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Exclusive: Outwood Grange uses crisis managers to explain ‘flattening the grass’ policy

Academy chain won't confirm or deny whether it uses controversial tactic to make pupils cry

Martyn Oliver

Academy chain won't confirm or deny whether it uses controversial tactic to make pupils cry

Outwood Grange multi-academy trust have used the services of a crisis management firm to respond to allegations about a controversial policy known as “flattening the grass”.

The academy chain, well known for its tough behaviour policy, brought in the “political and media relations firm” Abzed – which has represented the fracking company Cuadrilla – after a Twitter-storm erupted regarding the meaning of the policy.

The controversy started when prominent headteacher John Tomsett, who leads Huntingdon School in York, wrote a blog about behaviour management.

In the blog, Mr Tomsett refers to “a MAT-endorsed behaviour ethos-setting exercise called ‘flattening the grass’ rolling assemblies”.

The blog goes on: “Allegedly, this involves the MAT executives visiting the school, en masse, to stand around the edge of the assembly hall whilst the head of school outlines, in emphatic terms to year group after year group, the MAT’s expectations of students’ behaviour.

“Before the assemblies begin, individual students are identified for the head of school to single out in front of their peers until they cry.

“If the head of school is not emphatic enough, the MAT CEO walks forward, replaces the head of school and concludes the assembly in a more suitably emphatic manner.

“The students are the ‘grass' which is ‘flattened' by the experience.”

Mr Tomsett’s blog does not name which MAT uses the policy.

But board minutes from Outwood Grange published in June 2016 refer to a policy of “flattening the grass”, though they do not explain what this means.

The minutes state: “JS [Julie Slater, Outwood Grange’s regional chief executive] updated the board on Danum Academy; [a school taken over by Outwood in 2016] rolling assemblies had taken place on Friday with ‘flattening the grass’ today.”

Tes approached Outwood to ask what flattening the grass meant and whether the chain has a policy to single pupils out and make them cry.

In its response, coordinated by Abzed, Outwood Grange did not address what flattening the grass meant.

Martyn Oliver, the chief executive of Outwood, commented: “The reason Ofsted praises the transformation of our schools is the same reason that parents are sending thousands more children to them – they are happy places in which young lives are flourishing.

“The reason ideologists who have never taught at our schools twist anything we say with their own pretend interpretations is because they can’t cope with the extraordinary success of our children and teachers.” 

Asked whether “flattening the grass” aimed to make pupils cry, Abzed speaking on behalf of the MAT, neither confirmed or denied this, but said it was a “completely unrelated matter” to the rolling assemblies.  

The firm pointed out that in the minutes, “rolling assemblies” were listed as happening on a Friday, while “flattening the grass” took place three days later on a Monday, and they said this showed there was no connection made in the minutes between the two.  

When pressed on what the flattening the grass phrase meant, Abzed told Tes that it was a “management discussion” when Outwood take over an academy, about how “things will be done differently”.

Abzed’s website says that it works for “large multinationals and senior business leaders”.

“Our clients arrive with a crisis. They stay because of exceptional delivery,” the firm says. Its other clients include Cuadrilla, grouse moors and the e-cigarette industry.

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