Gagging clause prevents departing free school head from commenting further

Janet Downs's picture
Moorlands School, an independent school in Luton, became a flagship free school in September 2011 but Dr Andrew Cook, who led the prep school for 20 years, and his Vice-Principal, Ginny Bradwell, left the free school after just over two terms. Dr Cook said he was unhappy at the influence wielded by Barnfield Federation over the now re-named Barnfield Moorlands School.

Barnfield Federation supported Moorlands School during the application process and in March 2011 Dr Cook told Luton Today that the free school would only be an associate member of Barnfield Federation. Moorlands Free School, he said, would keep its independence. It is now, however, an integral part of the ever-expanding Barnfield Federation which is led by recently-knighted Peter Birkett who has plans to run a further education college for profit.

Barnfield Federation told Luton Today that Moorlands was always expected to become a fully co-opted Federation member but Dr Cook denies this: “It was never anticipated that the school would be wholly taken over by the Barnfield Federation or indeed by anyone else.” He added, “I’m legally prevented from commenting on the conversion process as a result of the confidentiality clause in the agreement I signed when I left.”

Dr Cook told TES that he had made an “unplanned” decision to leave the free school in August 2011. This suggests he was already disillusioned with the transition from independent to free school status despite telling Heart in September 2011 that he believed passionately in the ability of Moorlands to help disadvantaged children. True to his word, 20% of the free school’s intake was eligible for free school meals.

However, the parents of children in the predecessor school, some of whom had presented teachers with flowers when they discovered they would no longer have to pay fees, later expressed concern about the more diverse intake. One parent, who will be moving her child to a new independent school set up by Dr Cook, told TES that there were now “behavioural issues”. She felt that teachers didn’t have as much time for the children now there were so many more in the school. However, Barnfield Federation told TES that class sizes of 18 had remained as did the “excellent standard of discipline and behaviour.”

This raises the question about what Dr Cook and supporters of the free school process were told by the Department of Education, the New Schools Network and the Barnfield Federation during the application process. It also raises questions about the expectations of the parents in the predecessor school – did they really think that selective admission arrangements would remain in place so that the school remained exclusive?

The appointment of a new head at Barnfield Moorlands is trumpeted on the website of the New Schools Network, the organisation which supports free school proposers through the application process. There is, of course, no mention of the resignation of Dr Cook or Ms Bradwell after only two terms.

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andy's picture
Sun, 08/07/2012 - 19:40

Sounds like a classic 'compromise agreement' to me. in addition to the insightful questions raised by Janet, it will be interresting to see how many parents and colleagues follow Dr Cook and Ms Bradwell to the new independent school and what effect that has on the quality and performance of Barnfield Moorlands.

I believe that Sir Peter will come a cropper with his FE for profit venture, and to be blunt the sooner the better.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Mon, 09/07/2012 - 22:16

I don't believe this Dr Cook is some poor headmaster being ousted by a dark federation .

Isn't it just as likely that the departing head , used to high private school fees , just wasn't up to the job of delivering a quality inclusive state education to a more diverse intake on less per pupil funding . So Barnfield , with more "real" experience have quite rightly got rid of him.

Surely Dr Cook just wants to get back to a regime where the most onerous task is agreeing the resort for this years school ski trip and he can call the shots on admissions ?

If these independent schools actually admitted the truth i.e that they are a failed private school instead of dressing it up as some radical innovation ( as per the LIverpool College website) then parents and staff would know where they stood.

From Barnfield Federation website

"It was September 2007, when Barnfield broke new ground by becoming the first Further Education College in the country to sponsor two significantly underperforming secondary schools, create academies and form a federation. Since this point GCSE results have more than tripled in the Academies and from a position of special measures, they are now judged as "Outstanding" and "Good" by Ofsted. These are the highest grades achieved in the history of these schools. "

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/07/2012 - 10:01

Rosie - we'll probably never know the real reason behind Dr Cook's resignation. In August 2011 Dr Cook said he was confident that the school could be advantageous for disadvantaged pupils and, to give the school its due, it did increase its intake from what was probably 0% when it was independent to 20% (which is about right for Luton).

In April 2011 The Express reported that Moorlands (a "top prep school") had tried to become state-funded under Labour and had started talking to the Tories in the run up to the last election. Again, this raises the question of who said what to whom. It's unlikely we will know because Dr Cook has signed a gagging order.

It may be that the existing parents objected to the school being opened to "all and sundry" and this caused Dr Cook to open a new independent school. However, new schools don't just open overnight. Again, we'll never know when Dr Cook decided to open another school but the signs were that he was unhappy with the free school conversion as early as August 2011.

