Two heads quit academies sponsored by trust with no good schools and which received DfE warning letter

Janet Downs's picture
David Dawes, the head of King’s Priory School, North Tyneside, has left after just one term. The sponsor, Woodard Academies Trust (WAT), cites “vision differences” as the cause of Dawes’s departure at the end of December.

King’s Priory School opened as an academy in September 2013 following the merger of the private King’s School, part of the Woodard group of independent schools, and a state school, Priory Primary School. It describes itself as a “state funded independent school”.

North Tyneside council opposed the establishment of the academy saying it would create surplus places in an area with already falling numbers. The council said the impact assessment drawn up by the Department for Education (DfE) incorrectly stated a nearby secondary school was oversubscribed. And King’s School was £5 million in debt.

These debts, however, were cleared by the DfE in return for a 125-year lease. The owner of the land, the Woodard Corporation, retains the freehold.

King’s Priory Academy, officially opened by Lord Adonis in October, has encountered staff unrest. Teachers threatened to strike following a dispute about teachers’ conditions of service. It was called off but unions have not ruled out further action.

The head of WAT’s Littlehampton Academy has also resigned “ahead of the school’s Ofsted report which is due to be published today”. The academy, which opened in September 2009 under Labour’s sponsored academies programme despite considerable local opposition, was judged “Satisfactory” by Ofsted in September 2011. Its predecessor school, the Littlehampton Community School had been judged “Satisfactory” and “improving” in 2008. Like the staff at King’s Priory, teachers at Littlehampton also threatened strike action last year.

These two academies aren’t the only WAT schools hit by staffing problems. St Peter’s Academy suffered “turbulence in leadership” after the academy, a merger of two secondary schools, opened in September 2011. Ofsted judged the academy as “Requires Improvement” in June 2013.

Inspectors praised the stability brought about by the sponsor and principal but warned “lack of clarity” re delegated governance could result in future problems unless resolved.

A fourth WAT academy, St Augustine’s in Maidstone, was judged “Requires Improvement” in December 2012. Its predecessor school, Astor of Hever, had been judged Good in 2010.

Another early WAT academy, Sir Robert Woodard Academy, was opened in September 2009. Its predecessor school, Boundstone Community College, was rapidly improving. Lord Adonis welcomed the sponsorship – it demonstrated the “injection of the private sector’s DNA into state schools”. But Ofsted judged the academy to be Inadequate in November 2011. In March 2012, the DfE sent WAT a warning letter. In October 2013, Ofsted judged the academy as “Requires Improvement”. It noted there had been "significant" changes in staff but the new head, who started in March 2013, had gained “respect and commitment” from staff “firmly behind him”. Ofsted said trustees were “ambitious” and had taken “effective remedial action” to tackle past failings in systems to check teaching and standards.

Nevertheless, not a single WAT academy has been judged Good or better since the Trust began sponsoring academies four years ago. Ofsted judgements for two WAT academies fell when compared to predecessor schools and the improvement noted at a third stalled. A DfE warning letter has been sent. Yet the DfE still allowed WAT to establish an all-through academy in an area which didn’t need extra places and cleared the£5m debts of one of its predecessor schools, the independent King’s School.

And now two heads of WAT academies have quit.

ADDENDUM The December newsletter from King’s School said it “expected” all pupils in Years 5-8 to attend an evening Christingle service held at St George’s Church, Cullercoats. This raises questions about whether schools have the power to direct pupils to attend activities beyond the school day and how far they can compel all pupils to attend a religious service.

Note: citing Ofsted judgements doesn’t imply agreement. All Ofsted reports can be downloaded from Ofsted’s website except for the Littlehampton Community School which appears to be no longer available on Ofsted’s site. Littlehampton Community School’s 2008 Ofsted was provided by Education Adviser.

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