The King David High School in Manchester is a jewel in the crown of North West Jewry. There is no doubt that enormous personal effort and expense have been invested in building it up to be a centre of academic excellence. That is an achievement for which we should be grateful, and of which we should be proud. Critique does not undermine any of that.
I am a King David parent. Perhaps not a typical one, but a King David parent nonetheless.
The OFSTED report, which downgraded the school from outstanding to inadequate, did not come as a surprise. The first murmurs of difficulty began in 2019, with the school successfully challenging a previous inadequate rating on one specific point – whether or not girls attending the Yavne stream are suffering discrimination.
This interesting and important question of law – with its wider policy implications – is low on my priority list. In real life, the majority of the girls who want to enjoy the benefits of the main school can switch seamlessly, and many do. Those who are prevented from doing so are restricted by parental choice, and this is not a reflection on the school.
What is far more important to me are the safeguarding failures found by OFSTED.
My only surprise here is that OFSTED managed to garner within a two day inspection such an accurate view of the gaps in safeguarding. OFSTED found that safer recruitment policies had not been implemented, and leaders were unable to offer a satisfactory explanation to inspectors about how they had managed allegations against adults who may be a risk to pupils. The report referred to a ‘legacy of chaotic safeguarding practices’ that left some pupils and parents with little confidence in the school’s safeguarding arrangements.
Manchester's King David High School again branded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted
Chair of governors hits out at report from November 2021 inspection, that repeats 2019 verdict quashed after a legal challenge https://t.co/0snALpWMAA
— Jewish News (@JewishNewsUK) March 15, 2022
Whilst I value the importance of institutions such as King David, it is counterproductive to attempt to silence criticism – either by internal denial or by endless legal challenges. Whilst unintentional, it speaks to a familiar tendency to protect the reputation of institutions at the expense of the safety and wellbeing of children.
OFSTED’s report called for a strengthening of the culture of safeguarding. Safeguarding is not a box to tick, an afterthought or a technicality. It is an attitude that must permeate every moment, every interaction, every conversation. It is a minimum standard that should be regarded as the starting point for good practice.
We must move away from treating safeguarding as an impediment to the smooth functioning of our institutions, and appreciate that good safeguarding is good for all of us. A safe child is a child who can learn and function better.
My sympathy goes out to all the hardworking staff and lay leaders at King David who have to face the stark realities that this downgrade brings. Morale will no doubt be affected by OFSTED’s harsh pronouncements, especially as they have been delivered after so much effort has gone into making improvements since the inspection was conducted.
The new executive head teacher has started to make notable inroads into the tasks, and the atmosphere at school is palpably different since he joined. It is a shame that the report, delayed by legal challenges, does not reflect the positive impact his leadership has already provided.
I hope that after a period of reflection, the school’s governing body will choose to invest their effort into using the report’s litany of failings as a guide to the changes that must be made. They are not alone – after similar failings were found at JFS, a complete overhaul of leadership, policies and practice have led to swift improvement.
I believe King David can do better, without losing or changing its character. It is time to aim for more than academic excellence, without negating or denigrating the effort it has taken to get to this point.
Ambition does not indicate failure: it indicates capacity. We should have high ambitions for a new culture of safeguarding within our community schools. The tenacity that has taken King David from a failing school threatened with closure to the best comprehensive in the North West and the 7th best non-selective school in the country is testament to the school’s capacity for even more growth.
With the ambitious and determined executive head teacher at the helm, there is every prospect that King David can surmount the challenges that this OFSTED inspection has placed in its path, and emerge a stronger, safer and better school. He must be supported by the governing body in achieving this desirable outcome.