Last week’s Ofsted report on Harris Philip Lane Academy  made good reading for the government. Here are the main findings:

This is a good school.

  • Pupils’ progress has improved rapidly since the academy opened in 2012.
  • Pupils make excellent progress in learning letters and the sounds they make (sic).
  • Most teaching is good and some is outstanding. Pupils learn well because the teachers ask them questions that make them think. Pupils enjoy their learning because their classrooms are exciting and inspiring places to be.
  • Pupils’ behaviour has improved and pupils behave well in lessons. Pupils feel exceptionally safe and secure. Staff are respectful to the pupils, and the pupils to each other.
  • Leadership and management, including governance, are outstanding. Leaders have brought about considerable improvements in teaching, behaviour and achievement because of very high expectations.
  • Governors share the high expectations, and always challenge the academy to improve.
  • Leaders and managers have worked very closely with parents, who are supportive of the academy.
  • Pupils appreciate the broad range of subjects they can learn. The academy puts a high priority on keeping pupils fit and healthy. All pupils engage in lots of different sporting activities.

It is not yet an outstanding school because

  • In 2013, pupils’ attainment at the end of Key Stages 1 and 2 was well below the national average. It has improved since but there has not been enough time for this improvement to be sustained.
  • Behaviour is not consistently outstanding in the playground.
  • Not enough teaching is outstanding.

Michael Gove is entitled to feel a strong sense of satisfaction at this outcome, as the initial decision was not an easy one. The Ofsted report on the previous school, Downshill, was not nearly as bad as some we saw from Birmingham, and there was a vigorous campaign against the change, “led” by parents but orchestrated by local politicians and people Michael Gove accurately described as “Trots”.

Neither has the improvement come overnight. An interim Ofsted report last year noted “reasonable progress”, a pattern that has been seen in some other academies. In 2009, for example, Oenone Crossley-Holland wrote a book, Hands Up!  that showed that academies faced the same problems as other schools, and that some management shared the same weaknesses, notably in covering up for poor behaviour. In the long term, though, the pattern of Harris Academy results shows that they playing a leading role in returning schools to their proper purpose.

Michael Gove was given space in The Guardian to make the point:

“The result of Harris’s and Moynihan’s work has been near-miraculous. Schools where around one child in 10 secured five decent GCSEs have recorded a 400% improvement in results. Schools that were once shunned by desperate parents are now heavily oversubscribed. Their success deserves to be celebrated by anyone who believes in the emancipatory power of education. Democratising access to knowledge should be a great progressive cause. Guaranteeing working-class children the qualifications and confidence to secure the job or college place they want should be at the heart of any true liberal’s long-term economic plan.

“But many on the left cannot accept that traditional teaching, the celebration of knowledge, discipline, respect for adults, a refusal to accept background as an excuse for underperformance, and academic and sporting competition are all approaches that help working-class children most.

At the same time, Labour’s Alan Milburn was lamenting in his report for the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission that disadvantaged children who did very well in primary schools were not sustaining this to GCSE.  The reasons are not hard to find – too many schools still subscribe to the progressive ethos of mixed ability teaching and tolerance of poor behaviour in the name of “inclusion”.

Mixed ability teaching has been virtually eliminated in Harris academies. The sooner it is removed elsewhere – with the proviso that lower-attaining children get their share of the best teaching – the faster educational standards will rise.

Finally, Michael Gove had a recent visit from the Hon. Christopher Pyne, who is tackling very similar issues in Australia to those we face here. Mr Pyne takes his inspiration from ANZAC, and holds the record for being excluded from the Australian parliament, where proceedings can become somewhat vigorous. I’m glad he’s on our side, and you might enjoy checking him out on YouTube.