ASA censures IES Breckland and academy chains for using “outstanding” in marketing when not entitled to do so

Janet Downs's picture
The on-line brochure for IES Breckland used to say the free school “is recognised by all as the outstanding local secondary school.”

No longer. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) objected to the use of the word “outstanding” which implies the school had been judged by Ofsted to be in the Outstanding category. IES Breckland has not yet been inspected.

The brochure has now been changed to “It is recognised by all as the academic local secondary school.”

The Cambridge Meridian Trust (CMAT) has also been censured for using “outstanding” in a press advertisement for the proposed Stamford Free School. CMAT also claimed it ran “one of the highest achieving schools in the country”. Although this claim could be upheld by evidence from Ofsted’s RaiseOnline entry which put the CMAT academy, Swavesey Village College, in the top 10% of all schools for performance in their best 8 subjects, the academy was not one of the “highest-achieving” when judged solely on GCSE results. CMAT acknowledged the claim might confuse readers.

It’s not the first time the ASA has censured a school for using “Outstanding” when it shouldn’t. The Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust had two complaints upheld about marketing on a third-party website in 2012. Beccles Free School, which is a Seckford Foundation school, used the word “outstanding” in its marketing before it had even opened.

In a ruling dated October 2013, the ASA censured the United Church Schools Trust for misleading readers by using “outstanding” in adverts for Sunderland High School, an independent school in Tyne and Wear. The United Church Schools Trust is part of United Learning (ULT) which operates a chain of private schools and academies. Schools minister, Lord Nash, sent a pre-warning letter to ULT about Sheffield Springs Academy in November 2013. Lord Nash said he was “convinced that there has been a serious breakdown in the way that the Academies are managed and governed”*. ULT was temporarily banned from taking on more academies by the Labour government because of poor performance. Michael Gove lifted the veto when he became Education Secretary and praised ULT for “doing an amazing job on the ground.” It appears the Trust is so amazing it doesn’t know when it’s not entitled to use the word “outstanding”.

The proposed Phoenix Free School in Oldham has also been censured by ASA. Its website said its educational adviser, Tom Burkard, was “Professor of Educational Policy at Derby University”. But Burkard was not employed by Derby University. He’s a “Visiting Professor” and holds no formal post there. The school’s website has now been amended.

*Lord Nash’s letter referred only to one academy. But the quote refers to “academies”. It’s unclear whether Lord Nash meant other ULT academies or whether “academies” was a typo.
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Brian's picture
Wed, 26/02/2014 - 16:54

'The brochure has now been changed to “It is recognised by all as the academic local secondary school'

Does this make sense? Are there other local secondary schools which are not academic? Or is this school the only local secondary school in which case it's a strange claim.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 26/02/2014 - 17:35

Brian - I know. It sounds ridiculous. If you look carefully at the brochure you can see it looks as if a word's been removed and another word stuck in its place. The brochure also claims that iGCSEs are "more challenging" GCSEs.

Perhaps the ASA should look at that claim.

Parent A's picture
Wed, 26/02/2014 - 20:47

Several other local secondary schools. Unfortunately, if parents wish to send their children elsewhere they have to fund the transport costs (just under £200 per term). In an area such as this, not many parents can afford this, and frankly, why should they have to pay? They were promised an outstanding school with world-class teachers....not what's being delivered. Glad to see ASA on the case. Now could someone proof-read the IES web-site and policies? Lol!

Arsinh's picture
Wed, 26/02/2014 - 18:54

Actually IES Breckland was inspected over 5 weeks ago. The eagerly-anticipated Ofsted report is stuck in limbo and yet to be published. Conspiracy theories abound.

Parent A's picture
Wed, 26/02/2014 - 20:42

This situation is dire; a whole cohort of pupils being let down by IES and Sabres Educational Trust (who no longer appear to have a web-site and cannot be contacted!). Behaviour is shocking in lots of lessons (reported by my child), no continuity in teaching, recent interim head fobbing off requests to contact parents. And just where IS that Ofsted report? More to the point, if it is graded 3 or 4 (and heaven only knows how it could possibly be anything other than that) who will be responsible for supporting them to improve....presumably not the LEA as they are a Free School. This is a prime example of the glaringly obvious failings of Mr Gove's Free School policy and an even worse advertisement for involving Swedish-based providers to run an English school. By the looks of it they couldn't organise the proverbial knees-up in a brewery. Shame on all those involved.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 27/02/2014 - 15:44

Parent A - the LA may help out even thought it's under no obligation to do so. That's what happened with Batley Grammar School, a first-wave free school that was previously an independent school. Ofsted found it Requires Improvement. However, monitoring reports showed the LA was supporting the school.

No acknowledgement from Gove, of course. He just continues to knock local authorities and do his utmost to get schools away from LA "control".

Parent A's picture
Thu, 27/02/2014 - 15:59

Thanks for that. My next question is: who funds that LA support then? Free schools are directly funded, they do not come under the LA remit. Does this mean that some funding paid to LA for LA schools is used for the free school? In effect, that would mean they are getting two lots of funding? Or maybe the free school would "buy in " LA support. Just another example of how totally stupid this arrangement is. I can't see how anyone (least of all the pupils) benefit from this. Don't even get me started on the other Gove policies! Time for Mr G and his policies to go!

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 27/02/2014 - 16:59

Parent A - I don't know how it works regarding funding. The impression given by Ofsted was that Kirklees LA was supporting Batley Grammar School even though it was under no obligation to do so. Local authorities are still responsible for the performance of schools in their areas. I believe if LAs have concerns about academies they can make these concerns known but they can't directly intervene.

