‘If you feel sick we will give you a bucket. If you vomit - no problem! You’ve got your bucket.’
This is the instruction to pupils claiming to feel ill at Great Yarmouth Charter Academy which converted on 1 August with the Inspiration Trust. It was included in an internal document seen by the Great Yarmouth Mercury.
The assumption here is that all pupils claiming to feel sick are lying. And if they’re not lying then they can just vomit in a bucket.
This rule has been introduced by new principal, Barry Smith, co-founder of Michaela Community School whose head, Katharine Birbalsingh, displayed photos of pupils from her then school at the 2010 Conservative conference* and publicly humiliated one of them.
The Inspiration Trust says the rules are necessary because the former school, Great Yarmouth VA High School, had ‘some of the worst GCSE results in the entire country’ and was failing. But Progress 8 score for 2016 was average – a score shared by 40% of English schools. This score was despite only 33% of Y11 pupils gaining C or above in Maths and English – a reflection perhaps of the school’s intake which Ofsted described as having a ‘much higher’ proportion of pupils with special education needs and/or disabilities.
It’s true Great Yarmouth VA High was judged Inadequate in April 2016. And monitoring in October 2016 found behaviour was little improved. But inspectors said new head Louise Jackson - the fourth in eighteen months and who’d only been in post for six weeks - was providing ‘decisive leadership in setting a direction for improvement’.
‘Since September the school has adopted a new and sensible behaviour policy. Pupils told inspectors that ‘the headteacher’s new behaviour policy is clear’; sanctions are better balanced by achievement awards, and pupils know that there will be rapid and consistent consequences for misbehaviour.’
Great Yarmouth VA High School had been in conversion discussions with the Diocese of Norwich Academies and Education Trust (DNAET) but their sponsorship was turned down by Tim Coulson, Regional Schools Commissioner for the East of England and North London, in favour of the Inspiration Trust.
Dame Rachel De Souza, CEO of Inspiration Trust, sits on the headteacher board (HB) advising Tim Coulson. The Department for Education said Dame Rachel took no part in discussions concerning Great Yarmouth VA High School. This is difficult to confirm because minutes of meetings for the East of England HB haven’t been published since October 2016. Concern has been expressed in the past about slow publication of HB minutes raising suspicions about secrecy.
Dame Rachel is also on the advisory council of Parents and Teachers for Excellence (PTE) which claims to be a grassroots movement. But the advisory council includes five members from Inspiration, three from Harris, two associated with the New Schools Network, one is a Tory Lord, two are linked with right-leaning Policy Exchange, three from the West London Free School and one from Michaela Community School.
To recap: an inadequate school has a head, Louise Jackson, recognised as providing decisive leadership’. Plans for sponsorship by DNAET were overruled by Tim Coulson, the RSC for East of England, in favour of Inspiration Trust whose CEO sits on Coulson’s headteacher board. Barry Smith, late of Michaela Community School, becomes head.
‘We are very proud of our students who have worked hard to achieve some excellent individual results. There were very strong results in science, photography, art, and child development. This year we have moved towards academisation and we are determined to make the rapid changes needed to ensure our pupils get the results they deserve.’
This doesn’t sound like a head who’s on her way out. Nor does it suggest a regime which appears to treat young people as if they are intrinsically bad and need tough external discipline.
But it doesn’t need to be like this. Educating Greater Manchester, now showing on Channel 4, shows that discipline doesn’t have to be draconian. Discipline has to be present, yes, but it doesn’t have to appear to regard pupils as an enemy to be beaten. Neither does it tell pupils claiming to be sick that they can spew publicly into a pail.
*54 seconds into speech here.