Head of sponsored academy falls on his sword after poor GCSE results. Is this fair?

Janet Downs's picture
The head teacher of Wellington Academy, a Wiltshire academy sponsored by Wellington College, a selective independent school, has resigned following a poor set of GCSE results. The Governors have asked Dr Anthony Seldon, the head of Wellington College, to take a greater role in the running of the Academy.

The Governors say Dr Seldon has a track record of raising the results of a school. “Wellington College’s exam results are among the most improved in the United Kingdom.”

This accolade is usually reserved for previously underperforming schools where the results rose from, say, 20% to 40% in one year. So did Wellington College ever have such low results?

Yes, according to the School Performance Tables. In 2010, 0% of pupils gained the benchmark 5 GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English. The following year, 99% reached the benchmark.

So, what accounts for this dramatic rise from 0% to 99% in only 12 months?

It’s because in 2010 Wellington College’s pupils took iGCSE maths and this exam was not counted in school performance tables. That has now changed – iGCSE results now appear.  Any school where pupils took iGCSE in 2010 will have experienced a similar stratospheric rise.

So it’s rather misleading to describe Wellington College’s exam results as “among the most improved in the United Kingdom” especially as the number achieving the benchmark in 2012 fell to 67%. The reason for that decline is unexplained.

Raw exam results are, of course, not everything. The OECD warned two years ago there was too much emphasis on test results in England and this had negative consequences. One of these seems to be that heads of schools with poor GCSE results are expected to fall on their swords.

It’s the soccer coach syndrome – where coaches are sacked if the players don’t win the League.

And it can be unfair. It raises the question about how far head teachers can be held personally responsible for their school’s exam results. If heads of underperforming schools are expected to resign when results are low then it makes it more difficult for schools in challenging circumstances to attract the best heads.

The Telegraph said Dr Seldon, now Executive Head of Wellington Academy, was “parachuted in to rescue failing academy”. But Wellington College has sponsored Wellington Academy since 2009. If Wellington Academy is “failing” then surely the independent school should bear some of the responsibility? Ofsted judged Wellington Academy to be Satisfactory in 2011 (when Satisfactory meant satisfying the criteria not Requires Improvement). However, the Telegraph said the academy was expecting an imminent Ofsted inspection which would result in the school being placed in Special Measures.

So, was it fair that the head left because of poor exam results? And if the academy is “failing” then how far should the sponsor be held responsible?

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