Gove shines beam of approval on one Lambeth academy but leaves similar high-achieving non-academy primaries in the shadows

Janet Downs's picture
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Durand Academy is one of Michael Gove’s favourite primary schools. In October he told the Conservative Conference:

“…go to Durand Academy in the heart of Brixton where more than half of the children come from homes which are either eligible for free school meals or where the children have special educational needs. Every single child leaves that school at or above the expected level in English, Maths, and Science."

Gove has visited Durand many times so it’s odd he should think it’s in the middle of Brixton when it’s in Stockwell. Perhaps he’s lost his sense of direction. So, how accurate are Gove’s other claims?

He said all Durand’s pupils left “at or above the expected level”. The accuracy of this depends on what Gove means by “expected”. If he means the level a particular child is expected to achieve, then this applies to most primary schools. If Mark, with prior low attainment, is expected to reach level 3, then if he achieves Level 3 he’s reached his expected level.

If, however, Gove thinks the expected level is Level 4 then he’s confusing “expected” with “average”. Level 4 is average attainment. Only the mathematically-challenged expect all children to be average or above and none below.

90% of Durand’s Year 6 pupils gained level 4 in Maths and English in 2012. This isn’t quite Gove’s “every single child” but it exceeds the Lambeth borough average (84%). Gove may be right about “more than half” of pupils being eligible for free schools meals (FSM). However, the figure for Durand pupils eligible and claiming is lower: 44.6%. Nevertheless, that exceeds the Lambeth average (35.7%).

Do “more than half” of Durand’s children come from homes where children have special educational needs (SEN)? This question is impossible to answer – we need to know the number of SEN children in each household. And even if over half of Durand’s pupils come from homes containing a child with SEN it doesn’t necessarily mean the SEN child attends Durand. The school has 2.8% of its pupils with Statements or on School Action Plus. Only one of Lambeth’s 75 primary schools, St Andrew's Catholic Primary, has fewer SEN pupils.

Nevertheless, 90% of pupils gaining Level 4 in Maths and English is a high level of attainment as measured by league tables*. But attainment at 21 other Lambeth state primary schools reached or exceeded 90%. And 4 of the 19 which exceeded 90% have more FSM pupils than Durand.

These 21 schools also deserve Gove’s praise. They can be found in the School Performance Tables. However, the four with a similar FSM cohort to Durand’s are (the Level 4 figure includes both Maths and English):

Henry Fawcett Primary School: 97% achieved Level 4. 51.1% FSM, 9.3 SEN.

Richard Atkins Primary School: 93% reached Level 4. 50.9% FSM, 10.3% SEN.

St John’s Angell Town C of E VA School: 96% reached Level 4. 50.9% FSM, 17.2% SEN.

Vauxhall Primary School: 100% achieved Level 4. 53.6% FSM. 24.3% SEN.

So it isn’t necessary to be an academy to get high results, neither is it necessary to be “free” of local authority (LA) “control”. Three of the above four schools are LA maintained schools.

MORE GOVIAN SLIPS

In the same Conference speech, Gove said: “Woodpecker Hall, an academy in one of the poorest parts of Enfield, which has set up two new free schools – every single one of the students there succeeds at a level and getting a quality of education in English, Maths, and Science at or above the national average”.

Gove is confusing Cuckoo Hall and Woodpecker Hall, a free school set up by Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust. Gove’s visited Cuckoo Hall many times, so it’s surprising he can’t remember its name. And Woodpecker Hall pupils have not yet taken Sats - it’s rather premature to praise attainment.

So, does every Cuckoo Hall pupil succeed at or above the national average (Level 4)? No, but very few primaries achieve 100%. Nevertheless, 94% of Cuckoo Hall pupils attained Level 4 in Maths and English in 2012 and two light-touch inspections have judged the school “outstanding”. The last full inspection in 2001 found Cuckoo Hall was “very effective”, teaching, leadership and management were “very good”, and pupils made “good progress”. Cuckoo Hall came out of special measures in 1999 following “very substantial improvement”. The staff responsible for this improvement and who turned it into a very effective school deserve commendation.

But Gove doesn’t mention them when he praises Cuckoo Hall. Instead, he wrote in the Evening Standard that when the present head, Patricia Sowter, took over the school in 2002, “it was in special measures and risked closure because it was so bad.”

That statement is untrue.

All figures came from the DfE School Performance Tables available here.

*UPDATE (added 10 January).  The original post said that Durand’s league table position was “still praiseworthy”.   But as Roger Titcombe points out below, league table position is not a reliable indicator of the quality of education provided.  I have, therefore, removed these words.  Similarly, the word "good" in relation to league table position has been replaced with "high level of attainment as measured by league tables*". However, as long as Michael Gove uses league table position as his preferred indicator of education quality, I shall continue to highlight schools which do better on his chosen measure, even though I know it to be flawed.  If Michael Gove thinks it is appropriate to praise Durand Academy, he should also commend similar non-academy schools whose achievement as measured by league tables is the same or better.  And he should, of course, not make statements which are simply untrue.
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