Kings Science Academy – Ofsted monitoring still reveals concerns

Janet Downs's picture
Kings Science Academy, the Bradford free school where the head is on leave pending police investigations into fraud discovered by the Education Funding Agency (EFA), has still not taken effective action to address weaknesses identified during previous visits by inspectors, says Ofsted.

Inspectors said the academy should “take immediate action” including*:

1Securing “additional, experienced leadership capacity at the most senior level”. (But the head’s been away since the start of term in circumstances which would normally have resulted in a head resigning.)

2Developing a sufficiently broad and balanced curriculum which meets the needs of all pupils. (But depth rather than breadth is often presented as a Unique Selling Point by schools. Inspectors were not impressed with this diminishing of pupils’ experience at Kings Science Academy. A liberal arts education, as Yale University points out, comprises both breadth and depth with the addition of important skills).

3Recruit enough “high-quality, experienced teachers”. (But 19 of the 29 new teachers which joined in September 2013 are either newly-qualified or trainees.)

It wasn’t all bad: inspectors identified areas where progress had been made. Governance was improving but only the Chair had expertise in education: he was carrying “considerable responsibilities” which would normally be done by a school’s senior management. Pupils’ attendance was above the national average and there’d been a significant reduction in exclusions.

The academy had increased it external links considerably, said Ofsted. It had joined the Bradford Partnership, linked with an academy chain to support the “considerable proportion” of newly-qualified staff and benefited from help from the local authority which has provided access to specialist leaders in education.

Local authorities (LAs) are supposed to be bureaucrats who rule schools with a heavy hand – schools, according to the DfE, are better off without them. But here’s an example of a local authority, Bradford, which, like Kirklees LA and Batley Grammar School, is stepping in to help a free school although it is under no legal obligation to do so. A YouGov poll of London parents in Autumn 2013 found 62% of parents with children at a free school supported LAs having the power to deal with underperformance in free schools. But that power is denied. LAs cannot automatically intervene in free schools or academies because they are outside LA stewardship. LAs can offer help but they don't have to. And if the offer is rejected there's nothing LAs can do.

Ofsted hopes Kings Science Academy will become good or better – but at the moment it’s stuck in limbo pending the appointment of permanent senior leaders.

ADDENDUM: Support for setting up free schools dropped from 36% to 27% in one month in the Autumn, according to YouGov. 47% of respondents opposed their establishment while 26% weren’t sure.

*author’s comments in the list are in brackets
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