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Quantock School History

The Ofsted Report of November 1996

At the time of the visit between 25 and 29 November 1996 by representatives of the government body Ofsted, there was a total of 85 pupils at Quantock School, of which 19 were day pupils. The majority of the "findings" of the thirty-three page document were little more than a series of conclusions made over a very short period of time by people who could only be described as bureaucratic busybodies; while a number of the comments made in the report were technically justifiable, many of the the miscellaneous "faults" cited were simply laughable. For instance, in the "School Description" one can find in the report, there is a clear mention of the decline in pupil numbers between 1986 and 1996, but there is no reference whatsoever to the core reasons behind it. The report's writers pick on what many would consider minor faults, and cannily leave the reader to draw their own conclusions.

All of this notwithstanding, the more tangible classroom-based tests were extremely discouraging; in many instances, particularly among junior pupils, standards were not where they should have been - and the qualifications of some of the teaching staff was portrayed as inadequate. As much as it pains me to say it - based on my visits to the school during the late 1990s and later conversations with pupils who had been there at the time - this was probably an accurate assessment. What of course is missing from the report is the fact that it had been the decline in school numbers caused by external issues that had led to the massive exodus of quality staff, and not the other way around.

After the publication of the Ofsted Report in early 1997, further parliamentary discussions in the spring led to the almost inevitable conclusion with Quantock School being removed from the SCEA approved schools list, with the SCEA itself recommending that a copy of the report be sent to parents.

The official line was that the situation would be "under review", but everyone close to the school by this time knew the writing was pretty much on the wall. To make matters even worse, the drain of pupils was exacerbated by the return of Hong Kong to mainland China in 1997 which in turn brought about an end to the lucrative Cantonese connection. Needless to say David Jamieson, brandishing the Ofsted Report in one hand and the proverbial Sword of Damocles in the other, grabbed this opportunity to press his case, casting doubt of the suitability of Quantock School as a recipient of funds from the Hong Kong government. It is fair to say that by the end of 1997 summer term, Quantock School was doomed.

An inevitable collapse

While there were some faults with the school, the flip side of this was that it was these same quirks that made Quantock School such a memorable place for all who lived, studied and worked there. My own conclusion was that life at Quantock School was far better than it would have been at any school in the comprehensive sector; the Quantock School staff may not have followed government "key stages" and all that associated mumbo-jumbo to the absolute letter, but the atmosphere of camaraderie and friendship was like nothing else - and I am sure every Quantockian would agree with this to some degree.

The determination on the part of the Peasters to maintain a more traditional and 'old fashioned' approach at Quantock - at a time when the outside world was moving in the complete opposite direction - was ultimately to be the school's undoing. As time went by the school and its population remained in its own little anachronistic bubble, something appreciated by the majority of pupils that were there at the time but clearly out of step with the massive sea changes that had swept the educational system outside of the Quantock School gates. By the time the outside world entered these gates, thirty years of history were rapidly starting to unravel.

There was no single cause for the decline and collapse of Quantock School, but perhaps the most significant event was the end of the Cold War. The school had been flourishing with a healthy population in 1987, but was a shadow of this less than a decade later; not all of the problems could be simply put down to poor management. After all, the school had run successfully before that for over two decades. That said, when the problems did take root, little was done to actually solve them - rather than arrest the situation, the cracks were simply papered over. The desperate decision to employ underqualified staff and open the school to day pupils only served to accelerate the decline. Meanwhile, the knives were being sharpened elsewhere.

The visit by myself and fellow class of 1987 Quantockian Mike Burrows to the school in 1995 had filled me with a sadness and foreboding; the place was just as we remembered it, but at the same time markedly different: the corridors that we remembered as teeming with life just seemed cold and devoid of spirit. The standard of pupils had declined dramatically - I would not mean to offend anyone who was there at that time, but the few that we met did not really register as Quantock material. It is hard to really describe, but as an ex-Quantockian there was something nagging there.

Only after I found out more - comments from other ex-pupils, newspaper reports, parliamentary discussions and observations on the intellectual and communicative capacity of those pupils that remained post-Ofsted - was I able to piece together something of a story, and even then there are probably large gaps in the narrative. Mike and I also noted a distinct tone of pessimism when we spoke to Mr. Peaster (for the last time, as it turned out) - he continually harked back to past days, and seemed to end every sentence with a sigh of resignation laced with utter frustration. The simple truth - which would offer something of an explanation for happened in the following years - was that he simply might have just had enough.

The removal from the SCEA approved list and the resulting drying up of the pupil pool was to lead to the complete closure of Quantock School in 1999, with the property reverting back to its former name of Quantock Lodge. Yet, this was not the end of the story.

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The Ofsted Report

The Ofsted Report of November 1996 was something that signalled the final death knell for Quantock School; read it here, weigh it up against your memories of the old place, and make up your own minds.

 The Ofsted Report (PDF Download, 78K)

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