However, there is no doubt the the Barnfield Federation is expanding. But results are not as glowing as would be expected from its website. The FE college was downgraded to Satisfactory in April 2012 - Ofsted acknowledged that the principal had ambitious visions for the college's future but said the College's judgements of its own performance were overgenerous and unsubstantiated by evidence. The 2012 results for its two sponsored academies are as follows:

Barnfield West Academy. Ofsted "Outstanding" Jan 2010. 2012 59% of pupils reached the benchmark 5 A*-C including Maths and English but entries were heavily dependent on vocational equivalents (average number of entries for all types of exam = 15.4, GCSE average entry = 4.3). Only 10% of low attainers made the expected progress in Maths and English.

Barnfield South Academy. "Good" Ofsted Jan 2010. 2012 results, 46% achieved the benchmark. Average number of entries for all types of exam = 11.5, average number of GCSEs taken = 6.9.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Mon, 09/07/2012 - 22:32


Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 10/07/2012 - 12:49

"In August 2011 Dr Cook said he was confident that the school could be advantageous for disadvantaged pupils and, to give the school its due, it did increase its intake from what was probably 0% when it was independent to 20% (which is about right for Luton)."

This will be due to the LEA being in control of admissions and shouldn't be credited to Dr Cooks "benevolence".

I am very sceptical of the use of "disadvantaged" by sanctimonious private school mandarins......surely by "disadvantaged" they mean " clever but poor" . The same definition the Sutton Trust proved it embraces with its recent report on putting bright poor kids in private schools.

Reading between the lines I believe Dr Cook a) wasn't up to the job of running a diverse school and b) he didn't want to.

Luckily for him he can hide his failing behind a standard confidentiality clause which in the true traditions of spin and self-protection he can term as a "gagging order".

This is one occasion where we have to accept the free school concept ( otherwise school would have closed completely- some body had to take it over ) and we should roundly celebrate it's almost immediate absorption of an intake analogous to the surrounding state system.

One should note Dr Cook isn't setting up a new Free school because he has learnt he can't control admissions so he's going down the private school route.

Silly man ! All he has to do to exercise the social exclusion he covets is do what the new Free School Langley Hall Primary in Reading have done so successfully i.e price the school uniform so extortionately so that nobody on FSM can afford it .

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/07/2012 - 13:40

Rosie - I hadn't considered that Luton LEA would have been in charge of admissions. I presumed that before it opened the applications for September 2011 would have gone straight to the school as happened in many cases. The Express said the school had been inundated with enquiries.

If Luton were in charge of the admissions then that would explain why the FSM intake at Moorlands was so high especially when compared with other free schools.

I agree with you about the definition of "disadvantage" as applied by some schools ie "poor but clever".

I still think there are questions surrounding the involvement of Barnfield Foundation. It says it was always clear that they would take over the school; Dr Cook denies it. So the question remains: who said what to whom during the conversion process? Was Dr Cook misled or just naive? We will never know the answers to these questions. The gagging order doesn't just protect Dr Cook, it also protects the other parties: the DfE, the New Schools Network and the Barnfield Foundation.

Barnfield Federation is very good at blowing its own trumpet. The recent Ofsted for the FE college (April 2012) said that although the principal had ambitious visions for the college's future the college's judgements of its own performance were overgenerous and unsubstantiated by evidence. Sir Peter Birkett wants to run a further education for profit thereby hiving off taxpayers' money into the pockets of investors.

Barnfield's two academies have been judged "outstanding" and "good" by Ofsted. The one judged outstanding, Barnfield West Academy, Luton, had 59% of the 2011 cohort achieving the benchmark 5 GCSE A*-C including Maths and English but this relied heavily on equivalents (the average GCSE entry per pupil was 4.3, while the average entry for all exams was 15.4). The 2011 cohort at Barnfield South Academy, Luton, had 46% reaching the benchmark but relied less on equivalents (average GCSE entry per pupil was 6.9, average entry for all exams was 11.5).

Barnfield Business and Enterprise Studio Academy, Luton, (14-19) only has 44 pupils, 16 of which are over 16. It has no results yet but persistent absence is high.

