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.