Ofsted visited our school from 1st to 3rd November 2022. They downgraded the school from "Good" to "Requires Improvement". But if you read beyond the sombre judgement outcome highlighted at the top of the report, you will discover a different kind of school and plenty of reasons to be pleased- though not complacent-about the work ahead for us as a school community.
On the first day of the inspection, the lead inspector-Shaun Jarvis HMI-enters our school building through the front door to be greeted by a small curved space and a hatch from which the office administrator could check his ID and issue him with a visitor badge. This entrance space is not spectacular, to say the least. The first impression of any visitor coming into our school is not of a visionary institution with high aspirations offering an outstanding education. It is of a building which from the outside is beautiful-but tired. And on the inside needs new carpeting, painting and better lighting. In the darkening days of November, even the large Victorian windows and high ceilings struggle to allow enough light in-and in the stairways and corridors there is only artifical light. "The school building needs much refurbishment," writes the inspector. And we know he is right. He knows that this is not a surprise to us. He knows that we are in the process of refurbishing, which is why he also writes: "leaders accept this is an immediate priority."
But as the inspection proceeds, despite the worn out carpets, and flaky paint on a wall here and there, the inspector begins to see a different kind of light in our school. A light which all too often is snuffed out of children in mainstream schools. He speaks to staff, sits in classrooms and meets with pupils. Together with the assisting inspector, Linda Jacobs, they look at pupils' work, question them in small groups, even quiz them on math, on politics, on history. Observe them as they interact in classrooms with their teachers, watch them as they move from lesson to lesson, class to playground, lecture to seminar. Quite a different impression begins to emerge. The impression of a school where "the curriculum engineers pupils for success", where "British values are deeply embedded in the school", where "pupils like Deenway and are very positive about their school"; a school where "leaders have a clear vision" and "admirably strive for excellence".
"High expectations, consistent routines and clear community values" (Ofsted 2022)
In fact, the inspector judges that the quality of education is "Good"; that the behaviour and attitudes of pupils are "Good"; and that their personal development is "Good." So why the judgement of 'requires improvement'? What is it exactly that requires improvement? "Leaders have not acted quickly enough to address issues relating to fire safety in the school," writes the inspector. "Additionally, some areas of the premises are in a poor state of repair. For example, carpets are worn and create trip hazards." And for this reason-despite having a curriculum that "engineers pupils for success"; where "leaders and staff are trained well in all matters relating to safeguarding"; where "assessment is used well across most phases" and "leaders have worked hard to give staff the tools they need to track and monitor pupils’ progress through the curriculum"; where "the personal development programme is well thought out"; and where "sensitive topics are taught with considerable care [and] staff ensure they teach a range of views and thoughts about these different topics"; despite all of that-because of the worn out carpets, and refurbishment required to corridors and staircases, currently "the independent school standards are not all met."
From the very start of school in the early years, the school’s curriculum follows the Montessori approach. Leaders and staff know a lot about this approach and have used their knowledge and understanding to plan what pupils need to learn and when. A logical sequence helps pupils to build their knowledge and skills over time. This approach continues through lower and upper elementary. The curriculum successfully engineers success for pupils. (Ofsted 2022)
Indeed there is a great deal of praise in the inspector's final report. At Deenway, over the last fourteen years, we have devloped a community where children are nurtured, looked after and guided to become strong, intelligent, articulate independent young men and women. They do well in their studies and go on to further and higher education. They are set up to be successful in life, as people of spirituality, high-aspiration and independent thinking. All this, is more or less, expressed in the report itself. This does not mean that there are not areas for improvement. Quite rightly the inspector has identified the need for the school to complete the refurbishment of the building. But even a judgement of "Good" in all the other areas of the inspection is not good enough for us. At Deenway we encourage our children to strive for excellence. And as a school, and school community we must also strive for excellence. We will never be an oustanding school by our own standards because we can never rest on our laurels; but we do aim to become an "Oustanding" school by Ofsted's standards. In sha Allah this will happen in the next Ofsted visit in a few years time. The only things stopping us from realising this is not the curriculum, not the quality of teaching and learning, not the methodology or philosophy, but quite simply money.
It is not even a great deal of money. Actually the simple refurbishment that the report is referring to can be done quite easily-painting, new carpets in the hallways and new lighting. But we would like to do this with excellence. We want the school building to be beautiful to behold, to walk around in and explore. Even as it is wonderful, nurturing, caring and beautiful to be learning in as a child. And even as it is a great privelege to be working in as an adult.
The report has rightly criticised my work as leader of the school. Part of my role is to rally the community around our vision, our mission and our highest aspirations. Failure to refurbish the building in time, is therefore my failure, and so the critcism is well-founded. But the report is also telling us that the distance between us (as a school community) and the promised land (the kind of school we want), is the distance between you who read this, and your pocket. If you are a parent, a well-wisher, a friend; then please understand what this inspection report is telling us: You are a good school in all that you do, but you need money to fix up your building. That money, that effort, that support has to come from you-the parents of children for whose benefit the school works so tirelessly. Let us not be complacent. Let us be grateful and generous. And let each of us strive relentlessly and give what we can to complete the building of a beautiful legacy that can last for generations to come.
British values are deeply embedded in the school. Good values and morals are instilled in children from the moment they start in the early years. Grace and courtesy lessons help them to know what is expected and how to interact with others. (Ofsted 2022)
Deenway has solved what might be called "the school problem". Especially for families that share the values of the Islamic tradition that is so dear to our hearts. We have developed from scratch and demonstrated over the last fourteen years, that it is possible to have a place for our children where they can be happy, nurtured, true to their own identities, where they can learn just as well as in the most academically rigorous schools and from where they can go on to be full members of wider society. We can raise our children, educate them and nurture them in a way that is true to our values, meets Ofsted's highest expectations and empowers our children to be fully participating, productive people in the wider world. We've built the model, established something special and proven it works. Now we need you to help us make this beautiful institution the best it can be-inwardly and outwardly.
wa ma tawfeeqi illa billah
Munawar Karim (Headmaster)