At Ryde Academy last month, Jennifer Elliott, 15, waits nervously for her results from Tracey Jackson. Picture by Jennifer Burton.
WIGHT LIVING THE accountability of our new-look schools to their communities, and to the local authority which used to control them, has been brought into sharp focus by the recent GCSE results.
They saw the mixed faith school, Christ the King, catapult itself to the top of the Island state school table with 77.1 per cent of its GCSE students achieving five or more A* to C grades, including English and maths.
It is a record for the Island and also places the school well above the anticipated national average.
But, as pupils, parents and the schools themselves now know, the picture is patchy.
Medina College plummeted the most in the GCSE ratings, from 52 per cent to 32.5 per cent this year, and Carisbrooke dropped almost 16 percentage points to 35 per cent.
Sandown Bay Academy’s 40 per cent is a ten per cent fall. It is unlikely this will improve as the regulator, Ofqual, has ruled out remarking and offered re-takes only for those students, particularly in English, who missed a C by just a few marks.
Sandown was so disquieted it refused to issue its results and the Academies Enterprise Trust, which runs it, appealed against the results.
At Medina and Carisbrooke, the Island Innovation Trust, governing body of both, was keen to stress there were a 'significant number’ of students who missed out by just two or three marks from C grades because the paper they took was marked more rigorously and said this skewed the GCSE percentage.
The IW Council reaction this week was uncompromising. It was not prepared to entertain excuses.
The council is looking for action plans to be prepared and introduced by those schools where students failed to achieve and it wants those which have done well to get better still.
The only easy ride will be for Christ the King where its achievements exceeded its own prediction. Its 70 per cent estimate before the exams was described as 'unrealistic’ by a senior education officer, who has since left the council. In fact, the school did much better than that.
The authority will be focusing on why the worst achievers fell so far short of their own predictions.
Heads and governors of all the Island state secondary schools were yesterday (Thursday) summoned to a meeting at County Hall with senior educationalists.
The council team is headed by chief executive, Steve Beynon, who led the council decision for two-tier educational reform, which abolished middle schools and brought in the mix of trusts and academies.
As a former teacher, he knows what it is like at the chalk face.
Reform, in addition to bringing Island school age groups into line with most of the rest of the country — and its SATS testing — increasingly leaves the secondary schools with no room for excuses, the council believes.
In the past, because the then high schools only had students for three years before they took their exams, they blamed the middle schools for poor preparation.
Likewise the middles blamed the high schools for not following up the good work they had done.
Educationalists, in their turn, could not pin the tail on the donkey but they did blame disruptive school switching at a crucial time and acted to put that right.
Now they highlight Christ the King’s success by having some of its students for the full five years before they took their GCSEs.
As the pupils work their way through the new system, that will be the case in future examinations at the rest of the Island’s secondary schools.
But IW Council leader Cllr David Pugh believes there is no hiding place now and schools cannot blame instability caused by re-organisation either.
Cllr Pugh is an ex-student of both Trinity (Christ the King’s predecessor) and the former Sandown High School, when both were high achievers under the old system.
Mr Beynon said: "We want to satisfy ourselves the schools have proper improvement plans. We have our own action plans and if the schools’ plans are not suitable we want ours in place.
"In the case of Carisbrooke, the fact its prediction was 20 per cent better than the actual results sets all sorts of alarm bells, claxons and hooters sounding," he said.
Cllr Pugh said: "The same trust runs Carisbrooke and Medina, both of which performed poorly, but AET runs both Sandown and Ryde as academies. We will be asking the question why Ryde achieved such remarkable improvement and Sandown did so badly.
"Re-organisation is always a difficult time and there is no doubt some have managed it better than others, but we would expect in the future the big uplift in Key Stage 2 results we have seen will be a springboard for improvement at GCSE."
Just what the schools are doing to improve will be on the agenda of the children and young people scrutiny panel and that promises to be more fascinating to the outside world than yesterday’s private meeting because it will be in the public gaze.
