It’s not possible to come to any reliable conclusion based on a tiny sample, but of the five studio schools inspected* so far only one requires improvement, three are good and one, Midland Studio College, Hinkley, is outstanding.
Studio schools are the smaller siblings of University Technology Colleges (UTCs) for pupils aged 14-19. They’re smaller than average secondary schools and specialise in technical and vocational subjects. Studio schools are expected to deliver most of the curriculum through project-based learning
with the help of employers:
“Studio schools also have their own special curriculum linking learning to enterprise projects in the community and providing one day each week of practical work experience on employers’ premises.”
Ofsted* inspection report for Midland Studio College, Hinckley, published February 2014
But education secretary Michael Gove isn’t a fan of project-based learning
: he lumps it with “play-based learning, project-work and an anti-knowledge ideology.” But it’s this type of learning which appears to have contributed to the success of studio schools so far.
Barnfield Business and Enterprise Studio Academy** is the oldest. It opened in 2010 but closed in 2012 to be reopened a day later in 2013. In October 2012 Ofsted judged Barnfield Skills Academy* to be good. There were only two things preventing it becoming outstanding, Ofsted wrote: teaching wasn’t consistently good or better and behaviour wasn’t exemplary in lessons.
But this positive Ofsted judgement didn’t stop schools minister Lord Nash sending Barnfield Federation a pre-warning letter
about poor results at Barnfield Business and Enterprise Studio Academy in October 2013.
And there’s the rub with studio schools – their technical specialism means they are likely to use vocational exams instead of Gove’s preferred academy EBacc subjects. Their intake is likely to be skewed towards the bottom of the ability range with the “baseline” on entry lower than average. They are also likely to include students who’ve experienced difficulty with education in the past. This is likely to reduce headline results.
That said, Ofsted has judged four out of five to be good or better although three of the five haven’t yet entered students for external exams. Students tended to praise their studio school for treating them as adults, having smaller classes, giving more individual attention and so on.
It is too early to judge the studio school model – too few schools have been inspected. But Ofsted judgements so far are encouraging.
However, positive judgements appear to count for nothing in Lord Nash’s eyes – if results are low then they can expect to receive pre-warning letters despite apparently doing a good job with a more challenging intake.
*Ofsted reports can be downloaded here
**The Barnfield studio school keeps changing its name
. This became so confusing that a local paper thought it was two separate establishments. Barnfield Federation, among other things such as claiming £1m
for students it didn’t have, was censured for flouting Companies House rules by not registering a change of name.