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New-style academy condemned as failure

Rebecca Smithers, education editor
Saturday May 28, 2005
The Guardian

The first of the new-style academy schools was branded a failure by the government's education watchdog yesterday less than three years after opening.

Unity academy in Middlesbrough required "special measures" after Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, found it was failing to give "an acceptable standard of education".

Inspectors described a catalogue of weaknesses ranging from "fragile" leadership, an inappropriate futuristic building and a staff absence rate so high that on any given day up to a third of teachers did not turn up.

The lack of continuity had had "a detrimental effect on the pupils' learning, attitudes and behaviour and standards".

Teachers' leaders said the damning verdict - a blow to Tony Blair's multimillion-pound programme - was "a wake-up call" and MPs renewed calls for the scheme to be halted pending an evaluation.

Academies, which are part-funded by private sponsors, were the brainchild of Mr Blair's former education adviser Andrew Adonis, who was made a peer and a junior education minister this month. The government believes academies, which replace failing schools, will drive up standards. Labour has pledged to establish 200 of them by 2010.

Unity academy, which has 1,125 pupils aged 11 to 16, is sponsored by the building support services company Amey. It opened in 2002 through the merger of two schools with low attainment levels in an area with high levels of deprivation.

Inspectors said the challenge of uniting pupils from two schools, delays in moving to a new building and persistent difficulties in recruiting staff meant Unity was failing to give a proper education.

They criticised the academy's leadership as ineffective. Its headteacher left last October and three senior managers left earlier this year after struggling to deal with "deep-seated problems" as well as new ones. Its financial situation was "serious", with its projected deficit well over £1m.

The £18m school building - modelled on the layout of a Tuscan mountain village - was "not entirely fit for purpose", lacking a playground, relaxation areas for staff and proper eating places for students.

Pupil behaviour was "unsatisfactory", while their academic progress was poor, attendance levels low and the number of exclusions high. Last year only 17% got the equivalent of five good GCSEs, compared with the national average of 53.7%.

The Department for Education and Skills said the school would be working closely with the successful Macmillan city technology college, also in Middlesbrough. A spokesperson said: We are confident that we shall begin to see improvements at Unity as we are doing in other academies."

The academy said in a statement: "We believe it would be wrong to take an entirely negative approach to the findings.

"As Ofsted make clear, in very many respects they reflect the assessment within our development plan, which was in place at the time of the inspection, of the areas where improvement is needed and which we have begun to tackle."

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "This must be a wake-up call for government. As an initiative, this is going nowhere."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "The Ofsted report comes as no surprise. The issues relate to ones NASUWT has been seeking to tackle with the management."

The shadow education secretary, David Cameron, said: "It is worrying that so much money and effort has been expended to so little effect."

The Liberal Democrat education spokesman, Ed Davey, said: "The aim of academies is to raise standards, yet despite huge injections of cash, standards have slipped yet further"

 Related articles
27.05.2005: Lib Dems call for halt on academies
27.05.2005: Ofsted fails academy school
27.05.2005: Pupils at academy are out of control, says Ofsted report
19.05.2005: Private academy produces worse results than schools it replaced
29.04.2005: Parents wary of city academies
29.03.2005: Teachers unite to fight city academy scheme

15.09.2000: City academy
17.07.2002: New buzz phrase for Labour vision
25.02.2002: Roy Hattersley: Selection returns by stealth

 The issue explained
08.07.2004: The issue explained: the new breed of schools

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