Letter to Ofsted from A Ridgeway student

Dear Amanda Spielman,
Re: The Inspection of Ridgeway Secondary School in Redditch, May 2018.
(Published on the 18th of June 2018)

My name is Mary Dowchan-Kowalska and I’m a 14-year-old, year 10 student at Ridgeway Secondary School. I take pride in being a Ridgeway student so therefore you can imagine how disappointed I was with the recent Ofsted report which judged the school as “requires improvement”.

I was born and lived most of my life in Poland. My dad is a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon which gave my family many opportunities to travel and move around the world. It wasn’t always towns or cities though. We even moved countries, continents. I first moved schools when I was 8 years old. My parents wanted to give my siblings and I a better chance in the future so therefore we moved to the United States, California. For an 8-year-old who didn’t speak English, this was quite a stressful experience but I soon grew to love it. As I realised later, it gave me an amazing opportunity to learn at least a basic level of this globally used language.
Unfortunately a year after, we had to move back to Poland. We stayed there for 6 months but my dad soon realised that it would be a waste of what my siblings and I have already learnt, to stay in Poland. He got an amazing job opportunity in England, and so we moved. I attended a school in Solihull. When I first came to England in September 2015, I was excited to meet new people and experience a slightly different culture.

Unfortunately, my classmates weren’t very keen on somebody coming in from the outside. I experienced severe bullying and racial profiling. People made fun of my accent and the way I spoke. I always loved school and was very eager to learn. At that school, I didn’t feel safe. I was afraid of raising my hand in lessons because I would usually have to face nasty comments. In a school of over a 1000 students, I felt like I had no meaning. I didn’t get the support from teachers that I needed. My parents soon noticed that I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t enthusiastic about going to school anymore, instead, I tried to find ways to avoid it. Let me emphasise the fact that this school’s 2014 inspection judged it as “good”.

In the middle of a school year, we moved. The next school my parents chose was a small school in Redditch. I came to Ridgeway lacking self-confidence: I felt like nothing I did was good enough. That soon changed. students and staff at Ridgeway were so welcoming: they wanted to know where I came from; who I was; what I liked. I was never discriminated because of my accent or my background: I was praised for it, they liked that I was different. The teachers encouraged me to do what I loved and helped with the things I struggled with. They helped me get up to speed with all the material I was behind with. I started moving sets in both English and Maths. For the first time, I was told that the pieces I produced in my English lessons were “great” and sometimes even “outstanding”. I found my passion for sport: there were opportunities for me to compete and later on to even earn a leadership role in the P.E department. I was never once turned away by a teacher when I needed help. They were always there when I needed that extra help with something I didn’t understand. With their support, I started getting test results that I was pleased with. Ridgeway provides great support for students who struggle both academically and emotionally. Because of the school’s size, students are able to get more attention from teachers and help specific to each individual person. I know people who came to our school from what seem like “better” schools with “better” Ofsted reports, yet achieved more and became more successful at Ridgeway.

Unfortunately, as I said before, my dad’s job requires moving a lot… He got a better job opportunity in Hereford so therefore that was our next destination. I was devastated. I was moving from a school that made me feel at home…

Next, was a school in Hereford. I only attended that school for around 2 months before I moved back to Poland. Those two months were a huge setback for me. From a school where everyone got individual treatment, I moved to a school where we were treated as a crowd. In a school as big as the one I attended, it’s very hard to identify certain behaviours -the learning environment is not as controlled as in a smaller school- therefore my brother fell in the wrong crowd, causing him to act in certain ways and do things he’s never done before. At break and lunchtime I saw children’s behaviour that was incomparably worse than Ridgeway students’, yet this school’s Ofsted inspection was yet again judged as “good”.

The summer of 2017 I moved back to Poland for 7 months. Poland is known for its harsh educational system with hard and intensive grading and examination methods. After a gap of almost 3 years out of the system, I was afraid I was going to be massively behind. I had to do some catching up in history (we only learn about Polish history) and Polish but I felt very comfortable and up to speed with all other subjects. This was quite surprising as before I moved to the UK I was never more than average in subjects such as maths or science. This gave me an opportunity to do something more for the school. I took the example of Ridgeway and introduced some new ways for students to get involved during the school days. For example volunteering opportunities that involved helping younger children in school. I thought of this because I remembered how I had the same opportunity to do so as a “P.E leader” at Ridgeway. We would organise activities and games for kids in year 5 who were new to the school, or even went to first schools and organised sports days. I thought that idea was amazing and beneficial for both parties: kids got an amazing, fun day and got used to life in big schools, and we had leadership opportunities that helped gain confidence and even taught us to work as a team. So, therefore, I introduced something similar at my school in Poland. I organised a group of people that in their free time helped younger students with homework and reading. Both teachers and students really liked that idea. A couple of months in, I became head girl of that school. I remember that most of my ideas to improve the school were based on my school life at Ridgeway.

7 months into the school year, we moved again. One day my mum said “We’re moving back to England! Which school would you like to go back to? Or would you like to try something new?” Both my brother and I, without a second of hesitation, exclaimed “Ridgeway!”. Suddenly all excitement for school came back. We were glad to be coming back somewhere we felt safe and comfortable.

When we first heard about the inspection, I wasn’t worried at all. Comparing all the other schools I went to, I knew Ridgeway was outstanding. With its last inspection judged as “good”, I thought nothing could go wrong. All our teachers are passionate about their subjects and on top of that, they have the ability to pass it on to us. They stretch us when appropriate and provide help when needed. All teachers – at least in my experience – try to lead lessons in a stimulating way so that everybody understands. It doesn’t matter if you learn by listening, reading, doing or even all of the above because teachers present lessons to suit us- students.
All students at Ridgeway create a safe and welcoming environment. Our free time is well managed, there are rarely any conflicts. There are many opportunities for us to get involved and many leadership roles to take on. Some of them including: House Captains, School Ambassadors, Sports Councillors, Play leaders and more. This allows us not only to focus on learning but grow as a person. I find this especially useful since Ridgeway is now educating it’s students until year 11, preparing us for our GCSE’s which are a very big step in all our lives.

With all this confidence I was -saying the least- surprised and disappointed with the inspection’s outcome, as were many others. After reading the report I could not process the decision. There were points being made about SAT results not being good enough, when Ridgeway has proved to achieve one of the best in the area. The focus was on younger students as well as students with disabilities. I am in no way denying that Ridgeway has room to improve but so does any other school. There was barely anything said about the higher years which is especially unfair since Ridgeway is becoming a secondary school. I feel that with such passionate staff and open-minded students the judgement of “requires improvement” is strongly unfair. I believe that this has set Ridgeway at an unfair disadvantage labelling it as “worse” than other secondary schools in the area and not giving it a chance. I understand and roc agonise the areas where our school needs improvement, but I feel that not all comment in the report were fairly made.

I look forward to the next inspection and proving that our school is better than what it was judged as, with our GCSE results to support that.

Thank you for your attention,


Mary Dowchan-Kowalska