'Most improved' school facing special measures bombshell

A LEEDS school hailed as the most improved in the city less than a year ago is expected to be placed in special measures under a tougher new Ofsted inspection regime.

A damning report into Lawnswood School is due to be published next month raising fears many more secondaries in the region could be branded as failing by inspectors using "unforgiving" rules.

The school's headteacher Milan Davidovic has written to staff warning them Lawnswood is to be placed in special measures by the education watchdog which found overall achievement, pupil behaviour and improvements in attendance rates to be inadequate.

In a confidential e-mail, obtained by the Yorkshire Post, he blames the tougher new inspection system, introduced this month, for Ofsted's latest judgment.

"The new framework is very unforgiving and many of you will have seen the schedule that we have been judged against.

"As we are one of the first schools in the country to receive an inspection under this framework, introduced two-and-a-half weeks ago, it is quite a shock to see how much the 'bar' has been raised.

He adds: "We have not got worse but our progress is being measured by increased measures. I believe that Lawnswood is a better school than it was at the last inspection when we were judged satisfactory."

Patrick Murphy, the Leeds branch secretary of the NUT, said it would be shocking if Lawnswood was placed into special measures and voiced fears that other schools in the city would follow.

A previous Ofsted inspection report in 2007 rated the school as satisfactory and last year it saw Leeds's biggest increase of pupils achieving five A* to C grades, including English and maths. The level of pupils achieving this rose from 34 per cent in 2007 to 51 per cent in 2008 – well above the Government's floor target of getting 30 per cent of pupils to this standard and also above the national average for last year.

Mr Murphy said: "I would have concerns that this is because of the new inspection regime. I think a lot of schools will be worried if Lawnswood has been put into special measures. I understand that the new regime looks at the raw results of a school rather than looking at how much a pupil has improved."

Nobody at the school was available for comment. A spokeswoman for Education Leeds said: "Lawnswood School was inspected by Ofsted on September 21 and 22. We are currently awaiting publication of the report and are unable to comment further until then."

Ofsted also declined to comment on the findings of its report until it is published.

It is not known whether the school or Education Leeds plan to challenge its findings.

Inspectors are believed to have rated the school's sixth form, its leadership and management and its overall effectiveness as being good.

In his message to staff Mr Davidovic said: "The areas under which we will need to concentrate our efforts are: Improving behaviour, attendance, quality of teaching, and procedures for safety.

"There will be progress measures against these areas over two years and termly visits by Ofsted to check we are on track.

"I genuinely believe that this is as a result of the criteria for what is 'satisfactory' being raised."

An Ofsted spokeswoman said: "Every time an inspection framework is revised, expectations are raised."

She said the new system saw inspectors spending more time in classrooms observing teaching and also looking closely at whether the school has the capacity to improve.

'Harsh' marking under attack

Schools have accused one of England's leading exam boards of jeopardising pupils' grades by marking a new AS-level drama exam harshly.

More than 20 secondary school across the country are said to have complaints about Edexcel's marking of the performance unit, which they claim has seen scores deflated to prevent the exam looking easy.

An Edexcel spokeswoman said the structure of the exam had changed this year, but they were confident that standards had been maintained, and grades were in line with previous years.