Tuesday 7 October 2014

Academies – A View from Leicester

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Academy Headteacher ‘steps down’ in Leicester

The Leicester Mercury newspaper announced on 16th September 2014 that Mrs Pat Dubas, the head/principal of The Samworth Enterprise Academy, Leicester’s only academy, had ‘stepped down following poor GCSE results’. (http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/Head-teacher-steps/story-22932982-detail/story.html  -). And on the 17th September, the following day, the new replacement/interim head spoke to the newspaper.

This followed on from a very cogent analysis in the same newspaper on 4th September 2014 by Peter Flack, Assistant Secretary of the Leicester branch of the NUT (Leicester Mercury – First Person http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/Person-Government-claims-academies-borne/story-22864415-detail/story.html ), that outlined the success of all the city comprehensive secondary schools reaching the government target of 40 per cent of students gaining five grades A* – C. The only exception was the academy, at 25%.

The background to all of this is extremely important. Leicester is well-known for many things, apart from King Richard III being found in a council car park. It is the first city in Europe that does not have an ethnic minority, the city being a mix of people from all over the globe but with a strong South Asian community. It has a council made up of 53 Labour councillors, one Tory and one Lib Dem. It is also led by an executive mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, ex-MP and ex-teacher, supported by a small group of assistant mayors with specific responsibilities, including the long-serving Vi Dempster with responsibility for children’s services and education. The city also has some of the poorest people in the UK, some living in quite deprived parts of the city. Leicester even has its own Child Poverty Commission that investigates and develops strategies for tackling this problem, given that ‘35% of children and young people between 0 – 19 years living in Leicester currently live within the official definition of poverty’ (see Leicester City Council – Child Poverty Commission).

Historically, some of the primary and secondary schools were not performing very well and when Ed Balls was the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (2007 – 2010) he put some considerable pressure on Leicester City to ‘go academy’ to resolve this – as if this would answer all the problems. The city resisted – including public meetings to oppose academisation attended by city councillors, city education officers, headteachers, teachers and members of the public. The preferred model was one of federation, with higher-performing schools helping lower-performing schools. This has been a resounding success for all the secondary schools, including all the previously struggling secondary schools deemed to be in difficulties and often in the more deprived parts of the city.

So when Samworth’s results missed the target, it could not be argued that a key reason was its location on a council estate and in a poorer part of the city, because several of the state secondary schools that were now successful were also in similar areas. Samworth had another problem. It could not ask the LEA for help or advice because it’s an academy, independent of the LEA.  It could not turn to a chain of federated academies because it was not in a chain. It is a one-off academy sponsored directly by the millionaire sandwich maker, Sir David Samworth (of Samworth Brothers), and the Church of England, with Bishop Tim Stevens of Leicester a key representative. The school has a church built inside it. We could frivolously ask whether the aim of the school therefore was to turn out pupils who could become religious-minded chefs or vicars who could cook. Early on, the school was involved in a local and national scandal when a funeral procession carrying a coffin slowly walked through the school to the church part of the school, in the process upsetting, shocking and disturbing many of the children.

Finally, a letter on the school’s web page dated 19th September 2014 (three days after the Leicester Mercury announcement of Pat Dubas’s resignation) followed the pattern of many now-fashionable ruthless and instant sackings (or ‘departures’) of headteachers in state schools and academies. The letter was to parents and carers from Tony Evans, the new headteacher/principal, announcing his arrival, his vision and the usual stuff about ‘together we can achieve great things’. Not a mention of the previous head, no thanks for her long service at the school – nearly nine years – or her many other achievements in creating an unusual 3-16 school, with praiseworthy core values. We await the progress of the ‘crucial journey for all of us’ of the new principal.

 

Dr Barry Dufour

Visiting Professor of Education Studies

De Montfort University, Leicester

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