Sulivan School is still Good despite harm done by threat of closure to make way for free school

Janet Downs's picture
Sulivan School, Hammersmith and Fulham, has featured on LSN before (see here and sidebar) when it was threatened with the axe despite being popular and a recipient of the Mayor of London’s Gold Club Award.

But there were cheers of joy after the school was saved from closure when the Labour council overturned a decision by the previous council to close Sulivan to make way for a new secondary free school, Fulham Boys School*.

In January 2015, the school received a letter from Education Secretary Nicky Morgan stating that it was ‘amongst the 100 top performing schools in the United Kingdom’. It’s just been inspected and kept its Good status.

Inspectors noted the harm which had been done when the school was under threat of amalgamation with another school. They wrote:

‘In July 2013, there were plans by the local authority to close the school because of ‘surplus primary school places’ in the area. However, the decision to close the school was reversed in June 2014. There were a number of families who chose to leave the school due to the uncertainty of closure. This explains the varied numbers of pupils in the mixed-aged classes. The school also experienced staff turnover over this period.’

There were no ‘surplus school places’ – this was an excuse used by the then Tory council to justify shutting the school. And now we can see how the council’s decision harmed a good school in its area:

1Parent withdrew children from the school.
2The uncertainty resulted in staff leaving.

The responsibility for this uncertainty is with those on the previous Council who voted to close a good school in order to find a site for a free secondary school. Hammersmith and Fulham, it should be remembered, was once described by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, as his favourite local authority. Perhaps that was because the Council supported the Government’s free school policy even when it damaged an existing school.


Schools Improvement Net reports how Holyport College, a secondary free school with boarding facilities and links with Eton which opened last September has become mixed up in a racial bullying row. It’s not the first time an Eton-backed free school has caused controversy. The London Academy of Excellence has been accused of dropping Year 12 pupils who weren’t ‘Russell Group ready’.

St Mary’s Primary School, a former independent school in Dilwyn, was inspected on 11/12th of February. The inspection report has not yet been published. It is now nearly three months overdue.

The Guardian reports that the fate of St Michael’s Catholic Secondary School, a former independent school in Cornwall which was allowed to join the state sector as a free school despite surplus places in the area, hangs in the balance. It was judged Requires Improvement a year ago and its head quit following an investigation into the school’s management.

UPDATE 6 May, 09.20 In February Stockport Technical School, a 14-19 free school, announced it would close in July 2016 because it hadn't attracted enough students. However, it will close in July 2015 leaving students halfway through exams. The school opened in September 2013 and was hailed as 'ground breaking'. The Education Funding Agency purchased the former Hillcrest Grammar site for Stockport Technical School to move into in September 2015. This raises the question about how much taxpayers' money has been spent on this free school including purchase of the Grammar site. It also calls into question the wisdom of expecting children to decide whether to pursue a vocational education at 14. This is something both Conservatives and Labour support but parents are voting with their children's feet. Such schools do not appear to be popular - two University Technology colleges have announced closure and many are struggling to recruit pupils especially at age 14. The policy should be scrapped before more such schools, set up at taxpayers' expense, close after a few years.

NOTES The Fulham Boys School opened in September 2014 in temporary accommodation. London’s Mayor is committed to find it a site in Fulham.

UPDATE TO NOTES 6 May, 09.36 Readers who clicked on the Ofsted link to the Sulivan School report will have noticed the published report has 'Draft Publication. Not for disclosure or publication' stamped over it. As it is now publicly available on Ofsted's website, I presume this has now been cleared for publication.
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Brian's picture
Tue, 05/05/2015 - 15:41

Well done Sullivan School. But what does a school have to do to be Outstanding? A letter from Morgan celebrating the school being in the top one hundred performing schools in the country and it's 'Good'.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 05/05/2015 - 16:51

According to Ofsted, the school isn't outstanding because:

'The quality of teaching over time is not strong enough to ensure pupils make rapid progress across all the year groups.
The most-able pupils are not always challenged sufficiently in lessons.
Pupils are not always given time to respond to teachers’ marking of their work to make improvements and deepen their understanding.
Some pupils, particularly the less-able learners, do not always finish their work in lessons and the presentation of it is sometimes poor.
The attainment in writing at Key Stage 2 is not as strong as in reading and mathematics, especially for boys. Sometimes, pupils’ handwriting is untidy.
Although attendance is improving, it is not yet high enough. Some pupils’ punctuality is poor.'

But in 2014, 97% reached Level 4 in Reading, Writing and Maths. 97% reached Level 4 in Reading, 100% reached Level 4 in Maths, and 83% in Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling. The latter is still above the national average for SPAG of 76%.

Attendance and punctuality are mainly the responsibility of parents - always seems a bit unfair to damn schools because of what parents are ultimately responsible for.

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 05/05/2015 - 18:24

You'd imagine that national politicians of all persuasions are doing sufficient harm to schools, children, parents and local communities without the local variety chipping in to add to the onslaught. It's little wonder to me that many commentators to this site take exception when some of us call for the reinstatement of local (education) authorities as part of the vitally important drive to bring important elements of governance and decision-making back into local communities. When you get the kind of bullying tactics dished out by the previous council in relation to Sulivan School, it's not hard to see why politicians, locally and nationally, get such bad press.

Janet is quite right to declare:
"The responsibility for this uncertainty is with those on the previous Council who voted to close a good school in order to find a site for a free secondary school. Hammersmith and Fulham, it should be remembered, was once described by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, as his favourite local authority. Perhaps that was because the Council supported the Government’s free school policy even when it damaged an existing school."

For those who may be unaware, the campaign at exists solely to ensure that politics is taken out of education governance. Political tinkering is killing good schools and teachers and limiting the future education opportunities for generations of young people. It is time to make sure education reform is put on a secure footing where changes are made because they are known to offer genuine opportunities for lasting, incremental improvements to this essential service AND NOT because they happen to be the flavour of the month with some short-sighted Secretary of State or Minister for education (we've had more than our share of those, especially over the last three decades).


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 06/05/2015 - 08:46

Stockport Technical School, a 14-19 free school is to close in July. For more details see update to Free School News above. Its closure calls the whole 14-19 policy into question. Both Tories and Labour support 14-19 schools and curriculum. They should rethink their policy and argue for a broad and balanced curriculum to age 16 with pupils choosing different routes in upper secondary (Years 12, 13) before graduation at 18.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 06/05/2015 - 15:45

Strange how the Conservative promise to open 50 more Free Schools seems to have been hardly mentioned by 'pumped up' Dave.

Presumably they have realised that it's a vote loser.

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