Clarifying IES Breckland and The Free School Monitoring Forms

I’ve contributed to some confusion today around IES Breckland’s pre-Ofsted monitoring visit. Completely my mistake and given that I’m always banging on about things being clear, I thought it best to sort it out.

Straightforward facts:

Feb 25th – I blog about free schools receiving DfE monitoring visits which result in being given reports that look exactly like Ofsted ones. This is after a Freedom of Information request for the visit documents where I am told I can only have a blank one. To release the secret ones would be too detrimental.

March 11th – IES Breckland Free School receives a lot of press due to a pending ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating. Education Minister Matthew Hancock is interviewed on ITV and is asked why a report from the DfE in October describes the school as ‘excellent’. Hancock can’t answer but says that being transparent about free schools is “far better than not”, and intimates that the report has (or at least should be) published.

March 12th – I write a second freedom of information request for the documentsThis is where I screw up the first time. I suggest that there are concerns that the documentation of the October visit states the school is ‘outstanding’ not ‘excellent’. These, of course, are different terms – because one has an Ofsted meaning and the other doesn’t. I was involved conversations on Twitter raising this concern but am now wondering where the leap was made.

April 2nd – The DfE responds to my FOI request and says there was no visit in October, the school was never labelled as outstanding, and that they still won’t release the forms.


Still not releasing the ‘excellent’ vs. ‘outstanding’ issue, I screw up a second time when I tweet:

[tweet 451332526494453760 hide_thread=’true’]

[tweet 451336623083782144 hide_thread=’true’]

[tweet 451339874105577472 hide_thread=’true’]


Thankfully, Elodie Harper at ITV explains the background to the interview in full:

[tweet 451352124145016832 hide_thread=’true’]

[tweet 451352239735861248 hide_thread=’true’]

[tweet 451352413036085248 hide_thread=’true’]

[tweet 451352752179146753 hide_thread=’true’]

[tweet 451352745564729344 hide_thread=’true’]

[tweet 451353149337763840 hide_thread=’true’]

So IES Breckland was not suggested to be outstanding by the DfE nor ITV. But it seems to have been called ‘excellent’, And in December, not October, which seems even closer to the inspection date.

So….some questions remain:

  1. Was the school called excellent? I guess I’ve lost my chance on this one as the DfE are hardly going to respond to a follow-up (and don’t need to).
  2. Why did Matt Hancock not deny the ‘excellent’ label, or say that the report had shown many problems? Could it be that he actually didn’t really know anything about what the report said?
  3. Why did parents feel that the report suggested the school was ‘excellent’? How was that information passed to them?

As Elodie says, we can’t know for certain unless the reports are released by the DfE and I can’t see that happening any time soon.  One thing is for certain though, I’ll be listening out more carefully for the use of the word ‘excellent’ in the future.

3 thoughts on “Clarifying IES Breckland and The Free School Monitoring Forms

  1. It probably serves no purpose (this info of mine) but in the Independent Schools Inspectorate, ‘Outstanding’ does not exist. The 4 judgements are Excellent, Good, Sound and Unsatisfactory.
    It is said that our sector has so many Excellent schools, they can’t make use of the word be called Outstanding – which of course would imply that they were O, in comparison with other schools. Whereas in theory, every school can be excellent.

  2. I know almost nothing about how FOI requests are processed but when you say “I guess I’ve lost my chance on this one as the DfE are hardly going to respond to a follow-up (and don’t need to)” does this imply that you only get one shot at requesting information? Would it help if someone else (me for instance) requested this info?

    1. David, that’s really kind of you, thank you. For this one I don’t think it would help. That’s because they answered the concern about whether or not the report said IES was ‘outstanding’ – technically, they don’t have to answer this sort of question as it was not part of the formal request. Hence, even if I wrote back and asked something like “Did it say the report was ‘excellent’?” they could refuse to answer (or at least simply state ‘we are not going to tell you on the grounds that it would reveal information about the report…). Hence my one shot to get an answer was lost – though perhaps if I had asked something they did not want to answer then they might not have answered in the first place! (I hope that makes sense).

      As an aside, I haven’t forgotten about doing a post explaining FOI. I have a draft written in my notebook! Just need to get a few other deadlines out of the way first. Thought it would be worth mentioning in that post that teachers are also FOI-able (as in people can ask to see your materials). Your emails, letters, documents, probably even your planner – so worth remembering that and knowing what the law means you could be compelled to reveal. (Thankfully there are some limits!).

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