Why did Minister say academy sponsored by Tory donor was “brilliant example” when other schools did the same or better? And was the improvement all that was claimed?

Janet Downs's picture
.@trussliz: “This is a brilliant example of how inspiring school leaders and teachers can transform ... schools.” http://ow.ly/y4BZW

Schools minister, Liz Truss, with links to a Daily Mail article, 17 June 2014

The “brilliant example” was Great Yarmouth Primary Academy (GYPA) now judged Good. Inspectors praised the school’s leadership and management and innovative practices which included a mandatory extended day for Years 5/6. This allowed the school, according to the Mail, to offer an education rivaling that of private schools.

But Dr Tim Hands, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference which represents leading independent schools, wasn’t convinced. He said the extra hours undermined a “proper childhood”.

And parents weren’t convinced when the plans were proposed. 130 parents signed a petition against the enforced extra hours because of fears they would interfere with family life.

The Department for Education (DfE), Liz Truss and the Mail, however, are all sure the school’s turnaround was due to the lengthened day introduced by headteacher Bill Holledge.

But is this entirely true?

The academy’s previous school, Greenacre Primary School, was judged Inadequate in 2010. But in June 2011, an Ofsted monitoring report said:

“The quality of teaching has continued to improve … with almost all teaching seen in Key Stage 2 being good or better.”

Holledge was not head in June 2011 although as headteacher-designate he was present one day a week. Ofsted said the County headteacher was providing “outstanding leadership” with good support from the local authority. Holledge, then, was in an excellent position to build on improvements already made.

Ofsted fully inspected Greenacre in early November 2011 and judged it Satisfactory. This was not mentioned by the Mail. Inspectors paid tribute both to the new head’s inspirational leadership and to the “extraordinary” work previously done by the County headteacher.

In September 2012, Greenacre became GYPA sponsored by the Inspiration Trust. Its chair is Sir Theodore Agnew, Tory donor, trustee of right-wing think tank Policy Exchange, Non-Executive Director of the DfE and Chairman of the Academies Board which is responsible for overseeing the academies programme. He claims the “transformation” of GYPA didn’t start until September 2012 when Greenacre became an academy. But Ofsted says otherwise.

It appears, then, an academy sponsored by someone with close links to the DfE is given special publicity. Its good Ofsted inspection result was fed to the Mail and tweeted by the DfE and a schools minister.

So, what’s behind this extravagant publicity for one primary academy apart from the usual academy puff? The clue is in the mandatory extra hours. Gove and Truss favour extending the school day despite children in many other countries working fewer hours than English ones. Truss told professional parents they should ask their schools why they weren’t offering care from 8am to 6pm and nursery provision for two year-olds.

But schools are for education not child care. And if a few schools start opening for more hours then employers could refuse flexi-time and tell working parents to find a school which opens for ten hours a day.


Parents should take care what they wish for.

EXTRA: GPYA wasn’t the only primary school whose Ofsted report appeared on 9 June to have improved from Satisfactory/Requires Improvement to Good or better. And they did it without introducing compulsory extra hours. I’ll pay tribute to these in my next thread.
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Jane Eades's picture
Fri, 20/06/2014 - 13:22

Unfortunately, the bias in praise dished out by Government Ministers had been very noticeable in the past. One of the Bristol academies was praised for its improvement in GCSE results - that year the school which improved most was a community school. However, that would not have proved a distorted political point, would it?

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