Inexperienced leaders contributed to failure of E-Act free school, says Ofsted. And Tory vice-chair expresses qualms about appointing unqualified teachers.

Janet Downs's picture
Hartsbrook E-Act Free School was opened in September 2012 but help has only just been provided by E-Act to the inexperienced leaders. 18 months after opening the school still hadn’t appointed subject leaders for English and maths, Ofsted said. Inspectors found school leaders had recognised their lack of capacity for leadership and requested help last year but E-Act had only recently responded.

The primary school was rated Inadequate on all four counts and Ofsted has recommended an external review of governance.

This raises a wider question about the use of inexperienced staff in positions of responsibility at free schools. The Discovery New School, soon to be closed, had a head without qualified teacher status. Inexperienced and unsupported staff contributed to the failure of Al-Madinah free school. Annaliese Briggs, who was appointed to be head at Pimlico Free School despite having neither teaching experience or a teaching qualification, left her post seven weeks into the school’s first term. Sherry Zand, who was appointed to lead IES Breckland despite never having had experience of deputy headship, left her post after just one year.

In 2011, Dr Rob Higham, London Institute of Education, researched groups behind free school proposals at the time. He found the second largest group after parent-led ones in the first-wave were from mainly middle-ranking teachers who aspired to become the free school’s head. This, Dr Higham said, would be “very rapid promotion”. It would also result in schools being led by teachers without experience of senior management.

Last October, a leaked document revealed civil servants were concerned “some free school projects may appoint inexperienced principal designates who are not suitable which would significantly undermine the success of the school." Despite their warning ministers, including Education Secretary Michael Gove and David Laws, approved the scrapping of a requirement to attend assessment centres.

It isn’t only free schools where education is threatened by the use of inexperienced* or unqualified teachers. According to TES, the Tory vice-chairman Richard Harrington has voiced concerns that allowing academies to recruit people without qualified teacher status (QTS) could result in heads hiring teachers “on the cheap”.

According to the Statutory Guidance issued by the Department for Education (DfE):

“As their careers progress, teachers will be expected to extend the depth and breadth of knowledge, skill and understanding …as is judged to be appropriate to the role they are fulfilling and the context in which they are working.”

But it appears this high standard doesn't apply to people employed to teach in academies or free schools.


And even the Tory vice-chairman sounds worried.

ADDENDUM 28 March 2014: a YouGov poll in Autumn 2013 found 60% of respondents thought children should only be taught by qualified teachers. Support for this was highest among Labour voters (73%) and those intended to vote UKIP (71%).

*It's to be expected that newly-qualified teachers (NQTs) or teachers-in-training will lack experience. But problems arise when their presence in a school is disproportionately high or when teachers are promoted beyond their level of competence.
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Alistair Wilson's picture
Thu, 27/03/2014 - 08:21

Free schools rated inadequate by Ofsted

Opened in 2011 - 4% (Discovery New School)
Opened in 2012 - 5% (Al Madinah, Hartsbrook, IES Breckland) so far.....

Alistair Wilson's picture
Thu, 27/03/2014 - 08:23

Hartsbrook - a Free School, Sponsored by an Academy Chain, partnered with a Private school (Breaking the Berlin Wall no doubt)

What could possibly go wrong?

My heart goes out to those children unable to read, write or spell competently at the end of Yr 1.

Andrew Renhard's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 14:49

Alistair Wilson - I used to teach at Hartsbrook and the problems are massive but not really the teachers fault. Every class has nearly 100% of all children as English as an additional language with no support given by E-Act to help. Most of the children at the end of year 1 will have only been in the school for a short period of time - very few for a whole year.

You need to be aware of the facts before you make such comments - it was an impossible task and with no help from E-Act at all it was a disaster waiting to happen

Alistair Wilson's picture
Fri, 11/07/2014 - 10:36

Andrew - I understand how you feel. My comment was not aimed at the teachers in the school. Nor was I suggesting that the children unable to read or write competently had been failed by the staff.
My point was that the current political strategy for Education, if we can actually call it a strategy, beats most teachers, whether they are struggling with challenging cohorts or surrounded by eager high achieving learners, with a large fraudulent stick. That stick has written on it - Free School - Academy Chain. If you would only sign up to this ideological vanity project - outstanding progress will naturally follow. Well the results show us that is simply not true.
And I note that you make the comment "it was an impossible task and with no help from E-Act at all it was a disaster waiting to happen".
So in fact we can probably agree that the children who lost much valuable learning are not to blame, nor are the teachers who I know will, in the majority, have been trying their hardest to serve the children's needs - and therefore it follows that we might agree that the millions of pounds wasted on this 'strategy' could and should have been better used - and the teachers and children at Hartsbrook would therefore have been better served as well.

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