(All data from the School Performance Tables on the DfE website, and Ofsted report)

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/07/2012 - 13:46

Rosie - you make a good point about how expensive uniforms can put off poor parents. It's not just silly hats costing over £20 (Langley Hall) but monogrammed polo shirts for PE costing well-over £10 when you can buy a pack of two for less than that at M&S. And stripey blazers which have to be purchased from a sole supplier - especially one that supplies Eton and Harrow - these send out the message: "No ASDA blazers wanted here." Then there are the book bags with logos, the socks, tracksuit bottoms....

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 10/07/2012 - 18:04

The current admissions code is here .

It appears they hoped originally to be allowed to apply a fair banding criteria system ( at primary ??? this geographical or academic) as the converting secondary FAILED private schools have been allowed to do ( Bradford Girls, Batley Grammar) .

Moorlands have combined and priority catchment areas which "say" they prioritise areas of deprivation.

It also appears that they propose to move the current school 2.5 miles away to be sited on the Barnfield College campus by 2014. The existing school is already sited adjacent to another LEA primary .

Possibly one cause of Dr Cook's departure is seeing his private school disappear without trace.

So is this cynical asset stripping or is it facing the actual truth

i.e.that the private Moorlands School failed and to allow it to continue under an elite free persona funded by the taxpayer is wrong. By 2014 the old private school heritage will have gone ...which is the right thing .

Anyway looks as though Barnfield Campus is up for a bit of makeover

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 07:09

Rosie - a further question is whether Luton needs the extra primary places that the free school provides especially as it the school plans to expand albeit on another site. There was an estimated surplus of places in the Medway region in 2015 (see link below). Luton's council proposed in early 2010 to close an infant and a junior school and combine them in one all-through junior school but its plans were scuppered by the Government's spending review which meant funds were no longer available.

The free school has added extra school places. The question is, therefore, were these places needed? If not, it would appear that the free school was allowed to go ahead based on the demand of a few parents and not the need for extra places. Now it appears that some of the parents who paid fees at the predecessor school are abandoning the free school because it turns out not to be what they wanted (ie a tax-payer funded exclusive education which keeps out children not like them). This could possibly lead to even more surplus places and a problem for the council which has no authority to close academies or free schools.

I didn't know that the free school is adjacent to an existing LA maintained primary. This adds to the suspicion that the whole situation is a mess.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 07:22

Rosie - another thing I didn't know until you pointed out: the Fair Banding mentioned in the free school's admission criteria. The Admission Code 2012 says:

"Admission authorities’ entry requirements for banding must be fair, clear and objective. Banding arrangements which favour high ability children that have been continuously used since the 1997/98 school year may continue, but must not be introduced by any other school."

"1.27 The admission authority must publish the admission requirements and the process for such banding and decisions, including details of any tests that will be used to band children according to ability."

The "continuous use" of selective criteria allows selective schools (ie grammars) to continue selecting. A wider question is: would independent schools which become free schools be allowed to continue selecting if they had done so continuously since 1997/98? I don't think they would be officially allowed to do so because free schools are supposed to be all-ability.

The admission criteria you highlighted say the Fair Banding is in accordance with Luton's policies. However, the free school is a primary school. It's rather difficult to see how banding according to ability would work at age 5. In any case, the Admission Code says that admission authorities (the free school in this case) must publish details of the process and tests (see above). The free school's admission criteria don't do this so it would appear that they are in breach of the code.

Unfortunately, the date for appeal to the Schools Adjudicator against any school's admission criteria has passed (30 June). This raises a further question: how many more schools have admission criteria which don't adhere to the code but are now breathing a sigh of relief because no-one's noticed? As far as I'm concerned, there should be no time limit on appealing if the Code is broken.

andy's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 15:45

Rosie, I'd be intrigued to learn what you definition is of "FAILED" private schools?

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 10:31

Quick clarification.....the Moorlands School Admissions Document doesn't yet use fair banding just implies that at some point in time it hopes to be allowed to do so.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 10:54

I think we need to clarify that Moorlands was an existing private school presumably in decline and facing closure and isn't quite the same situation as :
a) a new Free school set up to drain well heeled pupils from existing state and also private primarys ( as Langley Hall Reading is) .
b) a free school set up by middle class parents to scupper LEA reorganisations ( as in Suffolk) .

So whether Luton LEA needed the extra places the dilemma at the time would have been does the school close and release 300 pupils who may well demand their hither-to unclaimed LEA school place or does it remain but as a free school ?

I find the Moorlands situation far less abhorrent than Langley Park or Canary Wharf Free schools . Hopefully when it moves to Barnfield campus it will become what it should be : an inclusive quality primary . I have to reserve judgement on Barnfield Federation..I find them less sinister than Seckford Foundation plundering Suffolk education.

