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Furness Academy protests at Ofsted's verdict

FURNESS Academy bosses took their fight for justice against an Ofsted inspection outcome to the High Court.



Ofsted has issued Barrow’s academy with a “notice to improve” after judging it to be “inadequate” in its “overall effectiveness” because maths did not yet reach the nationally expected level.

Publication of the report of the inspection, which took place in January, was delayed as academy leaders complained to Ofsted.

They also wrote to the watchdog’s chief executive, Sir Michael Wilshaw, and the education secretary, Michael Gove, about “fundamental problems” in applying the new inspection framework so rigidly to an academy which is so young.

The school, which opened in September 2009, has been judged using a five-year measure of student achievement, which the academy says “cannot legitimately” be applied to it. It says: “Furness Academy can only be accountable for achievement and provision from September 2009 onwards.”

Furness Academy replaced Thorncliffe and Alfred Barrow schools, which had come out of special measures, and Parkview which was classed as a “coasting” local authority school.

The academy’s overall effectiveness “inadequate” judgement was as a result of the “inadequate” grade given to “achievement of students”, solely based on the 2011 GCSE maths results using the five-year measure for August 2006 to August 2011.

The academy says the grade fails to recognise wide-ranging improvements already made, or the projected sustained improvements, including those in maths through an ongoing programme.

The school says its evidence demonstrates improvement across the school in achievement, teaching, students’ behaviour and attendance since September 2009, and exceeds targets from the previous inspection.

Last year the GCSE five A* to C (including English and maths) pass rate rose by 16 per centage points to 49 per cent, 14 percentage points above the government’s floor target.

Furness Academy appealed to Ofsted for the outcome to be investigated and overturned.

On Tuesday, the academy applied for an injunction at the High Court, in London, to stop the report being published as it stands and until an investigation was completed.

The application was not granted but the judge, Mr Justice Collins, said the key inspection judgements were “untrue and unfair”, and said in all areas other than maths the academy was at least satisfactory and in many ways good.

The judge required Ofsted to take the unusual step of issuing a covering letter with the report making it clear that, but for maths, the academy would have been judged satisfactory, which Ofsted has done.

The report remains unchanged, however, and says: “This academy requires significant improvement, because it is performing significantly less well than in all the circumstances it could reasonably be expected to perform. The academy is therefore given a notice to improve. Significant improvement is required in relation to the attainment and progress of students in mathematics.”

The report says although there was some improvement in maths, it was not sufficient, with strategies not having time to have an impact, and the 2011 results were well below average.

Ofsted said some difficulties stemming from the amalgamation of the three schools slowed maths improvement initially.

The academy said the report was “extremely positive” in many ways, and its main content should provide “reassurance and confidence” The “strong improvement” in English received praised in helping the sharp rise in the GCSE pass rate.

Inspectors found most parents consider their children make good progress, and most students were interested in their learning and felt their options matched their interests well. Ofsted said students worked particularly well together when asked to do so in lessons, reflecting the academy's “strong focus on students' personal development and on encouraging good attitudes in learning”.

Teaching was satisfactory and improving, with much good and some outstanding, but some teaching is still inadequate.

Ofsted said students felt safe and their attendance had risen. Behaviour is satisfactory and improving, with a strong focus on improvements, and new strategies. It noted that exclusions had fallen.

Inspectors said under “ambitious and determined” leadership of the principal, the academy has steadily developed. Improvements have been made to overall exam results, behaviour and the quality of teaching, although not all inadequate teaching has been eradicated. Ofsted said there was satisfactory capacity to improve. The academy issued a letter to parents and put Ofsted’s documents on the school website yesterday, and sent a text parents to direct them to it.

Mr Blackledge said parents had no need to worry about the overall effectiveness outcome because of its misleading nature.

He said the organisation is making good progress and students are responding as shown through improved results and behaviour.

Mr Blackledge said the report did not allude to any strengths or weaknesses they did not know about, or were not already working on, and a notice to improve was not needed.

He said Ofsted believes the academy does not require assistance to improve because the leadership is ambitious and determined but just needs more time.

