Free school praised by Gove accused of dropping students who aren’t ‘Russell Group ready’

Janet Downs's picture
The London Academy of Excellence (LAE), praised by ex-Education Secretary Michael Gove as a ‘superb new free school’ with ‘amazing successes’ has been accused of culling students not likely to gain high enough grades to enter Russell Group universities.

East Ham MP, Lyn Brown, said she would investigate what has happened at the Newham school, Academies Week reveals in an exclusive.

Ofsted judged LAE as Good in March 2014 but expressed concern that not enough students were making the progress indicated by their high GCSE grades (a requirement for admission to LAE) when compared with similar students elsewhere. Ofsted also said high teacher turnover caused inconsistency in the quality of teaching and learning.

Nothing in LAE’s admission policy for 2014 prepared students for the possibility they might be asked to find another college if they failed to achieve high AS level grades. LAE’s head, John Weeks, confirmed to Academies Week that students were only told of the requirement after they’d begun their studies. He said, ‘A number of students, following school based and independent careers guidance given both before and immediately after AS results day, have moved to other institutions who offer a broader range of courses. These moves will give them the best opportunity to secure places on university courses that are right for them.’

But these decisions have been criticised by Eddie Playfair, head of Newham’s NewVic College which has accepted several ex-LEA students, for its destabilising and demoralising effect. Geoff Barton, head of King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds, told Academies Week:

‘We know that selective sixth forms can make themselves appear more narrowly successful by “culling” groups of students who get disappointing AS results. But it hardly seems in the spirit of the free school programme, designed, we were told, to broaden access to academic success in disadvantaged areas. Nor does it seem value-for-money for taxpayers.”

The practice by some schools of persuading pupils who don’t get high AS level grades to go elsewhere has been highlighted on this site before (see here). But, as Eddie Playfair said:

‘ does seem to me that those providers who do have a very high threshold to progress from first to second year are not keeping faith with their students…The more providers which do that, the more movement there is going to be and more students who will be affected by this. Ideally I would prefer to see us all taking responsibility in our role, whether students do well or not.’

Read about the success of Newham’s NewVic College here.
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… It seems that when it comes to producing good or outstanding results, some academies have come up with a neat little trick to improve their image. In February 2013  the Argus reported that “underperforming” sixth form pupils at Portslade Aldridge Community Academy were told not to bother to come back to complete their studies. More recently the London Academy of Excellence claimed to have achieved the best results in Newham (london) with the Guardian reporting that they were the “envy of top schools” with more students going on to Russell Group universities. These claims were challenged by Eddie Playfair of Newham Sixth Form College (Newvic)  who described them as being “a complete untruth”. This didn’t stop the media from reporting the claims made about London Acedemy of Excellence or politicians using it to justify the millions wasted on Gove’s pet vanity project. What was less widely reported by either politicians or the media were claims similar to those made about Portslade Aldridge, LAE had been asking students who were not deemed to be “Russell Group ready” to leave and continue their studies elsewhere. (reported here and here) …

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 12/10/2014 - 11:45

The solution is to make A Levels parallel qualifications to AS, not year 1 of an A Level course.

This has the added advantage of incentivising deep learning throughout the A Level course rather than wasting months cramming for AS examinations.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 12/10/2014 - 11:56

This does not mean no meaningful assessment during the A Level course - quite the opposite - There would be lots of challenging and cognitively developing 'assessment for learning'.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 12/10/2014 - 15:38

Oh dear, Tristram Hunt has just announced that he won't be supporting what I suggest!

It gets worse. He then goes on to list all the other major destructive aspects of our present education system that he won't be changing.

Still, he has taken up my other suggestion - a 'Hippocratic Oath' for teachers, however he appears to miss the point that the purpose of this is to give teachers the right and the power to resist anti-educational orders passed down the line from 'Executive' Principals that don't themselves teach.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 13/10/2014 - 09:02

Roger - the idea of a Hippocratic Oath for teachers has been widely mocked, according to the Schools Improvement Net.

A mock-up of the oath, on #teacheroath has such lines as 'I promise to ignore my instincts and teach according to the statistics, graphs and charts placed in front of me'.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 13/10/2014 - 10:26

Janet - This doesn't mean its not a good idea. Teachers should no more be teaching by instinct than they should be following bad educational directives. It would place an obligation on teachers to be, like doctors, up to date with evidence based medical/educational research.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 13/10/2014 - 10:52

In reality the medical Hippocratic oath has not been mandatory for several years and has been replaced by codes of conduct (e.g. GP focus, Surgical focus); and even then while the majority of medical schools/faculties incorporate it into their training programmes the fact is that not all do.

There is equivalent oath required of solicitors although for the first time in English legal history, from April 2012, Chartered Legal Executives were required to swear an oath of law. But that is only one small section of lawyers:

It can also be argued that the introduction of the National Teacher Standards in 2011 brought teaching into line with the medical profession. So why on earth does the profession need an equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath? Taken alongside Labour desire for a teacher MOT I fear for the profession under a potential Labour government as I did under the Coalition.

Hunt's suggestion was roundly and soundly mocked and ridiculed on the BBC thread over the weekend. An repeated piece of mockery was to highlight the utter hypocrisy of a politician threatening to impose a Hippocratic Oath on one set of employees but not on MPs, Cabinet Ministers or Bankers.

I found Hunt's comments dispiriting and highly enlightening about the true vacuity of Labour's proposals that rendered them nothing more or less than more of the same old political same old: gimmicks and party ideology through sound bite rhetoric and no substance. For example, the Labour focus is on getting the country higher up the PISA international tables irrespective as to whether that is a best fit for the needs of our young people or the nation as a whole. Labour has no interest in Education outside of trying to win votes and climb the greasy pole of PISA League Tables.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 13/10/2014 - 10:56

Apologies I omitted the BBC thread link:

It is the same as Roger's but I would invite people to review the comments - though perhaps not all 900+ (the highest and lowest rated filters are useful)

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 18/10/2014 - 09:06

OK - Maybe I was wrong about the teachers's version of the Hippocratic Oath. It is clearly too easily parodied and mercilessly mocked.

I suppose what I want is a culture change that resulted in the clear recognition and expectation that teacher's had a duty to be aware of the academic thinking that underpins their profession, and to able and ready to discuss and criticise it.

This later post is relevant.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 18/10/2014 - 09:07

Dear me sorry about the mangled apostrophes

Andy's picture
Sat, 18/10/2014 - 12:31

For me it's not the parodying and mocking but the fact that the mandatory national teacher standards have existed since 2011 and perform the function of a code of conduct such that any form of oath was unnecessary, and that the shadow SoS Educ appears blissfully ignorant of this.

Additionally, if there are to be prescribed codes of conduct or variants of a Hippocratic Oath then individual professions should not be singled out. It stands to reason that a raft of professions should come under such a purview.

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