Gove's 'hero' accused of 'empire building' as federation plan sparks union uproar

17th December 2010 at 00:00

As the man in charge of Mossbourne Community Academy, Sir Michael Wilshaw has probably received more public praise than any other headteacher in the country.

The strict disciplinarian has delivered impressive results at the flagship academy in Hackney, east London, winning plaudits in the process. Education secretary Michael Gove described him as a "real hero".

But Sir Michael is now at the centre of a gathering storm that has prompted accusations of "empire building" and threats from teachers to go on strike.

Last year, Sir Michael became executive principal at crisis-hit Haggerston School, also in Hackney, helping to tackle staffing problems and money worries.

With his position at the school due to end next April, Haggerston's governors want to secure Sir Michael's services for the long-term by also becoming an academy and forming a federation with Mossbourne.

The proposal has provoked a furious reaction from members of the NUT who teach at the school, with a recent ballot revealing that 81 per cent will strike if the plan is enforced.

Mark Lushington, the union's Hackney spokesman, said teachers fear becoming a "satellite" of Mossbourne. "All the secondary schools in the borough are getting results above the national average - this idea that you must have an academy to get good results is rubbish," he said.

"We are not in favour of executive heads, where you have a huge all-embracing CEO sitting in a panopticon, seeing everything. I don't know what Michael Wilshaw wants for Christmas, but it may be an empire."

So-called 'hard' federations, with shared governing bodies, can only occur between similar types of school, which has prompted Haggerston to consider academy status. But if opponents are successful in blocking the proposal, Sir Michael's relationship with the school will end.

Sir Michael told The TES that the decision on becoming an academy was for the governors of Haggerston, but added that he would support its switch to academy status.

"Mossbourne is an academy and they have seen what it has done for my school," he said. "We are living in a new era now; schools are more autonomous than they have ever been and academies are the way forward.

"If it (Haggerston) is taken under our wing, we would be happy to provide that support under new governance arrangements. If the governors want joint academy status, I'm happy to do that."

Sir Michael added that Haggerston had already adopted several of Mossbourne's policies to improve behaviour, management and attainment, which had so far proved successful.

Insiders agree that despite financial and management crises in the past, the school is on the up after admitting boys for the first time this term and introducing a sixth-form.

A spokeswoman for Haggerston School said governors were "formally exploring" the possibility of a federation. "We would not be looking at this had we not been working with Mossbourne over the past year and a term - a partnership from which we have benefited enormously," she said.

HIGH ACHIEVER

Wilshaw's way

- Sir Michael puts Mossbourne's success down to an "easily replicable" formula of high expectations, zero-tolerance on behaviour and close monitoring of pupil performance.

- Mossbourne's first GCSE results show that 84 per cent of pupils achieved at least five A*-C grades, including English and maths.

- 40 per cent of pupils qualify for free school meals and 30 per cent are on the special educational needs register.

- Sir Michael is also director of education at charity and academy chain Ark - Absolute Return for Kids.

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