Ofsted praise is further blow to academy plan

9th April 2010 at 01:00
School earmarked for closure impresses inspectors with improved performance

A school about to be closed to make way for a new academy has been judged good with outstanding features by Ofsted.

The watchdog's glowing report on doomed Counthill School is likely to be a further embarrassment for Oldham Council's already-troubled academy plans.

Ofsted said the school had outstanding capacity for further sustained improvement.

"Outstanding leadership and management since the last inspection have brought rapid improvements ... with outstanding care, guidance and support," the inspectors write.

By contrast, plans for the replacement Waterhead Academy are in disarray following the shock departure of the head and project managers in March, six months before the school is due to open.

The Counthill turnaround has taken place under David Lack, who was brought in as head in 2008 amid fears the school was about to slip back into special measures.

Then, just 23 per cent of pupils were gaining five GCSEs or equivalent including English and maths. This year, 60 per cent are on course to reach the benchmark.

Counthill's change in fortunes has raised questions about whether the academy is necessary.

Last month, Mr Lack voiced his frustration about not being able to take the school any further.

"If academies are being created in order to raise standards, we are showing you can do it without becoming an academy," he told The TES. "I don't know what children from here will gain that they don't already have, other than a new building in two years' time."

Counthill will close in July and its pupils transfer to Waterhead along with their counterparts from Breeze Hill School, another secondary four miles away that is also to close.

This week, Mr Lack said he was "really pleased" about Ofsted's verdict and paid tribute to the hard work of pupils and staff, but said he was unable to comment on what the verdict said about the academy plans.

Exam results are not the only focus of Oldham's academy plans. The council hopes they will help integrate pupils in one of the country's most racially segregated schools systems.

Ofsted found that Counthill, where most pupils are white, had a "strong commitment to promoting community cohesion".

But governors at Breeze Hill, where a large majority of pupils have Pakistani backgrounds, have warned there has been little preparation to ensure pupils mix well when the merged academy starts in September.

An Oldham Council spokesman said: "Counthill has received a good report from Ofsted and the whole school community is delighted."

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