ARK academy chain has an impressive record with a string of favourable Ofsted judgements
. Until 2013, all thirteen of its academies, six of which were new schools, were good or better. In 2011, ARK had claimed it was the ‘top performing multiple academy sponsor
But so far this year, two of the three ARK academies inspected were less than good: one required improvement and the other was inadequate.
ARK Rose Primary Academy opened in September 2012 when ARK took over Primrose Hill Community School, Birmingham. The predecessor school had been judged Satisfactory in June 2012 after being in Special Measures. Ofsted said Primrose Hill was ‘improving rapidly’. But this improvement doesn’t seem to have been sustained: inspectors judged ARK Rose Primary Academy to have serious weaknesses in May 2014. Ofsted noted there was a new leadership team and teaching had improved rapidly since January 2014. But this improvement did not save the school from an Inadequate judgement.
A monitoring report said academy leaders at ARK Rose Primary had responded positively to the report and had made an ‘encouraging beginning’ to address weaknesses. But the ‘encouraging beginning’ was already apparent in June 2012 when Primrose Hill Community School had turned itself round without needing to become a sponsored academy.
ARK Kings Academy, also in Birmingham, was judged Requires Improvement in September 2014. Its predecessor school, Kings Norton High School, had been judged Good in January 2011. Pupils in Kings Norton High made good progress, inspectors said. However, in September 2014, inspectors found not enough pupils were making good progress. ARK was providing good support through its subject specialists, Ofsted noted. But it appears this support was not enough to prevent a previously Good school from slipping to Requires Improvement.
The Ofsted report for ARK Kings Academy, however, highlights difficulties which the sponsor (or indeed any school leader) would find challenging: an unstable pupil population with pupils leaving or entering the school at all times; an ability range skewed to the bottom end; 12.2% of pupils persistently absent in 2013, nearly twice the national average.
But to point this out would be ‘making excuses’. Ex-Education Secretary Michael Gove abhorred ‘making excuses’. Anyone pointing out challenges faced by schools like ARK Kings Academy would be described by Gove as being ‘happy with failure
’ or misrepresented as ‘ideologues’ who ‘don’t believe in giving children a better education.’ And ARK makes it clear, ‘We won’t accept excuses and we won’t make any either.
So, according to Gove and ARK, there are no excuses why ARK Rose Primary and ARK Kings Academy should have such poor Ofsted judgements. All pupils can succeed if given good teaching no matter what the context, they believe.
But when two ARK academies fall from Satisfactory to Inadequate and Good to Requires Improvement, ARK perhaps is realising it’s not as simple as that.
Ofsted reports downloadable here