ASA tells troubled Cuckoo Hall to change website

Janet Downs's picture
‘In special measures 14 years ago, Cuckoo Hall Academy was turned round dramatically by Headteacher Patricia Sowter and her team…’

Cuckoo Hall Academy website, February 2015.

14 years ago is 2001. But, as regular readers will know, Cuckoo Hall Primary School was not in special measures in 2001. It had been removed from that category in 1999. And an Ofsted inspection in 2001 before Sowter arrived said:

‘This is a very effective school. … Teaching is good and leadership and management are very good. Pupils make good progress.’

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) censured Cuckoo Hall in October 2012 for saying the school had been in special measures in 2002. In response, the academy changed its website to read ’14 years ago’ but still made the claim that Sowter had turned the school round.

But as every year passes, ’14 years ago’ becomes nearer the time when Sowter arrived.

The ASA has again looked at Cuckoo Hall’s website and others in the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT) chain and ruled the websites should be amended. CHAT has complied and all references to special measures appear to have been removed.

The claim that Cuckoo Hall was inadequate when Sowter arrived should never have been made in the first place. It has reached mythical status that Sowter, one of Michael Gove’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ and who was awarded a CBE for services to education in 2011, turned Cuckoo Hall from special measures to Outstanding. Gove wrote in the Evening Standard:

‘Patricia Sowter took over her first school, Cuckoo Hall, when it was in special measures and risked closure because it was so bad.’ But Ofsted had said Cuckoo Hall was ‘a very effective school’ before Sowter became head.

Sowter told the National College when she arrived at Cuckoo Hall the ‘more aspiring parents had moved off because the school had failed the Ofsted’. It hadn’t.

The Academy Magazine, Autumn 2011, published an article by Sowter. She said when she arrived:

‘I encountered low expectations for children’s learning and behaviour and consequently standards and achievement were very low.’

But Ofsted in 2001 said inspectors agreed with parents that expectations were high and children made good progress. This was borne out in the 2001 Key Stage 4 results: 86% achieved Level 4 or above in English, 75% in Maths and 95% in Science.

Sowter told the House of Commons Bill Committee in March 2011 during debate on the Education Bill:

‘My school was in special measures 10 years ago…’ But it wasn’t.

CHAT is now a troubled chain facing multiple problems including allegations of bullying and exam malpractice. It has been investigated by the Education Funding Agency which found numerous weaknesses. Yet it was one of Michael Gove’s favourite academy chains. And he went along with the myth that Cuckoo Hall was in special measures when Sowter arrived.

But as I’ve said time and again – it wasn’t. Cuckoo Hall was an effective school before Sowter arrived and nowhere near as troubled as Sowter and others made out. Perhaps apologies are due to the previous head, Mr R Allen, and his team whose role in bringing Cuckoo Hall from special measures has been airbrushed from history.

NOTE: The 2001 Ofsted report for Cuckoo Hall Primary School is no longer available on Ofsted’s website. However, I have a copy.
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Phil Taylor's picture
Wed, 11/03/2015 - 11:22

I suspect that similarly fanciful claims are far from uncommon. Often the people who are being lied about and damaged have been so traumatised by their treatment that they have, understandably, decided to try and move on. The claims are therefore not publicly challenged and so become accepted as fact - especially when they're repeated by ministers.

agov's picture
Wed, 11/03/2015 - 14:48

'Nolan principles', The 7 principles of public life -

6. Honesty

Holders of public office should be truthful.

Hey ho!

David Barry's picture
Wed, 11/03/2015 - 22:15

Its also part of the introduction of the market into education. if you look at the link Janet gives to the ASA list of rulings just look how many are Academies or Free Schools!

For that matter look at my own experience with my local Free School

"let the buyer beware"

Sarah's picture
Sun, 15/03/2015 - 22:26

Hi Janet,

I am going to email and tweet Michael Gove to make him aware of the ruling by the ASA. I noticed that this claim was not contested by Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust, thus avoiding the need for another investigation. Their website was quickly changed.

The link below contains the official report listing schools that came out of special measures in 1999. Cuckoo Hall Primary School is mentioned on there.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 16/03/2015 - 13:55

Thanks, Sarah. I'd lost the report by the then Chief HMI, Chris Woodhead, which had listed schools which came out of special measures in 1999. I searched, but couldn't find it. Thanks for providing the link. I note Woodhead wrote:

'OFSTED is delighted to recognise the very substantial improvement in schools that have been REMOVED FROM SPECIAL MEASURES during the year covered by this Report.'

Cuckoo Hall Primary School was listed as one which had made 'very substantial improvement'.

Yet this fact, and the work done by Sowter's predecessor, Mr R Allen, has been airbrushed from history. Until now.

Cuckoo in the nest's picture
Fri, 10/04/2015 - 12:47

There are still inaccuracies in their website. Here:
they claim that Cuckoo Hall is an outstanding school but we know that it was downgraded from outstanding to good in 2014, after very lengthy consideration (inspection in June, report not published until November?). How does one go about reporting this to the ASA?

What a shame that the OFSTED report was published before the EFA findings which showed that HR records were falsified to hide the worrying discrepancies in the SCR from them. (full report here ). If you don't want to read the full report, here are the relevant summaries:-

Paras 19 and 20 of Schedule 1 to the Education (Independent School Standards)(England) Regulations 2010
The requirement to carry out suitability checks on staff prior to (in some cases as soon as practicable after) appointment.
A significant number of staff, including teachers and teaching assistants, appear to have started work prior to the results of suitability checks being known. The evidence comes from the SCR, appointment letters and payroll data. The investigation did not find any evidence that risk assessments were undertaken for the staff who had started prior to DBS, or that they were accompanied until their DBS check was received by CHAT.

Para 22 of Schedule 1 to the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2010
Clause 16 (b) of the Master Funding Agreement
The requirement to have a single central register.
There is evidence that the single central register was not accurate, and had been amended to create a false impression of the time at which suitability checks were carried out.

If the 'Good' grade is allowed to stand, then an organisation profits by cheating. Surely, even without a further inspection, the school should be downgraded at least to 'notice to improve' as the leaders who ordered these falsifications, lied to OFSTED and argued over the content of the draft reports are still there!

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 10/04/2015 - 13:52

Cuckoo in the nest - details of how to complain to ASA are here.

You can submit a complaint on-line and you'll need to do a screen grab of the offending page to enclose with the complaint. The ASA gives instructions about how to do this.

The ASA are quick to respond and CHAT has complied immediately to avoid the need to go to a full investigation - this avoids the nature of the complaint being made public.

Remember to tell us the outcome of any complaint.

Cuckoo in the nest's picture
Mon, 13/04/2015 - 00:54

I've lodged a complaint and will let you know of the outcome. Thanks for the advice!

Barry Wise's picture
Fri, 15/05/2015 - 14:59


Please could you supply a link to the ASA ruling that you have several times said 'censured' Cuckoo Hall in 2012? I have searched the rulings/adjudications for the period 2010 to today, but no results come up for rulings at all in 2012. In fact all I can find are 2 informally resolved issues from this year, March and May 2015. Thanks.arry

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 01/08/2015 - 07:55

Barry, it appears I have ignored this question. I missed it. However, you posed the same question under another post on 15 May 2015 at 3.05pm here. I answered it at 3.55pm.

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