If our education correspondent GENE BRODIE had to do an end-of-term report for the borough’s academised secondary schools after the 2015 GCSE results, then “Could do better” might be regarded as an understatement
If you’re a parent seeking an educational oasis of calm and achievement for your children’s schooling, then the Oasis academies in Croydon may not be the answer you were hoping for.
Nor the Harris academies, with their high churn of teaching staff and the mysteriously disappearing GCSE pupils, judging by the most recent examination results and Department for Education league tables.
Oasis are having another shiny new school built for them, costing £22 million of public money, but imposed upon local residents in a tight-fit site next to Croydon Arena.
With the 2015 GCSE exam results now in, it can be seen that in the last three years, of the 14 secondary schools Oasis run, only two have managed to improve the percentage of children achieving the benchmark measure of five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including maths and English.
The Oasis organisation benefits from having charity status. In recent years, it has received more than £200 million of public funds towards the building and running of state schools. Its Arena school, which had a Year 7 intake this September, is linked through what the strongly Christian religious organisation calls its Ashburton Park “Hub”, together with Ryelands primary and the all-through Oasis Shirley Park schools, where their GCSE results have been tanking over the last couple of years.
The Oasis Shirley Park website proudly displays an Ofsted “Outstanding” badge. But the GCSE results at the school since 2013 have been far from outstanding. They have gone from 64 per cent of GCSE pupils achieving the five A* to C grade exam results in 2013, to 58 per cent in 2014, to just 48 per cent, according to the provisional 2015 results just published.
Back in 2013, they were able to boast: “Our Academy continues to celebrate its successes after being voted one of the top 56 performing schools in England by the 2012 Similar Schools Performance Table…” after achieving the best GCSE and A level results in the school’s history.
They even got a nice little note from the then education minister, David Laws (whatever happened to him?) who asked Shirley Park, “Please work with other schools in your area so that all children get a chance to go to a school which is as good as yours.”
Would Laws, or any other politician, national or local, be saying the same of a school where fewer than half its pupils were embarking on their adult lives after achieving less than the benchmark five GCSEs at benchmark acceptable grades?
“Who is scrutinising these decisions to appoint these providers?” asks Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader, “Or do they fall for the wonderful marketing resources that Oasis throw at these things? I suspect £233 million of public funds given to Oasis to run these schools can buy the best spin doctors money can buy.”
That might not be the case. Is Gareth Streeter the “best that money can buy”?
After all, Oasis’s head of PR and external relations is the Croydon Tory and ardent Gavin Barwell supporter, Gareth Streeter. Streeter was noteworthy as the losing Conservative council candidate who blubbed his way through his election night defeat in May 2014, when he stood unsuccessfully in the previous rock-solid Tory Ashburton ward.
Earlier this year he could only manage a poor third, beaten by Labour and UKIP and reducing the Conservative vote when standing in the General Election in Rother Valley, a Yorkshire constituency with which he had only the flimsiest of connections.
Streeter also just happens to be a governor at Oasis Shirley Park. Presumably, there wasn’t an election for that position. But it’ll be interesting to see how Oasis’s head of PR manages to spin the school’s latest set of results.
Looked at overall, the notion that academies and free schools are somehow a panacea for poor performance is clearly debunked when it comes to Croydon’s schools (that’s if we accept that the GCSE league tables are a valid measure of school performance, but that’s another debate altogether…).
Look at the results of the Harris academies: Harris “Purley”, which is actually the old Haling Manor in South Croydon (0 per cent for geography, perhaps?) has nose-dived from mid-70 per cent scores in 2013 and 2014 (shortly after its academisation) to 57 per cent in 2015; South Norwood also scored a modest 57 per cent; Upper Norwood – in the midst of a merger with South Norwood – scored 44 per cent.
The flagship Crystal Palace Harris school saw 82 per cent of pupils achieve the five GCSEs at good grades.
Shirley Park was not the worst-performing academised Croydon secondary in 2015. Archbishop Lanfranc, in its first year after its forced academisation, scored poorly, and Quest Academy in South Croydon – the former Selsdon High, with a high intake of pupils for whom English is their second language – saw just 31 per cent achieve the GCSE benchmark. Given that the Coloma-backed Quest Academy was given a “notice to improve” warning by Ofsted in 2013, these latest results could be a concern.
But it does all make you wonder why so much public money is being funneled towards private organisations or charities for academies and free schools when the educational outcome is little different from when they were under control of the local authority.
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