World beaters

I read Laura McInerney’s recent Guardian article ( with interest and am pleased that special schools are provoking discussion amongst our mainstream cousins. Laura achieved at least two things with the article: a) bringing the issue to the attention of the wider education community and b) provoking a difference of opinion amongst special school colleagues whose community can sometimes feel like a mutual appreciation society.

One of the questions raised was “could it be that inspectors are overly moved by a syrupy view of disability?” I have been through four Section 5 inspections, one residential inspection and one Section 8 monitoring visit as a leader in special schools. All five education inspections were carried out by former special school Headteachers, both lead and additional inspectors. Far from being syrupy, the experiences were sharp. They knew what they were looking at. The lesson I mentioned in an earlier post that was rated as outstanding (sorry) that I felt was mediocre was observed by a former Headteacher and Chair of Governors of a special school. Despite our difference of opinion I couldn’t question her experience and credibility. A colleague’s school was put into special measures last year due to poor progress. The team conducting the inspection were led by a current special school Headteacher and NLE. This may not be reflected nationally but both examples are good indicators of credibility.

I have been aware of the difference in inspection judgements between phases for some time so thought that this would be an ideal opportunity to broaden the debate. It is not a simple case of special schools doing better than mainstream schools in terms of inspection judgements. A friend contacted Ofsted this week to obtain the inspection judgements of schools to look at the differentials. Ofsted hilariously e-mailed him back to say that “issues such as this fall outside of our legal remit”. 90 seconds of searching enabled me to find what we wanted on Ofsted’s website.

Most recent overall effectiveness judgements for schools

Number Outstanding Good Good or better Requires Improvement Inadequate
Schools 21005 20% 62% 82% 16% 2%
Nursery 412 57.5% 39.1% 96.6% 3.2% 0.2%
Primary 16142 17.6% 64.6% 82.2% 16.2% 1.6%
Secondary 3106 21.6% 50.3% 71.9% 22.5% 5.6%
Special 1011 36.0% 53.7% 89.7% 8.2% 2.1%
PRUs 334 15.3% 70.4% 85.6% 11.4% 3.0%

Source – (

This is the data for all 21005 schools in England (Laura’s article refers to special schools in the last term, although note the 35% in Laura’s report is a slight drop from the 36% of special schools that are graded as outstanding overall). Interestingly there are 32 schools, all mainstream, in that data that haven’t been inspected since September 2006.

If you wish to question the validity of inspection judgements in special schools then you’ll also want to look at the spectacular success of nurseries who are head and shoulders above the rest in outstanding and good or better measures. One interesting statistic that jumps out at me is that more secondaries are outstanding proportionally than primaries, although primaries have a healthier good or better measure.

Contained within the categories are middle schools (deemed primary or secondary), infant schools, secondaries with sixth forms and without and special schools of varying hues. This finer detail would be interesting to look at for someone who has more time than me.

Remember too, that the 21005 schools range from the tiniest infant schools with one class to giant secondary schools with their own postcode; from 300-student generic special schools to secure children’s homes. All are inspected under the same framework. Is that where the discussion needs to go next? Can one framework cater for the range of schools out there and provide descriptors that are flexible enough to allow inspectors to recognise the successes and challenges of each individual organisation?

I’ve mentioned before that I have a wide perspective on schools. I’ve taught in a comprehensive, a selective independent school, a school for boys with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, a 2-19 generic special school and a school for students with moderate learning difficulties. This perspective tells me that our special schools are as committed to student progress (and we mean that in the widest sense) as our mainstream cousins.

Our best special schools are world beaters. Visit one, it won’t take you long to see why.


5 thoughts on “World beaters

  1. Excellent piece. I have worked in mainstream and for many years in a LA. I am hugely impressed by the Special I work for. I think that the one size fits all inspection criteria force the academic based outcomes rather than those promoted busty Preparing for Adulthood.

  2. Pingback: Tospy Turvey | The Diary of a Not So Ordinary Boy

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