Minister says he ‘encouraged’ secondaries to become academies so they ‘could expand’ and ‘improve performance’.

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‘I encouraged both Bourne Academy and Bourne Grammar to become academies so they could expand and improve their performance’.

Nick Boles, Minister for Skills, and MP for Grantham and Stamford, in election leaflet delivered in the Bourne area

This raises the question whether funding for expansion would have been withheld if the two secondary schools had not converted to academies.

But have the schools expanded? Bourne Academy had 1218 pupils in 2014. Four years earlier in 2010, the Academy’s predecessor school, Robert Manning Technology College, had 1215. So that’s three extra pupils then – not much expansion there. Bourne Grammar, on the other hand, has expanded from 987 pupils in 2010 to 1115 in 2014. It raised its Pupil Admission Number (PAN) as soon as it became an academy and received a £762,050 grant from the Academies’ Capital Grant Fund for new buildings. The academy announced this month it would get £460,000 for ‘developmental work’.

Have both schools improved their performance? Not according to school performance tables. Bourne Academy’s results dropped from a high of 68% in 2013 to 50% last year. Bourne Grammar, according to official figures, did even worse. Results plummeted from 95% in 2013 to 0% in 2014. According of school league tables, Bourne Grammar is the worst-performing state secondary school in Lincolnshire.

It’s nonsense, of course. Performance fell because exams counted in league tables in 2013 did not count in 2014. The reason why not a single Year 11 pupil at Bourne Grammar reached the benchmark of 5+ GCSEs (or equivalent) A*-C including Maths and English is the academy’s use of International GCSEs (IGCSEs) for some subjects. These did not count for league table purposes.

This highlights a Tory broken promise. In their 2010 Manifesto, the Conservatives said they would allow state schools to take IGCSEs and these would count in league tables. They kept their promise initially but then decided not to allow some of them in 2014. A complete turn-around spurred on, no doubt, by the fear that schools would avoid the hastily-introduced and untested ‘reformed’ GoveGCSEs and enter pupils for stable IGCSEs instead.

I don’t know whether Nick Boles makes the same comment about academies in election leaflets for Grantham or Stamford (they’re not mentioned in the Bourne version) but it’s unlikely he’ll want to remind people that Charles Read Academy near Grantham was faced with arbitrary closure by the West Grantham Academy Trust. To his credit, Boles helped in persuading David Ross Education Trust to take over the school but the situation would not have arisen if the school had remained under the stewardship of Lincolnshire County Council. At the time of impending closure, councillors expressed concern about their ability to manage school place supply in such circumstances. But perhaps the Council should have thought of that before recommending all Lincolnshire schools become academies preferably with its preferred sponsor CfBT.

What of the CfBT academy in Boles’s constituency? Stamford Queen Eleanor School (QES) was taken over by CMAT last Autumn and is being rebranded as Stamford Welland Academy. CfBT claimed it was dropping QES because it was ‘geographically isolated’. This is odd because CfBT has been involved in Lincolnshire since the turn of the century and continues to run two nearby south Lincolnshire secondary schools in the Deepings and Spalding.

But back to Bourne and Boles’s statement that he advised the two Bourne secondaries to convert. One has expanded; one hasn’t. Neither has improved performance but that’s more to do with changes to school performance tables. These are rapidly becoming meaningless. In any case, it’s not necessary to become an academy in order to improve – that’s hollow rhetoric.

 

And the question still remains: would either of these schools have been given extra funding if they had not become academies?

NOTES The same excuse of geographical isolation was used to explain the takeover of CfBT-run primary free school Enfield Heights academy by the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust – a move which might prove controversial as CHAT has been given a Financial Notice to Improve.

All figures are from Department for Education School Performance Tables.
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