Guernsey Press

Primary school heads unite against curriculum criticism

Primary school head teachers have hit back at criticism about the quality of education.

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Notre Dame head teacher Mary Robertshaw, pictured after the school's positive Ofsted report last year. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 33056981)

The Education Committee is facing questions from Gavin St Pier after independent school inspectors identified some curriculum weaknesses across primary and secondary phases.

The headteachers of all 12 States primary schools said yesterday that Deputy St Pier’s criticism was misleading and relied on quoting selectively from Ofsted inspection reports while failing to recognise that most comments about primary schools were much more positive.

In a letter published in today’s Guernsey Press, they also linked Deputy St Pier’s criticism to the recent suicide of a headteacher in the UK, which followed an Ofsted inspection of her school, and accused him of putting at risk the mental health and wellbeing of local school leaders.

‘This new inspection framework [introduced in 2019] placed a substantial emphasis on the curriculum, including how knowledge was sequenced, resulting in leaders and their staff having to ensure an alignment between their curriculum and the inspection model.

‘This has been no small task, as all school leaders in England would agree, as they have been on this journey too.

‘Almost every primary school has been graded good or above in all areas of the Ofsted framework. This is no mean feat.

'For every negative comment that Deputy St Pier raises, there are many more positives which he has failed to acknowledge,’ said the primary heads.

Pupils’ subject knowledge and the content of the curriculum has had some criticism in most inspection reports since Ofsted visited its first Bailiwick school in 2021.

The curriculum is the responsibility of Education, Sport & Culture and Deputy St Pier has asked ESC president Deputy Andrea Dudley-Owen a series of written questions about the committee’s response to Ofsted’s concerns.

She has until 23 March to respond.

In 2017 Education introduced a new curriculum to local schools – known as the ‘Big Picture’ – which prioritised the acquisition of skills.

It was strongly influenced by similar developments in Scotland, which in recent years has suffered substantial declines in education standards measured internationally.

From about 2019, the approach to the curriculum started to change, with more emphasis placed on subject content and the acquisition of knowledge, alongside the appointment of Ofsted. This work remains ongoing.

Primary school head teachers said the Education Office had worked with schools to develop the content of the curriculum and that their own staff were working tirelessly and diligently.

‘For some foundation subjects, work is still being done – hence some of the comments from Ofsted,’ they said.

‘However, reading in our primary schools has been praised, and standardised testing has shown that we are outperforming the UK.’

The head teachers said Deputy St Pier’s recent comments and questions would do nothing to help support a local primary school which was facing the ‘significant pressure’ of an imminent visit by Ofsted inspectors.

‘In the light of UK head teacher Ruth Perry’s tragic death following an Ofsted inspection and the pressures she felt from it, such comments are ill thought-out and, quite frankly, highly unsupportive, when considering the mental health and wellbeing of head teachers leading our schools in Guernsey,’ they said.

‘Retention and recruitment remain a challenge and damning comments like this do not help or encourage anyone to want to work in education in Guernsey.’