National Gallery displays work from Downhills – the school Mr Gove says is failing

Janet Downs's picture
Take One Picture” – that’s the challenge set by the National Gallery to primary schools across the country. Last year’s picture was 'The Family of Darius before Alexander' by Paolo Veronese. Prints of the painting were given to teachers attending a one-day Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course at the Gallery. The teachers left with a challenge:

“Use the image imaginatively in the classroom, both as a stimulus for artwork, and for work in more unexpected curriculum areas”.

Downhills Primary School rose to the challenge. Pupils responded enthusiastically and posed many questions which covered maths, science, architecture and drama as well as art. One child asked, “Are we doing Maths, Art or Science?” Integrated learning at its best.

The pupils made a living picture which involved two groups: the Sewing Squad, who designed and made the costumes, and the Construction Crew, who made the scenery and props. The cross-curricular work was supported by two artists-in-residence and culminated in a “tableau vivant” performance.

Similar projects took place nationally and work was submitted to the National Gallery which chose the best for display. Downhills was one of 17 schools which were selected for the high standard of their work. The full list of schools is here.

Downhills is under threat of enforced conversion because Secretary of State, Michael Gove, says the school is failing. He has imposed a sponsor, the Harris Federation, forcibly removed the school’s board of governors and inflicted an unwanted interim executive board in its place. Parents from Downhills are seeking a judicial review of the controversial decision which was made despite overwhelming opposition from the parents and local community. A recent consultation found that 94% of parents opposed the move.

A spokesperson from the Department for Education told the Tottenham Journal, “Harris, a not-for profit educational charity, will give the school the leadership and expertise it needs to improve.” The quality of work displayed in the National Gallery, the rising SAT results last year and the tremendous support of parents demonstrate that Harris’s “leadership and expertise” are not wanted or needed.

Details of the Save Downhills campaign are here.

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Janet Lallysmith's picture
Sun, 22/07/2012 - 18:49

Indeed Harris are not wanted or needed at Downhills. This was more or less the conclusion that Les Walton, Chair of the IEB at Downhills (although better known for his position in the EFA, as was the YPLA) came to. After a 6 week consultation costing £45K, he concluded that couldn't conclude whether the school should be forced to become an academy or not.

It took Michael Gove 45 minutes after this was published to sign the funding agreement, effectively handing the school over to major Tory party donor and 'close friend' of David Cameron, Sir Philip Harris.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 23/07/2012 - 11:57

The London Review of Books ran an article about Harris and Downhills. It quoted Pat Berryman, a hedge-fund trader, who was a member of the Downhills Governing Body before it was sacked by Gove and replaced by the Gove-appointed Interim Executive Board: ‘I work in the City…I know what these people are like. It might well start out as philanthropy, but sooner or later they want to make money from it. They do it without even realising it. That’s just what they’re like.’

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 26/07/2012 - 09:34


‘I work in the City,’ Berryman said. ‘I know what these people are like. It might well start out as philanthropy, but sooner or later they want to make money from it. They do it without even realising it. That’s just what they’re like.’

'These people....'? Philip Harris doesn't work in the City and never has. He's a semi-retired carpet retailer from South London. He's been making substantial philanthropic donations to educational causes for more than two decades without ever trying to personally profit. He'll be 70 years old in September.

The Rich List estimates that Harris has a personal fortune of some £220 million. He is reported to have already given £100 million to charities. He is reported to have given £1million to Prince William and Prince Harry’s charity, another £1million to Westminster Abbey’s appeal and has made a series of seven-figure donations to research into prostate cancer. Recently he sold the holiday home he has owned on the French riviera and given the proceeds to his education charity. He has also sold his luxury yacht and given the equivalent of its former running costs to medical research.

The idea that Harris has a selfish agenda and is secretly plotting to make profits out of schools is absurd.

Your conspiracy fantasies are grotesque.

leonard james's picture
Thu, 26/07/2012 - 10:57

In my experience motives are rarely unselfish.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/07/2012 - 12:57

Leonard - Duedil says Harris Federation "has assets totalling £22,894,000 plus liabilities totalling £15,915,000. They owe £1,222,000 to creditors and are due £253,000 from trade debtors. As of their last financial statement, they had £19,797,000 in cash reserves. Their net worth is £144,340,000, and the value of their shareholders' interest is £144,340,000."

As Harris Federation is now an exempt charity it will not be possible to look at its accounts on the Charities Commission website.

Any not-for-profit can be lucrative for those who run the organisation if they pay themselves high salaries. I've no idea how much the CEO Sir Dan Moynihan earns, have you?

There's also a subsidiary: - Harris Academies Project Management Limited, which, according to Duedil, has a single shareholder; Harris Federation of South London Schools (aka Harris Federation). According to Duedil, it made a small gross profit of about £24,000.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/07/2012 - 10:08

E-mails between Michael Gove, Michael Wilshaw and others re the January 2012 inspection of Downhills are available at (link below). The letter from Gove to Wilshaw says he doesn't want the situation at Downhills to have a "negative impact" on Downhills pupils. He ignores the fact that he was responsible for the "situation" when he told the improving school in December 2011 about the steps he was "minded" to take ie enforce academy conversion.

His seeming concern for Downhills pupils is cancelled out by his actions. His concern was also unwarranted - the September 2011 Ofsted proved that. And so does the excellent work done by Downhills pupils.

It's interesting that one of the emails (29 January 2012) from the Inspections Unit at the DfE asks about when the Department would receive Ofsted's January 2012 report because it "clearly" couldn't be given to Gove before the school had seen it. The email asks if Wilshaw was "planning on sending something".

