Academy told to close after positive Ofsted report
Robert Owen Academy has recently showed improvements after being placed in special measures in 2016
Posted by Lucinda Reid | March 13, 2018 | School life
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A ground-breaking Herefordshire Academy fighting for its future has been told it must close its doors this summer - despite an Ofsted report which says it is taking "effective action" to improve.

Academy trustees are now "considering all options" in the light of the decision by the Regional Schools Commissioner to close Robert Owen Academy in August.

The academy, on Blackfriars Street, that provides vocational skills for 14 to 19-year-olds, has been praised by both parents and students for its intensive levels of support. It appointed a new principal and two assistant principals last year, having been placed in special measures in 2016. It has a waiting list of students wishing to join mainly through transfers from other schools.

Closure in August would mean the 47 pupils will need to find places at other local schools - and eight teachers and tutors and ten other staff will lose their jobs, with the academy potentially becoming bankrupt unless external funding is made available to cover the extensive costs of closure. The unique on site provision will then be lost for ever to the young people of Herefordshire. 

Governors have confirmed they will now look at all options open to them - including recourse to a Judicial Review. Chris Morgan, Chair of The Robert Owen Academies Trust, dubbed the decision to close the academy "crazy" and said trustees continued to be "totally committed to the best interests of their students and staff."

Chris Morgan said: "This is a clear case of one Government department not talking to another. On the one hand, Ofsted is clearly saying that the academy has responded well and shown great improvement, yet on the other the Regional Schools Commissioner in liaison with the Minister, Lord Agnew, is saying let's close it down - it simply beggars belief, and it's a crazy decision. Recourse to a Judicial Review remains an option, particularly if that helps to identify where the pressure has come from over the past five years to persuade Central Government to close the academy."

The Ofsted report

The Ofsted report, which was published on Monday 5th March, reports that leaders and managers are taking effective action towards the removal of special measures and that staff have established "positive relationships" with pupils - and that Year 11 pupils' progress has benefited from improved teaching.

Current Year 11 pupils also have "better rates of progress and attainment than previous cohorts". Outcomes for post-16 students were generally positive, and students mostly "completed and achieved the vocational qualifications they opted to study”. The report also says that "current pupils are studying more academic qualifications than previous pupils. Additionally, a wider range of vocational qualifications motivates and engages pupils well," and "students now benefit from more vocational qualifications that provide a clear progression route".

In addition, leaders have effectively addressed concerns about the narrowness of the curriculum and pupils now participate in a much broader curriculum. The report also acknowledges a clear improvement in the quality of teaching.

This school has consistently been the victim of a lack of support and often attack, and that has manifested itself in this decision, which lets down our young people and their families by taking away the trust they have placed in the education system

Chris added: "We are fulfilling an acute social need, yet we are being told we need to close our doors. We are determined to fight for our students and their wellbeing with all we have. It is the students who matter and we all need to be clear on this.  Over the years the efforts of our loyal and hardworking staff have led to us making a significant difference to the lives of more than 200 young people, and we are simply not willing to let that go to waste.  In addition, our efforts have brought in significant amounts of capital and revenue funding to Herefordshire and refreshingly this has all been cost neutral to the Local Authority. Where will our students go once we close and what will happen in the future to students with similar needs? Someone needs to give us some clear answers on this because we have been asking this question for some while now and we don’t hear any satisfactory answers.”

"We know, because parents have told us, that we provide education that young people in this area simply can't get elsewhere, and we have therefore come to the conclusion that we need to look at all the avenues available to us, and we are including looking at the Judicial Review option as part of that,” continued Chris.

“This school has consistently been the victim of a lack of support and often attack, and that has manifested itself in this decision, which lets down our young people and their families by taking away the trust they have placed in the education system. Our people in the Herefordshire community deserve to know the real reason why this proud academy is closing, why there has been so much opposition from the statutory bodies and why the fantastic option to evolve into the UTC run by the South Gloucestershire Trust and specialising in cyber security and health and wellbeing was brushed aside.”