Headteacher at South Shields' Harton Academy lodges formal complaint with Ofsted and questions inspection process after school judged as 'requires improvement'

A top headteacher has made a formal complaint to Ofsted over what he feels is an unfair judgement – and has raised concerns over the inspection process.

For the last 16 years, Harton Academy has been categorised as outstanding, but has been graded as ‘requires improvement’ following its latest inspection.

Inspectors deemed the school good for Quality of Education, Behaviour and Attitudes, and Personal Development, yet was judged requiring improvement due to a safeguarding issue over record-keeping.

While inspectors described safeguarding as “effective” they did identify “there are issues in record-keeping which leaders must address”.

The report added: "Pupils are kept safe by the actions of staff, but these actions are not always accurately logged. The current system relies too much on the actions of individual members of staff, rather than robust record-keeping.”

The report identified where vulnerable pupils are involved with external agencies, the logging of this information is “inconsistent”.

Any issue regarding safeguarding is an overriding factor which supersedes whatever positive outcomes are judged elsewhere.

It has left headteacher Sir Ken Gibson – knighted for services to education in 2013 – questioning the judgement, process and educational emphasis behind the inspection. He has lodged a formal complaint.

Harton Academy head teacher Sir Ken Gibson has raised a formal complaint with Ofsted following the school's inspection.

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Sir Ken said: “I fundamentally feel the judgement unfair and I disagree with it. While I’ve decided to accept it, I’m still going through a formal complaint as it does concern me this could also happen to other schools.”

While accepting inspectors found some issues with record-keeping – which Sir Ken explained was due to the school transferring to a new system – he stressed children’s safety has never been compromised and questioned the educational value behind the inspection.

He added: “We are constantly told Ofsted is about the quality of education but I found there was scant regard for what goes on in the classroom and this was more an inspection of safeguarding.

Despite being judged good for quality of education, behaviour and attitudes and personal development, Harton Academy was judged requires improvement overall after a safeguarding issue was raised regarding record keeping.

"There was also little regard for the challenges faced by schools during the pandemic and so to be picked up and given requires improvement on this one issue is a bit of a nonsense.”

The publication of the report was delayed while the complaint was investigated, and Sir Ken has written to parents informing them of the judgement and his concerns.

He stated: “Although the inspectors state “arrangements for safeguarding are effective”, they had a difference of opinion with school leaders about the record-keeping. This is essentially the area we’ve been contesting, as safeguarding is a limiting judgement.

“The report does not read like a requires improvement school and there are huge positives. However, we believe the process of the inspection and the conduct of the inspectors was fussy and punitive and we’ve raised that with the powers that be.”

The report does commend the school on “carefully thought out curriculum”, “impressive conduct of pupils” and “high expectations of students”.

Inspectors also praised the school’s careers provision and the Sixth Form was also judged to be good.

Sir Ken said: “The bar has clearly been raised and if we’d been given a good I could have taken it on the chin but to be judged requires improvement on this one technicality is just not a reflection of the school and the judgement staff and students deserve.”

Sir Ken hopes to get a re-inspection as soon as possible.

The headteacher has previously been dubbed a ‘super-head’ for work helping turn round other schools which were struggling.