Gove defines “satisfactory” as being in “special measures” – you’d think the education secretary would know the difference.

Janet Downs's picture
“One of the best schools I have ever visited is in my hon. Friend’s constituency—Nunthorpe academy, which is run by Debbie Clinton, a school that has gone from special measures to outstanding in the last couple of years.”

Education Secretary, Michael Gove, House of Commons, 8 July 2013.

Effusive praise, indeed, but was it correct to say that Nunthorpe Academy, Redcar, had gone from special measures to outstanding in just two years?

The answer is no.

Nunthorpe Academy became a converter academy less than a year ago – on 1 October 2012 – and was judged outstanding in April 2013. The predecessor school, Nunthorpe School*, had been judged satisfactory in 2010.

Satisfactory is not special measures.

Perhaps Gove is referring to an earlier time when Nunthorpe School had been in special measures. Again, the evidence does not support this.

2008 – Ofsted: satisfactory

2004 – Ofsted : “Overall this is a good school”. Inspectors praised the newly-appointed head, Ms Clinton, for her “enthusiasm, commitment and strong leadership”.

But was Nunthorpe School in special measures before Ms Clinton was appointed?

The answer is no.

In 1999, Nunthorpe School was listed in the Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools as being one which had been judged outstanding in 1998/99. In 2003 the then head, John Rowling, was knighted for services to education.

So, Gove’s claim that Nunthorpe Academy went from special measures to outsanding in just a couple of years is not upheld by evidence.

It’s not the first time the Education Secretary has made such statements. In 2011 he wrote that Cuckoo Hall School. Enfield, had been in special measures when the head, Patricia Sowter, arrived in 2002. This was untrue. According to the 1998/9 Ofsted annual report Cuckoo Hall had been taken out of special measures after making “very substantial improvement”. And a 2001 Ofsted inspection, when R Allen was the head, said, “This is a very effective school.”

Very effective is not special measures.

Satisfactory is not special measures.

One would expect the Secretary of State for Education to know the difference. But it appears that throwaway sound bites trump objective truth.


Local Schools Network published questions for Michael Gove earlier this month. Here are four which relate to Gove’s use of “evidence”.

1 Should the sources of government policy be more authoritative than surveys from Premier Inn and similar sources?

2 The UK Statistics Authority has censured the use of international educational test data by the DfE. When will the Department issue a retraction and apologise for misleading Parliament and the public about the standing of the UK in international educational league tables?

3 You told the Spectator conference that pupils in the Far East worked longer school hours than pupils in England. This was contradicted by data from Education at a Glance 2012 (OECD). How can you explain this mismatch?

4 The LSE report on the “academy effect” painted a relatively positive picture of the earliest of Labour’s sponsored academies but contained a warning that the report’s results could not be used to justify the Coalition policy of converting good or outstanding schools and primaries. You ignored this caveat. Can you explain why?

The full list of questions for Michael Gove are here.

*Ofsted reports for Nunthorpe School can be downloaded here.


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