How we used the Freedom of Information to go behind what was happening ahead of the Ofsted crisis at Ely College that saw principal, two deputies and the governors all leave

Ely College. Picture: Steve Williams.

Ely College. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

It first came to light in April, following a Freedom of Information request that Cambridgeshire County Council had written to the schools commissioner over concerns with the standard of education in the county.

It first came to light in April, following a Freedom of Information request that Cambridgeshire County Council had written to the schools commissioner over concerns with the standard of education in the county.

Ely Standard chief reporter Dan Mansfield approached the county council to discuss the details of the letters but was told that the contents would not be made public and the nature of the letters was not up for discussion.

A second Freedom of Information request followed, this time to the school’s commissioner, and, a month later, almost 50 pages of correspondence was released. It reveals the concerns being raised between the county council and Tim Coulson, who is charged with overseeing academy standards the East.

Our investigation into Cambridgeshire schools followed the decision to place Ely College into special measures. The ramifications led to the departure of the principal, two vice principals and the board of governors.

Freedom of Information responses show that on March 27, Mr Coulson issued a ‘warning notice letter’ to the CfBT Schools Trust, the academy chain that runs the college.

Mr Coulson said the education minister was satisfied that the standards of performance at the college were “unacceptably low”.

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He warned that unless the college took urgent action he might look for additional trustees to run the college.

He pointed out that:

• Attainment of pupils had declined from 52 per cent achieve 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and maths in 2011 to 39 per cent in 2014.

• Disadvantaged pupils were faring even worse

• The proportion of pupils making expected levels of progress in English had dropped to 54 per cent, “significantly below the national average of 70 per cent.

• Similarly in maths the levels of progress were at 33 per cent, half the national average

Mr Coulson set out the Ofsted findings from the February inspection and issued “terms of the warning notice” that included an appeal to strengthen the leadership and governance, introduce better systems to evaluate teachers’ performance and challenge students to work harder.

The schools commissioner also wrote to Adrian Loades, executive director for children, families and adult services for the county council, to highlight “failings in leadership and management in the quality of teaching”.

He said he had asked CfBT if they wanted to continue with Ely College – “the trust’s view is that it should”.

He gave them 15 days to respond – the trust’s response was immediately apparent as the principal, her two deputies and the entire board of governors swiftly departed.

Mr Loades says there are of course “examples of very high quality secondary education in Cambridgeshire and recent inspection reports have made positive comments about the leadership of schools that have been graded as requiring improvement.

“There are outstanding schools, school leaders and teachers in Cambridgeshire and considerable achievements are delivered every day in all schools.”

Mr Coulson believes there are “wider issues that also need addressing and the one of greatest concern to me is the very poor performance of poor children in Cambridgeshire primary schools”.

He says just 51 per cent of 11 year-olds entitled to free schools meals achieve nationally expected standards “nearly the lowest of any local authority in the country”.

Mr Coulson is establishing a Secondary Academies Improvement Board. This will work alongside the Cambridgeshire School Improvement Board (CSIB). Mr Coulson’s board will focus on secondary academies only; the CSIB will set improvement priorities for Cambridgeshire as a whole.

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