‘Young head is charged with turning round the worst school in England’
, 5 July 2014
The ‘worst school’ was Oasis Isle of Sheppey, an academy taken over completely by Oasis in September 2013. A new head, David Millar, the academy’s fourth, was appointed to lead the school.
Isle of Sheppey academy had had a troubled history. It was opened in September 2009 as part of Labour’s academies programme and sponsored by Dulwich College, an independent school with support from Kent County Council and Canterbury Diocese. But the injection of private school’s ‘DNA’, so highly rated by Labour peer Lord Adonis
, didn’t work: Ofsted judged Isle of Sheppey to be inadequate in 2011. Dulwich recognised it didn’t have the ‘capacity to drive improvements at the rate required’ and withdrew its lead sponsorship
in late 2013.
However, under the leadership of the previous head, David Day, Isle of Sheppey had been upgraded from Inadequate to Requires Improvement in March 2013. A monitoring visit in July 2013 recognised the academy still had ‘a considerable distance to travel before it will provide a good education’ but noted there was ‘considerable enthusiasm for the business of teaching in the academy.’
Isle of Sheppey was not Inadequate and was showing ‘considerable enthusiasm’ for teaching in summer 2013. Why, then, did The Times
claim it was ‘the worst school in England’?
The description was prompted by a revelation from the new head that Department for Education ‘officials’ had described a visit in November 2013 as their ‘worst ever’. But we don’t know the qualifications or remit of these officials. Neither do we know what this subjective assessment was based on. If the officials had only ever visited schools judged good or better then any visit to a school judged to require improvement would be the ‘worst’.
A freedom of information response
revealed that one DfE official visited Oasis Isle of Sheppey in November but the DfE will not make notes public. It claims dialogue with schools must be confidential so there can be a frank exchange of views. I have asked for an internal review on the grounds that David Millar made the comments public at a Future Leaders conference and these were subsequently published in a national newspaper.
, meanwhile, has printed a clarification
which says its claim that Oasis Isle of Sheppey was the ‘worst’ in England was based on the observation of DfE officials and not on its official Ofsted ranking.
It appears, then, Oasis Isle of Sheppey wasn’t ‘the worst school in England’. That’s not to say the academy isn’t improving. A monitoring visit in July published after The Times
’ article praised Millar’s ‘clarity of vision and purpose’. Eddie Playfair
, principal of Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) says it should be possible to praise success without rewriting history. It should also be possible to praise success without downplaying the work done by predecessor heads.
NOTES Ofsted reports for Oasis Isle of Sheppey can be downloaded here
UPDATE 26 March 2015
. I complained to the Information Commissioner's Office about the refusal by the DfE to release notes of the visit to Oasis Isle of Sheppey in which DfE officials allegedly said it was their 'worst-ever visit'. The DfE has told the ICO this comment is not in the visit notes so there is no point in pursuing the matter further. David Millar, head of Oasis Isle of Sheppey, also complained
about the article in the Times
claiming it was full of 'inaccuracies'.
In the meantime, Ofsted inspected Oasis Isle of Sheppey in early March 2015. The academy was still judged to Require Improvement but Leadership and Management were judged Good. Inspectors praised the 'newly appointed head'.