Academy star under fire

12th August 2005 at 01:00
The country's highest-paid head responds to a bad Ofsted report by calling for different inspections for academies, reports Jon Slater

The highest-paid head in the country has called for academies to be given a different kind of Ofsted report after he and his school were heavily criticised by inspectors.

Alastair Falk, the pound;120,000-a-year head of West London academy, Ealing, said academies in areas with high levels of deprivation and a history of educational failure would take half a decade to raise standards.

He spoke out after Ofsted identified weaknesses in his leadership and management and said that neither behaviour nor curriculum at the academy were up to scratch.

"There is some criticism of me," said Mr Falk. "That's fair enough; it comes with the job. We also recognise that the report identifies areas where we need to improve, and this is also fair criticism.

"But I do think that everyone, including the inspectors, need to understand the immensity of the task we began when the academy opened in September 2003."

He said there was "no magic wand" to bring about an overnight improvement in standards of literacy at the school, which replaced Compton high two years ago and where a quarter of students speak English as a second language.

Mr Falk welcomed the news that inspectors would return quickly. He said that inspectors should visit academies every six months to give a clear picture of schools' strengths and weaknesses and areas for improvement.

"The task of an academy is to turn around a failing school, and this takes probably five years. It's a tough challenge, and we need all the help we can get," he said.

"But the inspectors need to come back not with a view to doing a snapshot report as if they were inspecting an ongoing school, but to report on the progress being made, which is an entirely different thing.

"They have to give us an entirely different kind of report, one which understands the context in which an academy is operating."

Ofsted expressed serious concerns about the standard of education provided by the West London academy after a two-day visit in June. It criticised high rates of exclusion, inconsistent behaviour policies and an unsatisfactory curriculum lacking breadth and balance.

Five out of 22 lessons observed were judged to be unsatisfactory or poor with low expectations of pupils work-rate, concentration and conduct, Boyd Gunnell, HMI, said.

He added: "Crucial areas of the principal's leadership and management are unsatisfactory. Teachers are insufficiently clear about what is expected of them and what the academy considers to be good practice; for example, with respect to lesson planning and marking and how they should respond to training, such as for literacy.

"A significant number of staff expressed a lack of confidence in the principal's management. Staff, including senior managers, are concerned that they are not being enabled to fulfil responsibilities delegated to them; for example, by not being given sufficient autonomy and time," said Mr Gunnell.

But Mr Falk was bullish about the achievements of the academy, which he said include better results and improved behaviour.

A move to new buildings in September would, he said, further raise standards.

He said: "The (key stage 3) results for 2005 continue the upward trend - maths up 8 per cent, science up 12 per cent. We have not yet had the English results.

"This is all hard evidence of rising standards. No one knows more than we do that there is still a long way to go, but we are getting there."

And Mr Falk is dismissive of inspectors' criticism of a trebling of fixed-term exclusions to 265 days during the past 12 months.

"Why should a handful of young men and women spoil the chances of the great majority of our students? The Government can't have it both ways - it preaches zero tolerance, but then we are rebuked for exclusions," he said.




Ofsted's five steps to improving the weaknesses seen by inspectors at West London academy

* Make clear to staff what the academy expects and what good practice is, and ensure that all managers have the tools needed to fulfil their responsibilities

* Hold staff at all levels of management to account for their performance

* Monitor and evaluate the impact of the academy's work on pupils'


* Improve the curriculum and the quality of teaching and learning

* Further improve pupils' attitudes and behaviour and work to reduce significantly the number of exclusions

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