Tes reports that Route 39 Academy in Devon was placed in special measures by Ofsted in July last year, after it emerged that the school had decided not to enter any Year 11 pupils for GCSEs.
Last month, the school’s governors resigned, claiming that they’d been bullied by Ofsted. Below, one of the former governors, Ann Ward, offers her point of view.
We started out in 2012 as the darlings of then education secretary Michael Gove’s revolutionary ambitions, as well as prime minister David Cameron’s “Big Society” of parent-led, grassroots community volunteers who put lives on hold to challenge the status quo. However, nobody in Westminster had considered how this would work in practice.
We have spent five years squeezed into temporary cabins, with intermittent phone and internet, exposed to the mud and gales in a remote area of North Devon that a few people visit on holiday and no one really cares about. In an atmosphere of community warfare, we struggled to recruit and form partnerships. We became a refuge for desperate and disenfranchised students.
These students added to our mountain of challenges, but also became our biggest source of pride. Our vision centred on prioritising relationships to develop confidence. Our parent surveys showed that this was being achieved. Slowly, by the sheer hard slog of a committed team, the school was settling into its systems and taking shape. The certainty of a permanent home was on the horizon and we saw progress.
Then we made a fatal error: we went rogue. We delayed the GCSEs of 11 students to improve their chances. We considered this to be the essence of the free school policy: being empowered to make decisions in our students’ interests. But, of course, that was never Gove’s intention. He used free schools to break up the existing power bases. He then imposed from the centre a far more prescriptive, backward-looking curriculum and then established academy chains to gobble up the spoils.
“Free” has nothing to do with this policy. Innovators and independent thinkers are definitely not welcome. Ultimately, the costs of the policy have added to the austerity burden that is affecting British politics so profoundly.
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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