Before history is rewritten, remember Downhills was improving before it became a Harris academy

Janet Downs's picture
Downhills Primary Schools was a basket case which urgently needed improving. Protests against enforced conversion delayed takeover of the school. Since the school became Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane in September 2012 it has improved spectacularly.

That’s the myth promoted by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and schools minister Nick Gibb.

But the myth isn’t true. Downhills was already improving. Ofsted monitoring in July 2012 before the schools became an academy said:

The local authority has provided a range of support to help the school make satisfactory progress in laying the foundations for improvement. In particular, support from a consultant to improve teaching has had a positive impact...

Foundations for improvement were in fact evident before ex-Education Secretary, Michael Gove, said Downhills was failing. It’s true inspectors had judged Downhills to require significant improvement in January 2011 but said the school’s capacity to improve was satisfactory. Inspectors had found weaknesses and variability in teaching but judged its quality to be satisfactory overall. Satisfactory is not inadequate.

Improvements were noted by Kekshan Salaria HMI in 2011. She identified weaknesses but praised the ‘core of experienced senior staff with high levels of expertise’. The help provided by these teachers ensured ‘satisfactory improvements’ were being made in improving the quality of provision. ‘Sound action planning’ had enabled ‘school leaders to precisely identify the key strengths and areas for improvement'. Haringey had provided good support.

Shortly after this, the then Education Secretary Michael Gove announced Downhills was failing.

Salaria went back in January 2012 and overturned her previous findings: senior leaders praised earlier had not co-ordinated interventions effectively. The ‘precise’ identification of strengths was now ‘not incisive’. In short, the school Salaria judged to be improving in September needed special measures in January. She said Downhills must:

‘As a matter of urgency, and by July 2014, raise attainment in English and mathematics across the school so that by Year 6 it is at least in line with national averages.’

Downhills rose to this challenge. In 2012, two years before the target date, progress in English exceeded the national average (89%) by two percentage points (91%). Progress in Maths was just one percentage point (86%) below the national average (87%).

It appears, then, Downhills, with Haringey’s help, had improved before it became a Harris academy. The foundations which led to the later Good judgement were already present.

Sir Daniel Moynihan, CEO of Harris, told the Public Bill Committee that Haringey had been unable ‘to put up a credible plan’ and ‘was unable to deliver what was needed’. But Ofsted monitoring said Haringey had supported the school. Sir Daniel cited Salaria’s verdict that progress was inadequate but this was proved wrong when Downhills’ final Year 6 took SATs in 2012.

It’s true results at Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane have risen further since 2012 and the school is now judged Good. But it should be possible to praise the staff and pupils at the academy without rewriting history.

Ofsted reports for Downhills can be downloaded here.
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Jane Eades's picture
Thu, 09/07/2015 - 13:05

This is not the only case of academy chains claiming credit for impovements which came about before a school was taken over. How often do they claim credit for, say, improved exam results in the year they take over, ignoring the fact that the majority of the education was carried out while the school was a community school.

The local school to me was criticised by Ofsted for a predicted drop in exam results because the comparison was made with 2 good years, rather than the year of the previous Ofsted. The school accurately predicted improved results for that summer but it was forced to become a Harris Academy over the holiday. Needless to say when the results came out, Harris issued a press release which, by inference, claimed credit although they had nothing to do with it.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 10/07/2015 - 09:16

Jane - this was the case with EdisonLearning which took over Salisbury School, Edmonton, in April 2007. It took credit for the rise in GCSE results in 2007 despite only having run the school for a month before pupils took exams.

In April 2014 I wrote about how primary academies were being praised for work that would have been done before they became academies.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 11/07/2015 - 12:56

Is this the same Edison Learning that Nancy Bailey writes about in the US?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 12/07/2015 - 08:28

Roger - yes, EdisonLearning has its roots in the US. Allegations about the company's activities there have been swirling around for some time. Some of these are anecdotal but this New York Times article cast doubt on the 'improvement' rate in Edison schools in 2002.

However, a Rand analysis of Edison schools in 2005 found results at Edison schools operating for four/five years 'matched or exceeded' results in other schools with similar intakes. But later the analysis said, 'It is unclear whether Edison's average long-term results exceed or merely match those of comparable public schools.' This implies the 'other schools' with similar intakes included some non-public schools such as charters but when matched with public (state) schools, the evidence about raised performance was unclear.

EdisonLearning has since lost contracts in Dayton and Clark County among others. Concerns were expressed by a member of Chicago's State Board of Education about EdisonLearning leaving a contract early because it was losing money.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 12/07/2015 - 08:33

Roger - EdisonLearning is also behind the Collaborative Academies Trust which was censured by Ofsted before the election (but the letter's only just been published).

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