Janet Lallysmith's picture
Thu, 26/07/2012 - 11:37

It is also interesting that the correspondence demonstrates that the DfE did indeed influence the time table of Ofsted and the DfE interfering in the processes of Ofsted isn't commented upon by either party - almost as though it happens all the time.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/07/2012 - 12:10

The e-mails raise questions about Ofsted's supposed independence. It was politically expedient that the Ofsted inspection should be brought forward AND that it showed the school to be failing. This dubious judgement came only months after the school was judged as improving. Both inspections had the same lead inspector which raises a further question of how she was able to change her mind so rapidly.

Ofsted is beginning to lose all credibility (see thread below).

Janet Lallysmith's picture
Thu, 26/07/2012 - 19:54

Dan Moynihan earns about £300K. He, like Robin Bosher, is a member of the IEB at Downhills and received a knighthood the week that Gove signed the funding agreement to hand the school over to the Harris Federation.

Nice work if you can get it.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/07/2012 - 09:11

Downhills is a case study in how the needs of the chld have been ignored by those in power in order to impose an idea of education which comprises only that which can be measured by tests (Sats) or judged by an inspectorate which is viewed as a political tool and increasingly incompetent.

Education of the whole child - the kind of thing celebrated by the National Gallery - is not valued as much as a school's ability to exceed an arbitrary benchmark in just two subjects. That's not to say that these subjects aren't hugely important - they are - but the stress is shifting from their individual value (ie to each child) to their value as a performance device. In such an atmosphere schools are likely to play safe and reduce the integrated work as exemplified by "Take One Picture" and concentrate on practice exercises which will ensure the production of technically correct but utterly uncreative work.

As Professor Stephen Ball said as long ago as 2004:

"We need to move beyond the tyrannies of improvement, efficiency and standards, to recover a language of and for education articulated in terms of ethics, moral obligations and values."

Janet Lallysmith's picture
Fri, 27/07/2012 - 10:02

Exactly. I find the idea that the 'outcome' of primary education can be measured in one mark (combined English and Maths L4) extraordinary, not to mention completely unsupported by any empirical research.

Surely, the benefits of a good foundation become evident as children develop into confident, independent and interested learners throughout their schooling and life?

The current agenda is based on an ideology that learning to read, write and do basic maths is good enough for those from more disadvantaged social and economic situations, whilst music, art, literature and self-expression - even at primary level - should be the preserve of the privileged.

It's almost as though there's a deliberate plan to narrow the horizons of a proportion of society as early as possible, so they'll be happy serving the lattes in the National Gallery cafe rather than being engaged in what goes on there.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 27/07/2012 - 11:01

No, Marigold. You are distorting Gove's position here.

The government does not believe that SATS are the be-all and end-all of primary education. Achieving level 4 is a floor, not a ceiling. It's an irreducible minimum that is asked of a school.

The problem is that when a school like Downhills cannot even deliver this modest, bare minimum - pretty basic literacy & numeracy - after seven years of schooling, then there is surely good grounds to doubt the quality of everything else that it does.

If Downhills cannot even get the basics of maths and English right - why should we trust what it does in terms of art, literature, self-expression etc.?

Getting its pupils to level 4 in M&E is (or, should be) the easy bit.

Janet Lallysmith's picture
Fri, 27/07/2012 - 11:28

And you, Ricky, are making the mistake of believing Gove's rhetoric.

It's interesting that you believe that the govt doesn't believe that SATS are the be-all and end-all of primary education - I can't find reference to anything else on their own performance tables and their whole academy agenda has been focused on discussions about 'floor targets'. Please do point me in the direction of information that suggests that their evaluation of primary education is based on something broader.

Schools like Downhills don't educate the same children for 7 years - there's a phenomenal amount of mobility.

I would suggest that the runners of the Take One Picture project know quite a lot about art and self-expression, which is why they selected the work of the Downhills children to be exhibited in the National Gallery over the whole Jubilee and Olympic period. Have you seen it? What did you think?

I'm interested that you think that getting pupils to achieve L4 E & M is the easy bit. I wonder why then, very, very few schools do this consistently and there isn't a LA in the country that gets over 90% of its children to this level. You don't suppose that it maybe isn't that easy for children with SEN, who have had breaks in their education or who have various social and economic disadvantages outside school, do you?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/07/2012 - 13:55

Marigold - I always find it surprising when people refuse to see the evidence of their own eyes. The National Gallery chooses the work of Downhills pupils to display with outstanding work from other primary schools - the excellent work is shown on the website linked in my original post. But apparently Downhills can't be trusted for "art, literature, [and] self-expression" because its results in 2011, which actually exceeded the benchmark, are regarded as poor.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 27/07/2012 - 14:39

Yes, i have seen the work. It is superb.

It just shows what you can do with the help of two artists in residence spending two days per week with a Year 3 class for a whole term, and with the aid of a £10k-£15k budget.

And seeing the alert and engaged faces of the children makes it all the more unbelievable that they would not - given three more years schooling - be able to raise the standard of their maths & English from Level 3 to Level 4.

Indeed, it would take a school as incompetent as Downhills to prevent them doing so.

Janet Lallysmith's picture
Fri, 27/07/2012 - 15:20

Ricky, do you actually know anything about this school, as all you're doing is spouting the same rhetoric over and over again.

By your reckoning, thousands of schools throughout the country are 'incompetent' ie have poorer KS2 results than Downhills. Do you think the government should give these schools to their friends too?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sat, 28/07/2012 - 08:21

If by "their friends" you mean generous and capable people like Philip Harris, who will run them better, then....YES!

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 14/08/2012 - 10:27

Ricky you have repeatedly demonstrated through your comments on this site that you have no capacity to judge who would and who wouldn't run a school well.

Do you have any awareness of your own lack of ability in this area?

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