Wellington Academy – Victim of Gove’s Hype

To the Gove-Adonis faction, Wellington Academy is everything that they dream of. An academy of course, replacing an unsuccessful maintained school. And an academy sponsored by that superstar of the private sector Anthony Seldon of Wellington College. Here if proof were needed was the evidence that “private sector DNA” can transform state schools.
It was all going so well. So much so that Michael Gove challenged other private school heads by saying “If you’re so good, why is Anthony Seldon proving that he is better at transforming state education than you are?”
Then out of the blue comes the announcement that “Following this year’s GCSE results it is with sadness that the Governors of the Wellington Academy announce that Andy Schofield has left the Academy today.” GCSE results fell by 10% to their lowest level since the school became an academy and were below the floor targets. The response was swift and brutal.

Actually what is important to understand is that there was really very little evidence of transformation despite new buildings and four years of private sector DNA. Look at the outcomes for 2012:

5 A* to C with Eng and maths and equivalents 48%
5 A* to C with Eng and maths GCSE only 34%
Percentage entered for two science GCSE’s 21%
Percentage entered for a humanities subject 26%
Percentage entered for a language 55% (but A to C pass rate 24%)
Two levels of progress in English 64%
Two levels of progress in maths 47%
% of disadvantaged pupils getting 5 A* to C with
Eng and maths 10%
Value added for disadvantaged pupils 945.5

Now I don’t quote these figures to do the school down. It has become more popular with parents and is recruiting better. Ofsted recognised that the school faced a big agenda and that progress was being made. It’s surely entitled to expect time to allow changes to bed in. Importantly, this is an army school with all the very particular challenges that come with that fact. Pupils come and go more than in most schools and in times of active service, stress levels can be very high.

But it’s pretty obvious that, as is often the case, Gove and Seldon were full of hot air and not much else. Like many schools, it was doing an ok job with signs of improvement. But to pump it up as transformational and as a prime exemplar of the impact of academy status and private school DNA was hugely unfair. It was asking more than was reasonable.

The result of those excessive expectations is that when they are not fulfilled, the punishment is immediate. Our new masters will not stand for being proved wrong. Someone has to take the blame and as is often the case, it’s the head. I don’t know why results fell this year nor do I know any of the internal history.

What I do know is that there can have been precious little due process and precious little chance given to the head to put things right. The question has to be asked, can we really expect good people to take on this kind of job if this is the risk that they run if things don’t work out according to someone else’s wildly unrealistic expectations.

What will now be interesting though is that Seldon is taking over as Executive Head with someone else from the private school as Acting Principal. What kind of a fist he makes of this very different challenge will be fascinating to watch.

4 Comments on “Wellington Academy – Victim of Gove’s Hype”

  1. David Pavett says:

    What a shock! A leading private school showing a state-funded academy how to do it hasn’t worked. Who could have imagined that?

    Headteachers in the academy sector look increasingly like football managers: if they don’t get the results (matches, examination results) then they are dumped in no time flat.

    Mind you ex-headteacher Andy Schofield put himself forward as an advocate of the system that has now dumped him. I just read an article by him in Essential Questions for the Future School and can say that if hot air is sufficient to keep one afloat then he will be okay. (He still hasn’t yet taken down the his blog pages on the Wellington Academy complete with photograph of him shaking hands with Labour’s Academy advocate Anthony Adonis)

  2. Brenda Purchase says:

    Oh dear. From what we can see of the outcome from the top people’s pet academy, it (just) maybe that there will be a wringing of hands for Gove/Adonis/Seldon followed by an anguished acceptance that the Royal society’s finding that ‘…academies are not a panacea..’ could be a useful insight. I’m not holding my breath. Thanks to John Bolt for his commentary.Ken Date: Sat, 31 Aug 2013 16:20:16 +0000 To: brendapurchase@hotmail.co.uk

  3. Gabriel Gidi says:

    This is the result of a belief that a school can be turned around by a transformational leader just like you would do with a factory or a retail business. This messiah complex that permeates the thinking of policy makers that one man (usually a man), a ‘super head’ or a super structure imposed on a failing school will work wonders. Transformation involves gradual change; a cultural shift but it also involves being realistic about the challenges. It would appear that a realistic analysis of the challenges as well as the possibility of backsliding in the process of improvement were not factored into the thinking of Mr Gove in this case.