Welwyn Hatfield heads speak out after two schools deemed ‘well below average’

L-R: Onslow St Audrey's headteacher David Bullock; Ridgeway Academy headteacher Jed Whelan; Stanboro

L-R: Onslow St Audrey's headteacher David Bullock; Ridgeway Academy headteacher Jed Whelan; Stanborough headteacher Merry John. Pictures: supplied - Credit: supplied

A head teacher has called the government’s key measure for ranking schools ‘simplistic’ after two Welwyn Hatfield schools were deemed ‘well below average’ and one ‘below average’.

The Progress 8 scores of Onslow St Audrey’s and the former Sir Frederic Osborn schools (now the Ridgeway Academy) were deemed well below average in ‘league tables’ released by the government at the end of January.

This puts these two schools in the bottom 13 per cent for this measure compared to the national average on this score.

In addition, Stanborough’s Progress 8 score was deemed below average.

Chancellor’s School was considered average while Bishop’s Hatfield Girls’ School and Monk’s Walk School were rated above average.

Dame Alice Owen’s School, which is selective, was rated well above average.

Progress 8 scores compare outcomes at GCSE to an expected outcome based on pupils’ primary school results.

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This is then compared to pupils who had similar results in England at Year 6, to produce a ‘progress’ score for the school.

However, with new ways of measuring school performance on the horizon, headteachers have called the reliance on Progress 8 “simplistic”.

Jed Whelan, headteacher at Ridgeway Academy in WGC, said: “The current headline measure of Progress 8 used by the Department of Education punishes schools with a higher proportion of disadvantaged students.

“The new Ridgeway Academy is predicting improved Progress 8 scores for its current students and this can be attributed to a number of factors, but at its heart is a renewed commitment to learning and higher aspirations from all its students.”

The school has welcomed new teaching staff and installed new facilities in the changeover to Academy status in 2018.

David Bullock, who took over as headteacher of Onslow St Audrey’s in September last year, said: “Progress 8 is one way of measuring school improvement, but a school should be measured on more than just this outcome.

“[It] includes the results of students who join the school in-year from other schools, or having been out of education,” he continued.

“This also include students who, for a variety of reasons, didn’t sit their exams even though they were on roll.

“If you imagine a student who was predicted grade 5 in ten subjects who did not sit exams, this would equate to 50 grades below zero before you even start, so it does not always reflect the progress of the school.

“In small schools such as OSA, an individual student who underperforms can have a significant impact on the overall Progress 8 score.

“A school should be measured on more than just this outcome,” he said, adding that the school had nonetheless improved on this score from the year before.

He’s also proud that at A-level in 2018, all students who applied for university places got offers, including one who went to Oxford to study law.

Since the last ranking, the school has made a number of changes including a new chair of governors, as well as £9million to spend on significant new facilities. “There is a really positive buzz around the school,” he said.

Stanborough School also has a new headteacher, Merry John, since September 2018, and is looking forward to two new deputy heads in June.

The school took on its largest Year 7 group in September.

“There has been a relentless focus on delivering the highest quality of teaching and learning and consistent high expectations in standards in all areas,” said Mrs John.

“The team are fully aware of the low Progress 8 score and as a school, we are working extremely hard to ensure that we secure the best outcomes for every single child in our care.

“The future is exciting for sure!”

She added that the school is planning three coffee mornings between March 20 to 22 to tell parents about the changes she has been making, as well as future plans.