Sunderland headteacher slams Ofsted inspectors after school placed in special measures

John Hallworth, headteacher at Thornhill School in Sunderland.
John Hallworth, headteacher at Thornhill School in Sunderland.
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An angry headteacher has slammed education watchdogs after his school was placed in special measures.

Staff at Thornhill School Business and Enterprise College have strongly rejected the findings following the latest Ofsted inspection, which said the school’s leadership and management are inadequate and that the quality of teaching, personal development and welfare, and pupil outcomes all require improvement.

The report said: “Leaders have not been strong enough to bring about sustained improvements. The achievements of disadvantaged pupils in both English and mathematics are well below those of non-disadvantaged pupils, both nationally and within the school.”

But executive headteacher, John Hallworth, said that in 2014 Ofsted placed Thornhill as Sunderland’s top performing school and in the top 15% nationally for educational progress pupils made.

Last year, it was placed fifth out of 18 secondary schools in Sunderland for this measure, putting it in the top five performing city schools for the last three years.

Mr Hallworth said: “Governors have submitted a formal complaint to Ofsted regarding the methods applied by inspectors and their findings. Inspectors arrived with a seriously flawed version of the school’s 2015 examination performance and then ignored evidence, presented by staff, to correct their view.

“Thornhill achieves outcomes for its pupils well above the Government’s floor targets, pupils’ educational progress is almost invariably well above the national average, and the school does not even fall into the Government’s new criteria for ‘coasting schools’.

“Thornhill is consistently in the top five performing secondary schools in Sunderland.”

“Such is the strength of feeling at the school that our previous chairman of governors has resigned in protest at the report, after 22 years of voluntary service. During the latter 12 years Thornhill has been nationally praised by the Department for Education, on three separate occasions, for its commitment to continual improvement.” Newly-elected chairwoman of governors Dorothy Butler said: “In October 2015, Thornhill’s sister school, Washington, was inspected by Ofsted with the most senior leader and governing body of the Thornhill and Washington Schools’ Federation judged as continuing to be ‘good’.

“Two months later, the same senior leader and the same governors have been judged very differently, this does not make sense. Last summer Ofsted effectively sacked many hundreds of inspectors due to their issues with inconsistency of judgements. Ofsted’s problems in this respect appear to remain.

“Many of the school’s supporters suspect Ofsted’s motives and believe the judgement has more to do with the wider political agenda, of forcing maintained schools to become academies, than a true reflection of Thornhill’s performance.”

The school said prior to the visit, Ofsted failed to inform the inspection team that 50% of Thornhill’s 2015 Y11 leavers had received incorrect GCSE grades.

Inspectors did highlight equality, tolerance and respect for others in the school.

, and that pupils feel safe and vulnerable pupils are well cared for.