Cuckoo Hall, one-time flagship school, faced with funding termination

Janet Downs's picture
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The Department for Education (DfE) is ‘minded to terminate’ the funding agreement with Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust (CHAT) for Cuckoo Hall Academy.   The school dropped from outstanding to special measures in 2017.  Following the inadequate judgement, the Regional Schools Commissioner, Martin Post, agreed to monitor Cuckoo Hall’s progress for one academic year.

Post has not been satisfied with progress.  He is particularly concerned about limited improvement in outcomes at the school.   Progress for reading and writing in 2018 is well below average and below average in maths.

Cuckoo Hall held up as an example by former education secretary Michael Gove

During the Coalition era, Cuckoo Hall Academy was held up as an example for other schools to follow.    The then education secretary Michael Gove named Cuckoo Hall's principal, Patricia Sowter, as one of his ‘Magnificent Seven’ and a ‘crusader for social justice’.  A former shadow education secretary,Stephen Twigg, was also a fan.  He wrote that Cuckoo Hall was an A* Academy.  

Misleading back story

But this praise was based on a misleading back story.  Sowter, who was awarded a CBE for services to education, claimed she had taken Cuckoo Hall from special measures to outstanding after she became head.  But this wasn’t true as we pointed out as long ago as 2012.     Cuckoo Hall was removed from special measures in 1999, three years before Sowter arrived.  Its last Ofsted before her headship said Cuckoo Hall was a ‘very effective school’. 

Nevertheless, the claim persisted.  As well as being repeated by ministers, it appeared prominently on Cuckoo Hall’s website.  It took two attempts by the Advertising Standards Authority before the claim was removed.  

Hit by scandals

Since then, CHAT has been hit by scandals including plummeting test results (Sowter blamed the staff), an investigation by the Education and Skills Funding Agency, a Financial Notice to Improve, turbulence among trustees resulting in the temporary suspension of Sowter, and the wrongful dismissal of an IT manager. The academy was accused of mismanaging SATs but was cleared.  

Then came the Inadequate judgement.  And now a warning threatening to end its funding agreement.  Cuckoo Hall joins the list of once-praised academy trusts which have fallen from grace including Durand (saga still ongoing); Perry Beeches, King's Science Academy, Barnfield Federation...

Patricia Sowter has since left CHAT.  Her LinkedIn profile describes her as an ‘education consultant’.

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