How Outwood Grange ‘flattened’ school leaders

Allegations that academy trust executives left school staff feeling ‘humiliated’, ‘undermined’ and intimidated

Will Hazell

How Outwood Grange ‘flattened’ school leaders

Outwood Grange Academies Trust has been accused of behaving in a “draconian” manner to staff in schools it has taken over, with sources at one of its academies claiming it adopted an approach that felt like “the flattening of the senior leadership team”.

Sources who used to work at Outwood Academy Danum in Doncaster, which was taken over by the multi-academy trust in 2016, allege that the actions of trust executives towards school staff led to feelings that they had  “set out to humiliate” members of the school’s leadership team and “deliberately undermine” them.

But if members of staff at the school bought into Outwood’s ethos, they were said to have become "purple” – the trust’s corporate colour.

A source at another school in the chain, Outwood Academy City Fields in Wakefield, said that staff were told they would be subject to immediate disciplinary action if they went to the front of the dinner queue to pick up food early because they had a lunchtime meeting.

How the story broke: Outwood Grange uses crisis managers to explain ‘flattening the grass’  

Insiders' accounts: ‘I witnessed a child getting screamed at for coughing’

Tes has today reported how Outwood Grange used an uncompromising approach called "flattening the grass" to bring pupils into line when it took over a school. 

A former senior leader from Danum – who asked not to be named – told Tes: “Alongside that flattening the grass, you’ve also the flattening of SLT [senior leadership team].

“They deliberately had meetings with members of the SLT, not all of them, but most of them, and there would be three senior people from the trust, and they would really aggressively have a go at members of the leadership, basically trying to get them to say everything was rubbish, and everything they wanted to do was great.

'Deliberately undermining' leadership

In this leader’s opinion, “it was done routinely and they set out to humiliate members of the leadership team". "On top of that, in staff meetings they would deliberately undermine and say negative things about the leadership team,” they added.

The senior leader said that this approach – as well as the "flattening the grass" with pupils – had the result of instilling “a degree of fear in staff”. “I felt if I questioned anything, they would shut me down,” they said.

They added that Outwood had a term for members of staff who had bought into its management style. “I was going to have to become completely compliant and ‘become purple’ as they would call it – they talk about ‘being purple’.”

A second source from the school – who asked not to be identified – said: “I was also witness to a 'flattening of the grass' of the SLT."

The source said members of the SLT were subject to “aggressive shouting” and “intimidating body language”. “It was never a one on one, it was a two or three on one minimum,” they said.

SLT 'was broken'

“Every member of SLT that came out was shocked, very uncomfortable, very broken was the only way I can describe it.”

The source said they had a “stress-related illness” because of what was going on, and that other members of staff had similar experiences.

A teacher at City Fields – formerly run by Wakefield City Academies Trust – told Tes that Outwood had a “draconian” approach to staff.

Shortly after the school was taken over last year, staff were invited to a meeting in which the trust laid down its expectations.

“They certainly did have a ‘my way or the highway' meeting with staff,” the source said.

“You were told stuff like, ‘If you’ve got a lunchtime meeting, you do not go to the front of the dinner queue and grab a sandwich to take into the meeting – you have to queue up with everyone else. And if we see you doing otherwise you will be on a disciplinary action.'”

'Massive staff turnover'

“They reeled off a number of things which felt pretty minor, and if you step out of line even on these things you’ll be facing disciplinary action immediately. Everyone left the rest to their imagination.” The source said that Outwood’s management style had contributed to “massive staff turnover” at the school.

When approached for comment, Outwood said: “Why would record numbers of parents be sending their children to our schools if there was this negative culture our critics pretend exists?”

They went on: “We have an expectation that adults do not push in front of children in the dining hall; you would not expect to be able to do this in a supermarket, so why in a school? 

“No staff who put students first would think this was acceptable behaviour and parents quite rightly expect their child to be treated equally in this regard.”

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Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

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