Your question about funding the school improvement is an important one. The LA may feel it has a moral duty to help out - it may wish to do so. But it's not receiving funding from the DfE to do this.

Dave Moore's picture
Thu, 27/02/2014 - 19:12

As I understand it , maintained schools purchase a set number of days via a service level agreement for the school improvement team. LA provision would not be my first choice for consultancy as they can tend to lack a strategic approach and tend to concentrate on asking for action plans and discrete piecemeal advice rather than robust strategic development plan definition , management development and leader support.

Brian's picture
Thu, 27/02/2014 - 21:05

While not disagreeing with your experience Dave it's a bit sweeping to describe LA support in the way you do. Why would consultancy from LA advisory teams have that negative characteristic when other consultancy doesn't?

David Barry's picture
Thu, 27/02/2014 - 22:37

My experience, admittedly a few years ago, was that Islington provided just the "robust strategic development plan definition , management development and leader support." that the school I was involved with needed.......

I accept that not all LA's may have been the same.

Brandon Anti's picture
Fri, 28/02/2014 - 13:28

Clever spoiler in the Telegraph today from Gove and his cronies entitled 'Free schools will stumble – the test is how well they recover'

Expect the OFSTED report for IES to be published very soon on the back of that.

Shameful to delay ths report 6 weeks for political damage limitation whilst our childrens education is being ignored.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 28/02/2014 - 15:14

Brandon Anti - yes, I've read Fraser Nelson's article. Unfortunately it's obvious the Ofsted report isn't good (Nelson claims Ofsted was tipped off before IES had a chance to turn things round). According to Nelson, IES realised things weren't on the right track and was taking decisive action which included changing many of the staff including the head. He didn't say the head had been appointed by IES in the first place with great fanfare.

Did you know the principal received £86,710 in 2013? That's what it says in Sabres Educational Trust accounts (see page 37).

David Barry's picture
Fri, 28/02/2014 - 15:44

Here is the url for the Telegraph article. Its not long; worth reading.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 28/02/2014 - 16:47

Sorry, David, I didn't provide the url because it seems the DT's started asking for subscriptions as soon as someone's accessed more than 20 articles in a month.

However, I've done it and was able to leave some comments (see Elkins).

Brian's picture
Fri, 28/02/2014 - 18:41

I was quite a long way into the article before I got to 'at the last count there were 350 council-run schools judged inadequate by Ofsted'. Ah, the good old days of Empire, endless summer, servants who knew their place and councils running schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 01/03/2014 - 09:59

Brian - what Nelson forgot to say was there are thousands of maintained schools - 350 being Inadequate among thousands isn't a particularly large proportion. He also said there were 191 cases of fraud in maintained schools last year - but didn't say in 105 cases the schools had been the victims not the perpetrators. That left 86, again among thousands of schools.

Nelson's written another article in the Spectator re IES Breckland complete with picture of two IES "alumni": two very attractive young girls in fields of flowers. Apparently, this is supposed to show the excellence of the IES chain.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 02/03/2014 - 08:22

UPDATE: The Sabres Educational Trust website is now running after being absent. It gives basic info re members and links to documents such as Funding Agreement. It's here:

Brandon Anti's picture
Wed, 05/03/2014 - 11:16

Its a great website. It gives the number of trustees as 10 when there are 17 appointments listed at companies House. All made before the site was relaunched.

The list of governors is also different to those published on the Schools website!

Very helpful.

The former headteacher's annual salary was £86,710. Not sure if this is excessive for a teacher with no relevant experience in a fairly small school?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 05/03/2014 - 12:47

Brandon Anti - you may already be aware of this but Suffolk Coalition Opposing Free Schools (SCOFS) has submitted written evidence to the Education Select Committee which is doing an inquiry into academies and free schools.

SCOFS' submission mentions IES Breckland. It also mentions the chaos caused to Suffolk's school transport by the Suffolk free schools, gives concerns about lack of transparency, costs, misleading advertising, and the difficulty in providing a full range of curriculum subjects when the secondary sector comprises a larger number of small secondaries instead of a fewer number of large secondaries (that last concern was shared by David Wolfe QC in his submission).

It appears it wasn't just IES Breckland which lost its head since opening. SCOFS said "The original head teacher recruited for Saxmundham pulled out immediately and a replacement wasn’t recruited until a year after opening".

Al Wilson's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 07:14

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 11/03/2014 - 20:43

Channel 4 News were onto this tonight. Apparently the Ofsted report is dire and will be out on Thursday. Coverage on BBC? National Press?

Will there be more Ch4 News exposes of Free Schools?

David Barry's picture
Wed, 12/03/2014 - 10:41

and indeed the OfSted report is out:

"Special Measures"

(Which gives me a chance to introduce the "everythingfreeschools" site, which is a useful source of information, run, I understand, by journalism students.)

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 12/03/2014 - 11:21

But the Ofsted report on IES Breckland still isn't on Ofsted's website. EADT24 quotes from it but I'd like to read the whole thing. I can find no comments on the school's website although parents have apparently been told.

I want to read what Ofsted had to say about IES and about Sabres Educational Trust.

David Barry's picture
Wed, 12/03/2014 - 16:26

According to this story in the Guardian, sourced from the Press Association the report is not due to be published until tomorrow, but in a reverse of the Oldfield case the school seems to have warned parents of the bad news in advance of publication. Very sensible of them.

But it does look as if Janet will be left pining for another few hours:

David Barry's picture
Sun, 16/03/2014 - 17:38

And the story (on this site anyway) continues here:

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