Dulwich College pulls out of academy sponsorship

William Stewart

A top public school is pulling out of its position as lead sponsor of an academy in one of England’s most deprived areas, TES can reveal.

Dulwich College is to step down from the role at the troubled Isle of Sheppey Academy, Kent, in January to make way for the Oasis academy chain after admitting its staff were not equipped to help pupils at the state comprehensive.

The news emerged in the week that Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw accused elite independent schools of only offering state education the “crumbs off your tables”.
Sir Michael called on them to challenge the perception that they “don’t really care about the educational world beyond [their] cloisters and quads”.
The switch of sponsorship at the Isle of Sheppey comes as the academy’s fourth head in as many years takes over. Since opening in 2009 the secondary has been placed in special measures by Ofsted and this March was deemed to require improvement.
Last month another leading independent school, Wellington College, put on hold plans to create a chain of state-funded schools after a sharp fall in exam results at its flagship academy, which triggered the departure of its head.
Joe Spence, master of Dulwich College, stressed that although the £34,000-a-year south London boarding school would cease to be a sponsor it was “not giving up on Sheppey”.  It would continue to offer educational support and was “in for the long haul”.
He said he was disappointed by Sir Michael’s comments, which were “undoing the good work of the last ten or 20 years” on state independent school partnerships.
The decision to end the sponsorship was made by Dulwich College after talks with the Department for Education in December, Ralph Mainard, a deputy master at Dulwich told TES.
Mr Mainard, who is also chair of governors at Isle of Sheppey Academy, said that Dulwich acknowledged that it could not “move the academy at the speed and depth that needs to be achieved”.
“You need people who have a lot of maintained sector experience to actually come and work on the Isle of Sheppey,” he said. “If you look at teachers out of independent schools, particularly schools like Dulwich – a selective all boys school in the south east of London – our teachers are appointed to deal with that market.
“The profile of the students on the Isle of Sheppey is very different and there are certain points when you need people who understand that profile and how to help that profile.”
He said Dulwich’s own staff were not equipped to help academy pupils and when a teacher from the independent school was seconded to the Isle of Sheppey it had “not entirely” worked.
On Wednesday Sir Michael, suggested there was an unspoken independent sector fear that their teaching skills wouldn't work in “more challenging schools” but he told the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, that they were “being too cautious”.
However, his own inspectorate’s July report on the Isle of Sheppey Academy states that Dulwich was right to recognise “that it does not have the capacity to drive improvements at the rate required”.
Mr Mainard denied his school had made a mistake in sponsoring the academy and said that if it had not done so “they wouldn’t have had anything at all”.
Dr Spence said he thought other independent schools would be able to use its new arrangement with the academy as a model for how to build partnerships with the state sector. He said it meant they would not have wider responsibilities like buildings, and staff contracts, leaving them free to help educationally.
“We are modestly admitting what we can do and what we can’t do,” he said. “But we want to be involved.”
Commenting on Sir Michael’s speech Dr Spence said: “I was very disappointed by that. I don’t know an independent school that is not looking for proper partnership with its local state schools.
“Anything that starts saying ‘you are only giving the crumbs from your table’ is undoing the good work of the last ten or 20 years.”

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William Stewart

William Stewart

William Stewart is News editor at Tes

Find me on Twitter @wstewarttes

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