Downhills: judicial review update

Janet Downs's picture
Downhills school has been refused permission for a judicial review.  A BBC report says the judge had cited a letter from Gove saying that the Secretary of State "believed firmly" that Downhills would improve once it had converted.  The judge also said that Downhills' past performance had been "egregious".  It appears, then, that the judge ignored the September 2011 Ofsted which said the school was improving because of strong leadership and help from the Local Authority.  The judge also ignored the 2011 Sat results which were above the benchmark.

It appears, therefore, that the judge placed Michael Gove’s belief above the evidence from Ofsted and the 2011 Sats.

The DfE made much of the 2012 Ofsted report which said the school was failing.  But this judgement is dubious – the Ofsted team was led by the same lead inspector who found the school was improving barely a term before.

The judge may have decided that Michael Gove acted legally but he had not acted ethically.  He has ignored Ofsted 2011 and the Sat results.  Worse, he has ignored the wishes of the overwhelming majority of parents.  He has dismissed a properly-constituted governing body and imposed one of his choosing.

In January 2011, BBC Radio 4 asked Mr Gove a tongue-in-cheek question: was he a libertarian or a Stalinist? If there was any doubt about the answer then we know it now.  Tuesday 14 August 2012 was a sad day for democracy in England – the consultation with a local community has been overruled by one man.

Downhills' response is here.
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Janet Lallysmith's picture
Thu, 16/08/2012 - 10:00

Thanks, Janet. The judge also ignored the positive Ofsted monitoring visit of early July 2012, which hasn't been published yet. The DfE referred to it in court, although the reports aren't official documents until they are actually published. I haven't read it, but those who have say that it's very similar to the September '11 one ie everything going in the right direction as a community school. The 2012 SATS have also improved on the 2011 ones.

I suspect it's no coincidence that it hasn't been published yet and unfortunate that - as you say - the judge didn't have the sense or bravery to consider the actual evidence rather than believe that the Secretary of State's decision was 'rational' just because, em, the Secretary of State made it, which seems to be the basis of the outcome.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 16/08/2012 - 13:12

Emails disclosed by a Freedom of Information request show that the Inspections Unit at the DfE asked about when the DfE would received Downhills’ January 2012 report because it “clearly” couldn’t be given to Gove before the school had seen it.

It appears, therefore, that no Ofsted report should be seen by the DfE before the school. Has the government-appointed IEB seen a copy? If it has, then has it been released to staff? If not, why not?

If members of the school staff have not seen a copy then could Ofsted and the DfE be in breach of the correct procedures? It seems unethical. possibly illegal, that the monitoring report was mentioned by DfE in Court but many of those connected with the school have not seen it.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 16/08/2012 - 12:13

Haringey council Minutes re the enforced conversion of four of its primary schools including Downhills said: “Detailed discussions have been on-going with the Department for Education regarding the particular challenges of these conversions given the wish of the schools to remain as maintained schools and, in some cases, the imposition of an IEB. However, as the SoS has exercised his power to convert the school to a sponsored Academy the LA are required to comply with conversion process.”

Note: the arbitrary power to enforce conversion of any school lies with the Secretary of State. Local Authorities “are required to comply”. In other words, they have no choice even if they and the schools wished to remain under LA control.

The Minutes included a letter from Lord Hill dated 15 March 2012 only 8 days after the publication of the Ofsted report which overturned the findings of the September 2011 Ofsted report. Lord Hill wrote: “I hereby order that on the conversion date Downhills Primary School shall be converted into ac Academy sponsored by The Harris Federation.”

How strange that Lord Hill should have been able to find a sponsor and issue his order within such a short time. A cynic might conclude he knew well in advance.

Janet Lallysmith's picture
Thu, 16/08/2012 - 12:31

He did know in advance. The DfE were informed of the outcome of the Ofsted visit on the same day - clearly not a usual procedure. All FOI requests as to why Harris were the only possible sponsor and negotiations between them and the DfE have been refused to date.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 16/08/2012 - 17:46

Listening to yesterday's Today program (2:49) may be useful.

They refer to a DFE report which analysed what works to improve schools in London.

I think Downhills has reason to appeal because it is clear Gove was acting in direct contradiction to the evidence regarding what works.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 17/08/2012 - 06:53

Thanks, Rebecca. The Today discussion found that according to the DfE's own research the City Challenge programme had been more successful that the high-profile academy programme. The key factor was that teachers felt supported and encouraged. Consequently, morale rose.

City Challenge worked on several fronts: teacher supply and retention, local authority involvement, successful schools mentoring underperforming schools and government support. This initiative contrasted with the morale-dipping "failing schools" rhetoric.

The head of Ark academy, Burlington Danes, acknowledged that City Challenge had worked but maintained that sponsored academies were also successful because such academies were sponsored by business and academy heads had more freedom to "innovate". As most of the City Challenge schools were not academies then it appears that their non-academy status didn't prevent them from innovating and as a group being more successful than their academy counterparts.

Another academy myth busted, I think. No wonder the DfE published the research into City Challenge with little fanfare - its own data punctures the "Academies Work" rhetoric.

Janet Lallysmith's picture
Sun, 02/09/2012 - 20:10

For those who don't know, the Harris Federation went back on their word about consulting about any name change to the school and have renamed Downhills School 'Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane'. Seems like an attempt to rub out history to us - Downhills House was built on the site over 200 years ago and it has been Downhills School for 125 years.

Oh, and the new uniform just says 'Harris'. Not 'school' or 'primary' or 'Philip Lane', just Harris.

I don't expect I am alone in not wishing my children to be branded, so they won't be wearing it.

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