Exclusive: just one pupil hits GCSE benchmark at free school

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A free school has spoken of its “disappointment” after just one of its students hit the government’s benchmark of five good GCSE including English and maths.  

It means that records will show that at Robert Owen Academy, a 14-19 free school in Hereford, only 4 per cent of its cohort met the target in this summer’s GCSE results.  

Although full national statistics have yet to be released, Robert Owen’s GCSE grades are likely to place it among the very lowest achievers in the country.

The school has had three principals since opening and was judged “inadequate” by Ofsted in May.

Robert Owen's grades were among a string of underwhelming results published by free schools last week, including three in Suffolk of which only one managed to hit the benchmark of 40 per cent of students gaining five A* to Cs including English and maths.

In a statement, Robert Owen Academy said: “[The] results, while disappointing, do represent success for a significant proportion of our students who have struggled in a number of educational settings for many years before joining the academy.

“The academy staff remain committed to further improvements and will continue to work with learners of all abilities to identify their needs and support them to achieve their potential and go on to play an active role in their community.”

According to a high-profile free school supporter, who wished to remain anonymous, the results were “alarming”.

“There’s no getting away from the fact that these are a mixed bag of results, and some are very alarming,” they said. “These results are totemic in a way, as they are the first proper results from free schools. It means there will be even greater scrutiny of free school results next year.

“You would be expecting the [Department for Education] to be asking some very hard questions.”  

A DfE spokesperson said: “Free schools are at the heart of the government’s plan to deliver real social justice by ensuring pupils from all backgrounds have access to a world class education. Free Schools are more likely to be rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted than other state schools, they are providing thousands of parents with more choice and are helping to drive up standards across the country.

“Underperformance at any school is unacceptable. One of the strengths of the free schools programme is that when we spot failure we can act quickly and decisively.”

Read the full article in the 28 August edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents

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