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Schools watchdog Ofsted has been accused of seeking to “destroy great education” after a flagship London academy won a landmark High Court battle over its inspection report.
Durand Academy in Stockwell — which is run by the controversial headteacher Sir Greg Martin — was due to be placed in “special measures” after Ofsted inspectors ruled that it was providing an inadequate standard of education for its pupils.
The verdict came despite the school, which has around 1,000 pupils, achieving test results for primary pupils that put it in the top 10 per cent in the country. Sir Greg had also been feted by Cabinet minister Michael Gove and knighted for services to education.
But a High Court judge has now quashed the report on the grounds that Ofsted’s processes are unfair in a ruling which be seized on by other schools who feel they have been wrongly judged to be failing.
Hailing the judgment today, Sir Greg, who is now the academy’s chairman of governors, said: “We are delighted. It was tough. It’s the first time I think anyone has managed to defeat Ofsted which I think shows how powerful they are and the arrogance and complacency which they have shown.
“It has saved us from being destroyed. We have been undone, vilified and attacked by the educational establishment which is meant to be safeguarding education, not just for the privileged few but for the under-privileged too.
“We have demonstrated to other schools that there is hope. I know that we are not flavour of the month because of all the negative publicity that we have had, but I’m sure that a lot of schools which might not be supportive of us will recognise now that there is hope.
“It is an awful experience. You get people who can make judgments and you have no right of appeal. The fact that we have won, I think it’s good for education.”
Sir Greg, who was paid more than £200,000 before retiring as head in 2015, added: “We feel abandoned by the very people who are meant to be supporting great education.
“Parents have been badly let down. We are in the top two per cent in the primary sector.
“Nobody would pretend that every school is successful. I would admit that we struggled with the boarding school but that’s because we haven’t received any funding from the Education Funding Agency. Not a penny.
“We are very disappointed at what has happened to us. If our governance is so poor how do we get such good results? It’s nonsensical. It seems to be that no matter how good you are, to supposedly protect the children’s education we have to be closed down. It doesn’t make sense to any normal human being.”
In the new High Court ruling, Judge Martin McKenna said that Ofsted’s system for handing complaints about its findings was “not fair or rational”. This was because Ofsted effectively took the view that its decisions “will always be unimpeachable”.
The judge added: “The absence of any ability effectively to challenge the report renders the complaints procedure unfair and in my judgment vitiates the report. It follows.. that the report should be quashed.”
Durand, which became an academy in 2010, was originally a primary school and judged to be outstanding, but expanded with a boarding school in Sussex to cater for secondary pupils, adding to two sites in Stockwell.
The judge adds that the inspection which led to the special measures verdict was conducted amid a protracted dispute between the academy and the government’s Education Funding Agency, which wants to change the management of the academy. The agency has also announced the termination of the academy’s funding deal. Judge McKenna says the academy feared that Ofsted’s judgment might have been “clouded” by this and the “unusually high degree of scrutiny” that had been applied to its management “with several reports and inquiries”into its affairs creating an “unfavourable” climate.
The judge says that he “entirely rejects” this notion. He also states that he does not need to reach any conclusions about the accuracy of Ofsted’s criticisms of the school, although he does say that the academy’s portrayal of itself is “somewhat simplistic” and that there is “considerable force” in the inspectorate’s argument that it had expanded too quickly since 2013.
Despite today’s victory, the academy still remains mired in a dispute with the Education Funding Agency. It will terminate the funding of the existing Durand Academy Trust so that the existing management can be replaced and has called for a raft of changes including Sir Greg’s departure.
Sir Greg said that he would be standing down as chairman of governors shortly. The school’s headteacher Mark McLauhghlin is also standing down. Ofsted said it was “disappointed” by the ruling and had sought permission to appeal. It added: “Notwithstanding the overall judgment, we are pleased that the court recognised the impartiality and professionalism of the inspectors undertaking the inspection.
“Our complaints process is long-standing and has previously been commended by the Independent Adjudicator. However, as an organisation we always keep policies and practices under review and .. will consider whether any clarification of our complaints procedure may be required.”
The new developments follow several years of controversy surrounding Durand Academy and Sir Greg. He was praised by the government for raising the attainment of his inner-city pupils and achieving some of the best primary results in London. But he came under fire after questions were raised about his earnings and a new ownership structure under which the school was run by a charitable trust.
London News & Search