepares to retire.

Mr O’Shea said: “I learned early that if you have got contented, happy parents or parents that feel that someone is trying for them, then you have got children who work much better in school.”

On his first day as a teacher in 1974 at one of his previous schools, St Charles Primary School in Ladbroke Grove, a “little boy” came up to him saying his mother had been beaten up by a man in the street.

“I was told to go down and speak to the mother,” he said. “So I went and knocked on her door. I gave her a cup of tea. We sorted things out, provided support and called the police.”

This moment set a precedent that has shaped Mr O’Shea’s school policy over the past 45 years.

He said: “I can understand schools saying it is not our job to be social workers, it is not our job to be the police, and it’s not our job to be housing officers. No it isn’t, but that is my job here because it is the way I work. I don’t regard it as an imposition, I regard it as something I like doing.”

Mr O’Shea has only ever expelled one pupil in his time as headteacher.

“Our ethos is lifelong celebration and care,” he added. “We look after our kids, we look after their families, we look after the families of our staff, we look after the families of everyone regardless if they’re here now or 10 years ago.

“I am teaching the grandchildren of some of the children I used to teach.”

After his last day at the end of term, Mr O’Shea plans to go travelling with his wife and taking some time off.

He is considering coming back to the teaching sector as a consultant in the future.

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