Will the possible demise of Moorlands School in all but name warn other private schools applying to be Free Schools OR will it galvanise the Government to start allowing Free schools to set more selective criteria agaisnt LEA guidelines.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 16:48

Off the top of my head I'd say one whose roll falls from 900 to 600 in 4 years such as Bradford GIrls School after Bradford Boys Grammer went co-ed. THey also went the PR route of "hurrah we're returning quality education to the community hurrah hurrah)

Perusing old inspection reports from the independent schools inspectorate and comparing them with current school rolls on the school website usually shows a significant decrease in pupils precipitating conversion to a free school ( ain't the internet a joy!).

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 12:27

Rosie - in the TES last week there was a survey saying that heads of smaller private schools had "little appetite" for free school status fearing they would lose their independence. In TES this week (link in original post) the director of the Independent Schools Association said, "When an independent school converts to a free school, parents pick up the idea that they are getting an independent education for free." He defined the characteristics of independent schools as being "exceptional level of pastoral care and small classes." The average class size in an English primary is 26.6 which is more than in private schools (although I couldn't find the exact figure). However, there is no clear relationship between average primary or secondary school class size and educational attainment amongst OECD countries*. State schools also offer high levels of pastoral care - I would argue higher than that in small private schools because state schools are likely to experience more need for such care.

So, reading between the lines, what is the Director of the ISE actually saying? If a private schools becomes a free school it won't just contain children from families like yours (unless it employs some creative ways of discouraging them, of course).


andy's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 18:00

"Off the top of my head", not exactly the response I was expecting in relation to a definition of "FAILED". Falling rolls can be for many reasons e.g. demographics, competition, the financial crash, regional company closures, oh yes, lets not forget the austerity budgets and impacts on salaries. However, I wonder whether your vaunted internet skills would stretch to clarifying whether in the 4 year period to which you refer there was a marked fall off in performance in public examinations?

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 18:09

oooh touched a nerve have i???

andy's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 18:28

Feel free to flatter yourself but it will of course be self deceit.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 18:15

Falling rolls can indeed be caused by many reasons..( I hate to be a pedant but I believe you asked for a definition not an essay on causes...kindly be more specific in future ) ; the result however is the same .....a financially unviable institution facing either closure or rescue by conversion to free school status .....the school will almost immediately become over-subscribed ( as evidenced by Moorlands ) with parents clamouring to get a private style education without the fees.

andy's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 18:26

Rosie, thank you. A fee paying school that ceases to be financial viable and closes by whatever mechanism e.g. absolute closure or morphing into a different guise, to me is not a failed school. Whereas a fee paying school whose results slide and they lose the confidents of parents causing unviability can be characterised as having failed.

PS In the same pendant style as yourself, a modest list of potential reasons for falling rolls does not a essay make ...

andy's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 18:28

Oop[hs, *confidence

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 20:38

Always nice to end a thread with a Free Schooler rattled beyond lucidity.

My work here is done.

andy's picture
Wed, 11/07/2012 - 20:53

oh my. Not just full of self-flattery but deeply deluded too boot! Dream on Rosie, dream on. You don't even know what a failed fee paying school is ...

DAVID MOORE's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 10:39

Semantics is distracting from the key points of this thread ...I don't think "failed" here is being used in the context of Ofsted categorisation/indictment ; it is simply being used in its general meaning of unsuccessful.

Andy's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 10:54

David, I understood failed to be just that, failed, as opposed to financially unviable, which is clearly what Rosie's position was focused on. Arguably 'unsuccessful' is just another semantic twist: to be unsuccessful through financial pressures is not the same as to be unsuccessful in terms of pupil progress and attainment. Hence my question to Rosie, which was to ascertain her definition (or use) of the assertion that the schools had failed. In this she singularly and demonstrably failed and then resorted to personalised comments and in this way either let herself down badly or showed her true self.

DAVID MOORE's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 13:23

Bit baffled to be honest Andy, which personalised comments were those ?

DAVID MOORE's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 13:29

I can't see why the the great debate on the use of the word failed ; I think most people, ( other than the Headteacher and Governors involved ) , could use it i.e if a school cannot exist financially then the general use of the word failed is acceptable in a general debate.

Andy's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 13:48

So to Rosie's use of 'pendant', David introduces semantics and now adopts a dogmatic stance. How interesting. You also overlook that Rosie used the term in a specific context as opposed to a general sense. That said, I'm happy to let it rest with the acknowledgement that you, like Rosie and me, are entitled to your opinion.

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