Primary school victory in DfE academy high court battle

High Court judge rules that education secretary Gavin Williamson's decision not to revoke an academy order on a primary school was irrational

John Roberts

Gavin Williamson's decision not to revoke an academy order on a primary school is to be overturned by a High Court judge.

A high court judge is to overturn a decision by education secretary Gavin Williamson not to revoke an academy order on a primary school, it has been revealed today.

The judge described the secretary of state's decision not to overturn the order on Yew Tree Primary School, in Sandwell, as "irrational" in a court ruling published today.

The governing body of the West Midlands school had legally challenged the secretary of state’s decision not to revoke an academy order after claiming that it has made the necessary improvements required by Ofsted.

They also argued that the suspension of routine Ofsted inspections, because of Covid-19 from March 2020 onwards, had meant the school was not able to obtain a grading to prove that it had made sustainable improvements and was now performing at a good level.

The school was rated as inadequate by Ofsted in January 2019 and was issued with an academy order by the Department for Education in the following April.  A subsequent Ofsted inspection in October acknowledged improvements at the school and rated it as requires improvement.

Today a High Court judge has ruled in the school’s favour.

This means that the education secretary must now reconsider the school's request to revoke the academy order.

The Department for Education has indicated that it may appeal against today's ruling.

Deputy High Court Judge, Gavin Mansfield QC said : “I have decided that the defendant’s decision, on 15 December 2020, to refuse to revoke the Academy Order was irrational. I will make an order quashing that decision.”

The decision has been welcomed by the school’s head teacher and the NAHT school leaders union.

Headteacher Jamie Barry, said: “Yew Tree have been on an incredible journey over the past two years and the improvements, due to the dedication and talent of everyone at the school, have been truly remarkable.

"I am pleased that the High Court have recognised the incredible efforts of the team and the support that we continue to receive from our local authority.

“I am pleased that the governing body of the school had the confidence in me and my team to challenge the decision taken in Westminster and I am grateful for the personal support that I have received from my union, the NAHT.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “For some schools converting to academy status is a positive step, for others it is an unnecessary and unhelpful distraction.

"We want schools to be able to succeed in their improvement journey and a big part of that is retaining the freedom to find the right type of support in their individual context.

"This case is important as the unnecessary disruption of a conversion would have been counterproductive and I congratulate the governing body in their successful attempt to bring clarity in this area.”

The department had intended for the school to join Shine Academies in August of this year, depending on the outcome of this case.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We direct underperforming schools with an inadequate Ofsted rating to become academies because we know the support of a strong academy trust is the best way to secure sustained improvement in the best interests of pupils and the school community.

“We are now considering the next steps in relation to Yew Tree Primary’s academy order following today’s High Court judgement, which may include appealing the court’s decision or assessing a new application from Yew Tree to set aside their academy order.”


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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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