Academy status is no guarantee of success: converter academy fails Ofsted

Janet Downs's picture
Mr Gove maintains that academy conversion will improve schools. He calls opponents of his academy policy “enemies of promise” who are “happy with failure”. So convinced is he that conversion is a magic bullet that he is forcing “failing” primary schools to become academies with a sponsor imposed upon them if they do not comply.

Birkdale High School in Sefton became an academy in August 2011. In December Ofsted visited and placed the school in special measures for “failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education”. Ofsted slated the school’s leaders, management and governors. Behaviour was inadequate; attainment too low. Staff believed the governing body didn’t have a full picture of what was going on in the school – Ofsted endorsed this view.

Ofsted had judged the predecessor school to be good in 2007 and had pronounced that its leadership was outstanding. In June 2010 an Ofsted interim assessment showed that performance at the predecessor school had been sustained.

When the school became an academy the membership of the governing body changed. Five new members were recruited. Yet despite this change in governance and the new beginning conferred by academy status, the boys in the school have not benefitted from conversion.

Perhaps the school would have failed its Ofsted even if had remained a non-academy school. Perhaps it was already on a downward trajectory. Or perhaps Ofsted has been unduly negative and underplayed the positive qualities of the school. Or could it be that the change in governance meant that governors who had been doing a good job were replaced with ones that both staff and Ofsted recognised were not fully aware of what was happening in the school?

The answer to these speculations will never be known. The real question is: what happens to the school now? Will Mr Gove remove the governing body? Will he force a sponsor onto the school?

Whatever he decides, he’s being very quiet about it.

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eJD8owE1's picture
Thu, 23/02/2012 - 15:06

It seems unlikely that a school could have ended up in the state that Ofsted claim it has ended up in, from a "good" start, in the space of a term. Governors simply don't have tactical power that would impact on issues like behaviour and long-term academic progress within eight weeks, positively or negatively. Other hypothesis would include an over-generous report in 2010, a hatchet job in 2011, a change of head or governors who were too focussed on transition and no enough on the school over the past few years. implies the governors may be rather too fond of sticking one to the LEA. implies that the original transition was naive in the extreme.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 23/02/2012 - 18:06

Thanks for the links, eJD8owE1. It seems from the newspaper article that the school has rebuffed offers by Sefton Council to help. I was surprised to learn that a Sefton Councillor told a Council meeting that the school's head teacher had not been "aware of the first time the council offered support". Why was this? Had the Chairman of the Governors not told him?

The school has “engaged the support” of a Liverpool school improvement team. This raises the question as to the cost of this support. According to the article, a Councillor believed it would have saved time and money if the academy has taken up the offer of help from Sefton Council.

The link to the consultation document was revealing. The document said it got little in the way of services from Sefton for the top-sliced 8.5% and claimed it received no Education Welfare or SEN support. It didn't say that it would have received administrative services such as pay roll/pensions and dealing with staff issues such as redundancies. It was also illuminating that the document thought academy conversion for all schools was "inevitable".

eJD8owE1's picture
Fri, 24/02/2012 - 14:00

I've had visibility of a couple of academy transitions. In most cases, there was a complete failure on the part of the school SLT and the governors to realise that issues like employment tribunals, special needs inclusion, pension liabilities for support staff, ownership of land, insurance, et cetera et cetera, are all things that consume resources. The LEA handles all of that, and schools that talk about how their top-slice to the LEA buys them "nothing" presumably see insurance premiums as unnecessary waste. It's not surprising: few school SLT and few governors (esp. of primary schools) have any particular reason to understand this stuff. But casually dismissing the whole area as trivial, cheap and simple to replace internally is just naive.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 24/02/2012 - 17:35

The consultation that took place when Birkdale converted raises questions about the "quality" of other academy conversion consultations. How many, like Birkdale, overstated the benefits of academy conversion and understated the role of the local authority? How many were badly-written with grammatical and typographical errors? How many deceived the parents who read them? And what redress is there for parents who may feel they've been duped?

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