Interestingly, one of its members is Ryde councillor Gary Taylor. He is head of English at the private Ryde School where 96 per cent of its students achieved five or more A* to C grades.
Three of the six headteachers who will attend that scrutiny panel meeting will face uncomfortable questioning, not just from committee members but from the public too.
Parents are encouraged to attend and so too are members of the IW Youth Council, who are students at the very schools which have not delivered.
They will have the chance to seek answers for expectation being so different from outcome from the heads and chairs of governors who last appeared before the committee in March and May when they set out their stalls for A-level and GCSE achievement.
The panel meeting starts at 5pm at County Hall on October 10.
Alongside that, Ofsted will be preparing to do its work. It has the power to brand a school as failing and shut it down as the ultimate sanction but that is not expected here. The schools are expecting inspection at just 24 hours’ notice.
In the meantime, joint work by the council and the trusts and academies will have been going on.
Academies, which now make up about half the secondary schools in the country, are usually ultimately accountable only to the secretary of state.
Uniquely, on the Island, the way they were established, through a memorandum of understanding under the 2006 Act, means they have agreed to attend meetings with the authority.
Academies elsewhere can quite simply refuse and go their own way.
However, if the IW Council feels a big stick needs to be wielded, it will have to get the secretary of state on board as far as the Island’s two academies are concerned.
It has more power over the trusts and is able to impose its improvement plans — not just call for change.
Cllr Dawn Cousins, the IW Council cabinet member responsible for education and children’s services, is among those disappointed for the large number of students who were expected to do better.
"There is no good reason why what the three successful schools have achieved should not be emulated by the others.
"But it is not just the schools. An important part of education is parental involvement and we are working on that too," she said.
Deputy education director Janet Newton summed up the council’s reaction on the day students opened their results envelopes.
"There will be some very tough questions for these schools and we will want answers as to why their performances have been so bad."
But the bigger picture for education in this country was summed up by Ofsted at the weekend. It shed a light on how badly the worst schools here had done within that big landscape.
Ofsted pointed to the fact that from seventh place in the world for English and maths we, as a country, had slipped to 25th and 28th respectively.
It highlighted the need for inspirational teachers who could infect classes with enthusiasm for learning. It pointed to the fact it is teachers, from the head down, who create and help sustain outstanding schools.
School inspectors and the council will be looking for heads and governing bodies to seek out just those men and women — and provide them with the environment in which they can do their work to give Island children their best chance.
What the trusts say
THE trusts which run the poorly performing schools this week spelled out what they are doing.
The Island Innovation Trust, which runs Medina and Carisbrooke colleges, said: "Irrespective of the GCSE English debacle, which has had a profound impact on the colleges’ GCSE results, subject leaders are reviewing the performance of their departments to ensure appropriate actions are taken to secure improvements in pupils’ overall performance.
"Governors recognise leadership at all levels throughout the colleges must be fully effective and action will be taken to ensure this is the case. This includes the appointment of a new headteacher for Carisbrooke College and substantive deputies in both schools. The professional development of middle leaders is a priority for both colleges.
"Actions are already in place to improve levels of attendance throughout the colleges, with a particular focus on the use of pupil premium funding to support specific groups of pupils. In addition, strategies are in place to re-engage pupils in learning."
The Academies Enterprise Trust, which runs Sandown Bay Academy, said: "We do not consider the academy’s English results to be a true reflection of the standards of many students at the academy and, as the sponsor, we will continue to challenge their accuracy until the issue is successfully resolved.
"Nevertheless we are disappointed with GCSE results achieved by the school in its first year.
"Significant changes in leadership have now been introduced this term, which includes the appointment of a highly experienced new principal. We have identified an increased package of external support for Sandown Bay and a national leader in education will be working very closely with the new leadership team.
"It is essential these changes secure prompt and rapid improvement for every learner as soon as possible."