Mr Blackledge said he felt the inspectors were “troubled” in giving the judgment because of the new framework. He said the school was continuing to pursue its case with Ofsted.

Mr Blackledge said: “Anybody who has any core fundamental principles and integrity would have to accept that an organisation that is only two years old cannot be judged by what happened for the previous three, that is indisputable.

“Upon consideration of all the evidence available from September 2009 onwards, nobody of sane mind could say that this organisation’s overall effectiveness is anything other than good, let alone inadequate.”
Mr Blackledge said the academy was “stunned by the injustice” and staff were incensed.

He said: “We think it is a huge misrepresentation of the attitudes and progress of our students, the most important people of all.

“It fails to recognise the rapid improvements that they have made.

“It is grossly unfair. What has been judged to be inadequate is the amount of progress one Year 11 cohort made over a five year period in maths, and because of that the whole organisation, in all of its functions, is judged to be inadequate. That is something we cannot and will never accept as being just.”

Mr Blackledge said the academy’s maths GCSE results were below the national average, but they were working hard to improve as rapidly as they could, and were making “significant inroads.” The percentage of students who achieved an A* to C grade for maths grew by 13 percentage points to 57 per cent in year two.

Mr Blackledge said this year the maths figure should be around that of last year’s figure, or possibly slightly above, and indicators for Years Seven to 10 show sustained improvement in maths over time is significant.

Principal issues letter to parents

Here is the full Furness Academy letter to parents

14 March 2012

Dear Parents/Careers

‘Furness Academy wins support of High Court Judge’

On 25 and 26 January 2012 Ofsted conducted a Section 5 Inspection of Furness Academy using the new 2012 Inspection Framework.

Yesterday (Tuesday) in the High Court, Mr Justice Collins agreed with us by declaring that the key ‘Inspection judgements’ from the inspection (report enclosed and on our website), were “untrue and unfair”.

He said that it was untrue that our overall effectiveness was inadequate just because Maths was not yet reaching
the nationally expected levels. He went further, saying to the court that in all areas other than Maths, the Academy
was at least satisfactory and in many ways good.

He reflected that although he wasn't going to issue an injunction to prevent publication, the Academy had to be
treated fairly. He required Ofsted to issue a covering letter with the report, “making it explicitly clear that but for
Maths the Academy would have been judged to be satisfactory” (letter also enclosed and on our website).

Mr Justice Collins stated that people cannot properly use this report as an overall condemnation of the Academy.


Our inspection was one of the first to be carried out under the new ‘Inspection Framework for Schools and
Academies 2012’. We believe there to be fundamental problems in applying this framework so rigidly to an
academy as young as we are. I will illustrate in detail later in this letter exactly why that is.

The report itself is extremely positive in so many ways, so its main content should provide reassurance and
confidence to students and parents. It is most disappointing, however, that it is to be published now, with its key
judgements unchanged, as we are still in dialogue with Ofsted regarding what we believe to be these fundamental
flaws, and their investigation into our submission and evidence is still in process.

Whilst we are not unhappy with most elements of the report, we had sought an injunction to prevent its publication
until due process was complete, during which time we believed some serious matters of principle and procedure
would be appropriately addressed, and the key inspection judgements adjusted.

We will continue to pursue our submission to Ofsted through the normal Complaints Procedure mechanism and I
will inform you of the outcome in due course.

Main Concerns

Ofsted, alongside other evidence, uses RAISEonline data to assess students’ achievements. This weighed so
heavily upon their final ‘Student Achievement’ judgement in our report, especially with regard to mathematics. Our
latest national data, ‘RAISEonline 2011’, measures student outcomes against expected rates of progress from the
students’ starting point, which is their Key Stage 2 National Curriculum levels achieved and reported in May 2006.

We assert that this is inappropriate and misleading, given that the first three years of that five year period
(September 2006 to August 2009) were spent in three predecessor schools entirely independent of the Academy.

Our submission to Ofsted is simple and is illustrated succinctly in the following statement:

Furness Academy can only be accountable for achievement and provision from September 2009 onwards.

