Results at one of Gove’s favourite academies slump – principal blames staff

Janet Downs's picture
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Cuckoo Hall Academy, Enfield, is one of the Education Secretary’s favourite schools. Michael Gove has lavished praise on its head Patricia Sowter who is now the Executive Principal of Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT) which runs three primary academies and a secondary free school. In September 2013 Gove said:

“In schools like Cuckoo Hall Primary or Durand Academy far more children than the national average are registered as having special educational needs. But the vast majority of children – regardless of the challenges they face – achieved at or above the expected level in numeracy and literacy.”

The “vast majority”, it should be remembered, was originally “every child” in the first version of Gove’s speech (see here). It appears, however, the “vast majority” isn’t all that vast: only 54% of Cuckoo Hall Year 6 pupils reached Level 4 in Key Stage 2 Sats in 2013.

It’s unclear if Gove knew the results of the 2013 Sats when he made his September speech. But it would have been wise to check.

The school’s website wouldn’t have been much help. It’s still praising its 2012 results and saying it’s “well ahead” of the local authority average. But “well ahead” has become “well below”. Cuckoo Hall is now at the bottom of the Enfield league.

When Gove was asked why the Government was spending millions setting up new schools which would not be maintained by local authorities he said Sowter “runs better schools than Enfield Council”.

But every single school run by Enfield Council outperformed Cuckoo Hall in 2013.

Of course, results aren’t everything. The Sutton Trust found many “under-performing” schools were actually doing a good job in difficult circumstances. But Gove has set Cuckoo Hall up as an example of a school with many disadvantaged children which still managed to out-perform other schools. Gove says disadvantage cannot be used as an excuse.

It’s unclear how Gove will downplay Cuckoo Hall’s results. Perhaps he’ll fall back on his previous remarks that Sowter took over Cuckoo Hall “when it was in special measures and risked closure because it was so bad”.

Except that Cuckoo Hall wasn’t in Special Measures when Sowter became head. The school had come out of Special Measures in 1999 before Sowter arrived. In 2001 Ofsted judged Cuckoo Hall to be a “very effective school”. Mr R Allen was head in 2001 not Ms Sowter.

So why did results fall so dramatically at Cuckoo Hall in 2013? According to Ms Sowter, it was caused by “a small number of staff members…opposed to the ethos and direction of the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust Board who left the school at a critical time.”

It appears, then, Ms Sowter is blaming the staff who left. But this raises the question about why the staff felt so disgruntled they had no choice but to leave. No-one gives up paid employment lightly. It also raises the question of how many teachers comprised this “small number”.

In June 2011, Ms Sowter publicly praised her staff for their “unstinting support”. Two-and-a-half years later, she’s blaming some of them for the collapse in Sat results.

CORRECTION The above thread has been altered to correct a typo. It originally said "Mr R Allen was head in 2011". The year should have been "2001". I've corrected the error.
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