Half way through course, Midlands academy drops some GCSE subjects

Janet Downs's picture
After working towards GCSEs for a year, pupils at Grace Academy in Darlaston have been told some GCSE subjects have been dropped.

“I received a letter confirming that I had completed one year’s study in each of these courses which I can present to future employers, but that is not enough…I am worried that if I do not get all five GCSEs at A*-C then I won’t get in to college,” one pupil told a local paper.

The academy, which has just had a £26 million rebuild, was judged to Require Improvement by Ofsted in July 2013. 35% of the GCSE cohort achieved the benchmark 5 GCSEs A*-C (or equivalent) including Maths and English in 2013 but this drops to 12% when equivalents are removed.

The director of corporate development at the academy said the GCSE programme had been changed partly in response to the Government’s announcements about changes to the GCSE system. It’s unclear why the academy felt it needed to drop subjects when students are half-way through courses when the changes don’t come into effect yet.

Grace Academy Trust operates two more academies in the Midlands. Grace Academy Coventry was judged Good in 2010 while Grace Academy Solihull was judged Inadequate with serious weaknesses in September 2013. 33% of pupils at the former and 45% at the latter reached the benchmark in 2013; this drops to 24% and 26% respectively when equivalents are stripped out.

The Department for Education (DfE) sent pre-warning notices to Grace Academies in Darlaston and Coventry in Autumn 2013 because performance was “unacceptably low”.

The Coventry academy prompted a Parliamentary Question when it was discovered the Governing Body had issued a policy which did not allow teachers to “promote” homosexuality. This was interpreted locally as being "anti-gay". The wording harked back to the controversial Section 28 brought in by Thatcher’s government a quarter-of-a-century ago and scrapped by Labour. Tory donor, Lord Edmiston, who set up the Grace Academy Trust and is head of the board of trustees, is strongly against the legalisation of gay marriage. The Governors removed the policy and agreed to review it after the DfE contact the school.

The Guardian revealed that Grace Academy Trust had paid more than £1m either directly to or through companies owned or controlled by Lord Edmiston, relatives of trustees or to trustee board members. Labour members of Walsall council have called for the local authority (LA) deputy leader to give a breakdown of expenditure at Grace Academy Darlaston. But the LA has no power to do so – academies are outside LA stewardship.

But questions about policies and where the money goes are of little help to Y11 pupils at Darlaston whose work for the past year in some subjects will not lead to a recognised qualification but a letter saying they’ve studied these courses for twelve months.

Surely schools are bound to continue courses offered to pupils when they chose options in Year 9? To do otherwise is to let pupils down and lose their trust.
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Adrian Elliott's picture
Sun, 02/02/2014 - 17:08

I spent 6 years as a deputy head, 18 as a head and 7 as an Ofsted inspector and if this is true , words fail me.

Poor kids. Poor parents.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Mon, 03/02/2014 - 11:40

What struck me about this story (words no longer failing me) was the thought of what would have happened when I was a head if I had decided to do anything as bonkers as this.

Even though I was in VA schools with greater independence from the LA, there would have been a very strong reaction from the director of education as well as local councillors.

The chair of governors would have been approached by the director, councillors would have made a stir in the local media and so on. This is not about control but accountability.

There seems to be growing evidence that this accountability is lacking in many academies and free schools. In my view, no amount of ill-informed ranting from some politicians and sections of the media about getting rid of the 'bureaucratic control of local authorities' and 'stalinism' etc are going to hide this from the public. .

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 03/02/2014 - 12:18

That's what's so tragic - parents and pupils can't complain to the LA because the LA is powerless. All they can do is follow the academy's complaints procedure to the letter before complaining to the Education Funding Agency.

By which time the pupils would be taking their GCSEs.

The damage has been done. And the Grace Academies Trust has badly let its pupils down. If I were a pupil or a parent I would, in the words of Sir Michael Wilshaw, be "spitting blood".

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