Progress since the Section 8 Monitoring Inspection last March

The Academy has progressed in a really ambitious, positive and determined way, so much so that representatives
of the ‘Office of the Schools' Commissioner’ visited the Academy recently (December 2011) to discover how such
significant progress had been made so quickly.

Students and parents should be pleased and reassured by that, alongside proper consideration of the detailed
evidence of progress made since our Section 8 Monitoring Visit. We have not only met the targets set for us at the
time, but have comfortably exceeded them all, as the following hard evidence proves.

Improving student attainment from Year 1, with particular reference to GCSE results, has been comfortably and
comprehensively achieved. The key benchmark figure of 5 x A* - C (including English and Maths) rose from 33%
to 49%, which is not only an increase of 16 percentage points, but puts our results for 2011 at 14 percentage
points above the Government's own floor targets.

English results improved from 44% to 73%, which is above the national average. Maths results improved from
44% to 57%; although not yet at the national average, they will continue to improve rapidly towards that mark
(indeed this year we are expecting a further increase of 14 percentage points in the number of students expected
to make the required levels of progress). Science results too have improved significantly with the number of
students achieving at least 2 x A* - C passes rising from 50% to 71% in just one year.

Improving the 'Quality of Teaching' regarding the number of ‘good or better’ lessons has also clearly been
achieved. In Year 1 the figure for this indicator was 44% rising to 50% in Year 2. Our records show this figure to
be above 70% in Year 3 and during the inspection, of the 48 lessons observed, Ofsted judged 71% of them to
be ‘good or better’.

Exclusions had been a concern too but these have now fallen dramatically and without lowering standards.
Student behaviour is now good overall as the reduction in exclusions demonstrates. Permanent Exclusions have
fallen from 13 in Year 1 to 1 in Year 3, with Fixed Term Exclusions now being only 25% of what they were when
we first opened.

Finally, attendance has risen sharply from 88.5% in Year 1 to 91% in Year 2 and is now running at 93% in Year 3.

This obvious progress and significant successes are down to excellent teamwork. Sponsors and governors,
along with students, staff, parents and the Local Authority, have worked hard in partnership with each other to
secure the rapid and sustained progress which students now benefit from every day. This will continue in a most
determined manner, not only while Ofsted's internal investigation continues, but also into the future.

What has been achieved so far is incredible given the very complex merger of three organisations into one,
across two sites and into old and unfit buildings, but we are not complacent. We now look forward to attempting
to establish, with Ofsted, a legitimate and fair recognition of our progress to date as we look to accelerate our
continual cycle of improvement as we prepare for our single site merger into our new, state of the art buildings in
September 2013.

With kindest regards,

Douglas Blackledge

Have your say

i go to furness academy and im about to leave thank god! this school is a disaster and im not saying that because everyone else thinks it im saying that because of personal experience, i got sent home last thursday three english lessons before my gcse exam in english because i did have the right material shoes, i have all over black shoes but they werent faux leather. but extreme dont you think? i also had experienced before in the past they are not good at there behaviour methods. i got beat up in year 9 and i was the one that got put in isolation and the other girl got let of cause she was crying! i also experienced harsh and uneeded comments about me from a member of staff and my mum went to mr blackledge and he didnt do anything in the slightest! i though school days were meant to be fun and they are meant to be the best days of your life i havent yet had one single day at school were i have actually enjoyed it. they care more about your appereance than getting you good grade, becasue getting sent home just because of shoes couple of days before a proper gcse exam is abit extreme and i will tell mr blackledge if i get a bad grade how bad he is as a teacher!!!!!

Posted by student at furness academy year 11 on 31 May 2012 at 09:34

At the end of the day, if your child wants to learn they will regardless of which school they go to. My son is in year 10 at Furness Academy and is doing very well, on the other hand he has a friend who was excluded because he wasn't interested and has since been excluded from another school, let's give the Academy a break. it isn't always the school that is at fault.

Posted by eleanor on 23 March 2012 at 08:10

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