By Anthony Carroll
Saturday, February 2, 2013
A Lowestoft high school has won the go-ahead to become an academy as it seeks to drive up educational standards for its students.
Denes High hopes to confirm its academy status later this year, following the move made by the former Kirkley High School which became the East Point Academy in 2011.
The news came only days after Suffolk plummeted down the national league table for GCSE results, sparking a warning that the county was in danger of creating a “lost generation” of young people.
Suffolk fell to 142nd in the list of 151 local authorities – prompting the National Union of Teachers (NUT) to raise concerns over the county council’s governance of local schools.
By becoming an academy, sponsored by the Ormiston Academies Trust, Denes High will have more freedom to make its own decisions on its curriculum and staffing.
The school was placed on special measures at the end of last year and saw less than a third of its GCSE students gain “gold standard” results in the summer.
But its new headteacher, Peter Marshall, said he was confident the school would thrive as an academy, having announced last year that it was hoping to make the move.
He said: “We see this as a very positive move – one which will help the school to make very rapid progress. The governors and I sought the sponsorship of the Ormiston Academies Trust because we felt that it was the best match to the needs of the school and our shared values.”
Last week, school GCSE league tables showed only 30pc of Denes High students taking GCSE exams last year gained the gold standard of five or more A*-C grades, including English and maths – well below the national average of 58.8pc and the Suffolk average of 50.5pc.
Mr Marshall said it was hard to “pinpoint” the reason for the fall in GCSE results but he said the shift in how the exams were marked had a “significant” effect on his school’s performance.
Another reason for the slump, he said, was the “social-economic” situation in Lowestoft. He added: “That is something they have to address in the education system. I think we have to remind ourselves that league tables are only one way of measuring schools – you need a broader view of the whole system.”
Prof Toby Sale, chief executive of the Ormiston Academies Trust, which sponsors 20 academies nationally including ones in Gorleston, Ipswich, Sudbury and Norwich, said: “We are really pleased to be working with The Denes on this exciting project – the school would be a valued member of our academy network.”
After the Department for Education agreed in principle this week to Denes High becoming an academy, there will now be a formal period of consultation to allow parents and the local people to make their views known.
Ministers say academies benefit from greater freedom to innovate and raise standards, including the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff;
Graham Newman, Suffolk cabinet member for education and young people, said: “In Suffolk 75pc of our secondary schools are either already academies or are in the process of converting to become academies. This is common across the country and in neighbouring authorities often the percentage is higher.”
He added: “I’d like to wish The Denes High School the best of success in their new guise as a sponsored academy and I hope they will continue to play an important role in both the local community and the greater family of Suffolk schools.”
However, Denes High’s move was criticised by Peter Byatt, NUT secretary for the Lowestoft area.
He said: “There is no guarantee that academies improve standards. The NUT believes that the Denes High School should remain within local education authority control and should continue to receive the support of Suffolk County Council, which should address not only the concerns with examination results, but also the broader social and economical issues which affect the prospects and confidence of our young people.”
Last week’s results saw Suffolk drop 21 places down the national leagues tables but the county council has partially blamed this on a last minute change to how GSCE English papers were marked.
At East Point Academy in Lowestoft, the five-GCSE figure was 41pc – a rise of about 8pc on the final set of results for Kirkley High School. Principal Liz Redpath said: “We are absolutely delighted with the results we have achieved since we opened. We are showing we are getting really good progress with the students we get through our doors – and this will continue.
“We have created a culture with a much more appropriate curriculum and we have created a sense of ownership of the school for our students.”
At Benjamin Britten High, the percentage of students gaining the gold standard was 49pc – a 3pc rise on 2011.
In another table, measuring pupils’ progress from Keystage Two to Key Stage Four, the school was above the national average and ranked sixth in Suffolk in the added value progression league.
Headteacher Andrew Hine said: “We are slightly better than the national average in the progress we make with our students. This progress has been made despite the national dip in GCSE English results and confirms the achievements of last year’s students.”
Bungay High School’s gold standard percentage rate was 52pc – a fall of 13pc on its 2011 results.
Pakefield High School and the Beccles Free Scool at Carlton Colville were not included in the league tables as their students did not sit GCSEs last year.
St Felix School in Reydon saw 73pc of students gain five or more A*-C grades including English and maths, a fall of 6pc compared to 2011’s results.
Last week’s league table slump comes only just only weeks after Suffolk’s primary schools fell to third from bottom for the league tables for Key Stage Two.