Ofsted reports signal concerns over College’s free school plan

The school places shortage has already prompted a range of daft ideas in Croydon, from the notion of sticking a primary school in a listed building overlooking a six-lane urban motorway, to building on Metropolitan Open Land with barely a thought for the traffic implications in an already congested area.

And here’s the latest: having Croydon College run a secondary free school. GENE BRODIE goes over the college’s own end-of-term reports

CroydonCollegeCroydon College is proposing to open a free school on its site, next to Fairfield Halls and opposite East Croydon Station, to cater for 11- to 18-year-olds with six forms of entry – 180 pupils in each year. The school will be called The New Croydon Academy.

Croydon certainly needs more secondary schools. There remains huge distrust of some of the academy chains, as so many of their students seem mysteriously to “disappear” just before they are due to sit their GCSE exams. Croydon also has the worst educational outcomes for students of all the outer London boroughs south of the river.

Could Croydon College do better?

More information on what the college principal, Frances Wadsworth, calls “an exciting opportunity for Croydon”, can be found at www.croydonacademy.org.uk.

But you might already know what to expect. When you get to the website, it is knee-deep in vague educational platitudes such as: “Success through Learning, Learning for the Future and Investing in Learning”.

It states, “The new academy will deliver a world class [sic] curriculum modelled on that provided at the best schools in the country. It will also focus on delivering and acting as a test bed for developing teaching and learning through the use of Digital Literacy and Science.”

And, “It aims to support the vision and ambitions of the Croydon Strategic Partnership to become London’s centre of knowledge, creativity and innovation.”

Really? There does need to be a lot more precision here if parents and other stakeholders are to buy into what is actually going to happen to make this a successful school to match the best in the country.

It is claimed that the new school “will add the unique experience that comes from a successful College”.

Croydon College's principal: Frances Wadsworth

Croydon College’s principal: Frances Wadsworth

“Unique experience”? Maybe (though not necessarily in a good way). “Successful” college? Maybe not.

In the interests of objectivity, let’s not listen to our friends and colleagues who gasp about what a chaotic mess it feels in there, but let’s look at Croydon College’s Ofsted reports.

In 2013 the College was classified as “requires improvement”.

In 2014 this grading was raised to “good”.

So Croydon College has one year’s improved performance upon which to base its expansion plans. Might they be better advised to focus on strengthening their core operation rather than expanding just yet?

That may be the view formed after considering some of the comments within the body of Croydon College’s most recent, “good” Ofsted report:

• “Whilst improving in most areas of the college, attendance rates are low and punctuality remains poor in a small number of subjects”.
• “In 2012/13, too few students aged 16 to 18 on level 3 courses completed their qualification successfully”.
• “Teachers do not consistently challenge students to achieve their full potential in lessons”.
• “The college does not yet offer sufficient opportunities for all students to take part in meaningful external work placements to enhance their work readiness and employment prospects”.
• “Much of the improvement in the college’s performance over the last two years is attributable to vocational courses, although overall success rates remain low”.
• “A-level provision forms a much smaller part of the college’s curriculum offer, but success rates are very low and, in the case of students on the second year of their A-level programme, have declined significantly over two years”.
• “…students aged 16 to 18 from White British and Caribbean backgrounds…” which accounts for a large proportion of Croydon students… “perform more poorly than the college average”.
• “The proportion who is successful in achieving GCSEs at grades A* to C is low in mathematics and very low in English”. Remember, this is among 16- to 18-year-olds, many of whom have gone to the college after not achieving the required grades in those core subjects while at school. “Functional skills success rates are improving rapidly but remain low, particularly in English. Currently, very few students progress from functional skills to GCSEs”.
• “Lapses in behaviour disrupt a small number of classes and inhibit students’ progress and learning. Staff are sometimes too tolerant of such behaviour”.

These comments from the Ofsted inspectors do not sound like a strong foundation for the sort of free school that “will deliver a world class curriculum”. Oh, and while we’re at it, English department: if using world-class adjectivally, to describe curriculum, it needs a hyphen.

The Croydon College proposal does make reference to the strength of the college’s board, which includes several other leading educationalists, such as:
• Professor Clare Mackie, the Pro Vice Chancellor (Teaching & Learning) at the University of Sussex
• Dr Caroline Allen PhD, Principal of Orchard Hill College
• Gordon Smith, Principal, Riddlesdown Collegiate

But as the college’s website points out: “Our Governors are volunteers and often have significant professional, business or community experience”. And with that are also significant other commitments, so they are only going to be around at Croydon College for perhaps just a few meetings a year.

The college is already a very large and diverse organisation. With plans to open the free school in September 2015, with an admissions process beginning in just a few months, it is difficult to see how this is all going to be effectively managed, particularly as the college has so many other areas which need improving, when one reads the fine print.

It is not clear from the college or any of its partners where the high educational expectations at a secondary school level are going to come from. There is no experience here of delivering excellent results for the top-half of students.

Which might explain why the plan is so full of vague platitudes – any proposed school needs to work with partners who know how to deliver excellent results for students of all abilities and backgrounds, consistently over a long period.

Other recent reports from Gene Brodie:


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