Stantonbury Campus: What Went Wrong?

On 15 December 2020, the UK Government gave notice to The Griffin Schools Trust that it would be terminating their funding agreement to operate Stantonbury International School as soon as possible, and certainly before 1 July 2021, following up earlier warning notices issued on 15 July 2020 and 28 August 2020.

This followed an emergency Ofsted inspection on 28-29 January 2020 which concluded that the performance of the school was inadequate and raised serious concerns about pupil behaviour, pupil safety, pupil safeguarding, pupil attendance, the quality of teaching, teaching staff absence, teaching staff vacancies, teaching staff turnover, leadership, management and the oversight provided by The Griffin Schools Trust.

This is in addition to the continuing concerns about the financial dealings of the Trust – its founders, Liz Lewis and Ange Tyler, have become very rich thanks to the Trust paying their consultancy company, Capital Talent Limited, more than £1.4 million since The Griffin Schools Trust was established in 2012 and £221,891 in the 2018/19 financial year alone. Lewis still plays a formal role in the school’s governance via her role in The Griffin Education Trust and both are officially celebrated by schools throughout the Trust every year on Founders Day. Coincidentally, Stantonbury Campus paid the Griffin Schools Trust £1.4 million in the first three years it was a part of the Trust for “Central Services” and ended the 2018/19 financial year £451,286 in debt to The Griffin Schools Trust after spending £567,534 more than their income in that year, which The Griffin Schools Trust’s accounts rather incredibly blame on “inherited issues” from Milton Keynes Council when they took the school over in September 2016.

The decision to remove the school from The Griffin Schools Trust has sparked a political fight locally. The Labour administration of Milton Keynes Council is pushing for the school to be brought back into local council control and demanding an apology from the UK Government for their role in Stantonbury Campus joining The Griffin Schools Trust in 2016 and their slow reactions when it became apparent it wasn’t working. Meanwhile, the Leader of the local Conservative Party has criticised what he views as the “pathetic politics” of Labour’s response and claimed (without evidence) that the UK Government only took action to remove The Griffin Schools Trust “following robust efforts by myself and MK North MP Ben Everitt” and Everitt has also claimed (again without evidence) that he has been “working closely with the Department for Education on this for several months”.

It is clear that none of the things Labour is calling for will happen. Stantonbury will be be handed to another Academy chain as this is an unbreakable ideological principle for the Conservative Party. The best that parents can hope for is that it is a locally-based chain with, as the Minister implied would be the case in her termination notice to The Griffin Schools Trust, “a track record of secondary school improvement”. There will be no apology or accountability for the decision to hand Stantonbury to The Griffin Schools Trust. There will be no review of what went wrong to make sure that it does not happen again. There will be no attempt by our local MP to get some answers for local parents. The Griffin Schools Trust themselves won’t be apologising either – their response to the decision was to write to parents complaining how unfair it was that “the improvements we have worked so hard together to put in place since 2016” were being ignored.

So, what went wrong?

The decision by Stantonbury Campus to become an Academy

Stantonbury Campus voluntarily sought Academy status rather than being forced to by the Department for Education.

A press release issued by The Griffin Schools Trust on 12 May 2016 claimed that “Since last summer, the Campus’ governors and senior leaders have been exploring possible partnerships with education trusts…the governing board chose to be partnered with The Griffin Schools Trust”.

The Chair of the Governing Body, Hilary Denny, is quoted as saying “This is an exciting development for Stantonbury Campus. Joining Griffin Schools Trust will give us an opportunity to nurture our proud traditions and enhance our reputation for giving young people an exciting, varied and creative education that produces confident, fully rounded individuals who are ready to make their mark in the adult world beyond School. We look forward to much fruitful collaboration with other Trust schools”.

Why would the Governing Board have decided seeking Academy status was the best option for the school?

First, they probably decided it was sensible to jump before they were pushed. The UK Government announced on 30 June 2015 that they would legislate to force all “coasting” schools – defined at secondary level as having fewer than 60% of students achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths with children making below average progress between the ages of 11 and 16 for three years in a row – to become academies. This would have included Stantonbury Campus. Becoming an Academy voluntarily would allow greater choice over which Academy Trust would take it over and, in theory, facilitate a better match between the school and its new owners and, for example, prevent one of the national school “brands” from taking it over and removing Stantonbury’s identity by making it just another school in the chain.

Second, Stantonbury Campus had a significant debt to Milton Keynes Council through being permitted to carry forward a £700,000 deficit to help it adjust gradually to falling pupil rolls. Becoming an Academy would free it from having to ever pay this money back and so would obviously benefit the school and the children who attend it, though at the expense of the children attending other maintained schools in Milton Keynes.

Third, it is possible that the Governing Body were persuaded by the UK Government’s arguments that becoming an Academy would help drive faster school improvement. It has to be remembered that Stantonbury Campus had been officially deemed to be underperforming for over 4 years: it was put into special measures in December 2011 and remained in the Requires Improvement Ofsted category since escaping special measures in March 2013, though had received a positive monitoring report from Ofsted in October 2015 which concluded: “Senior leaders and governors are taking effective action to tackle the areas requiring improvement identified at the recent Section 5 inspection in order to become a good school” and that “The local authority has been working much more closely and effectively with the school recently. Its understanding of the school’s needs is good enough to allow it to broker good and useful external support from each of the three teaching schools locally”.

It is not clear how and why the Governing Body chose to partner with The Griffin Schools Trust. Presumably they were introduced to them by the Regional Schools Commissioner.

The Griffin Schools Trust – a suitable sponsor for Stantonbury Campus?

The decision to hand The Griffin Schools Trust control of Stantonbury Campus was taken by the Regional Schools Commissioner for North West London and South Central England at a meeting of its Headteacher Board on 14 April 2016.

The only publicly available document about the rationale for this decision is the six word summary of the discussion contained in the minutes of that meeting: “KS4 results, Ofsted rating, leadership, finances”. There is no evidence that any consideration was given to whether The Griffin Schools Trust were an appropriate sponsor.

This is rather surprising given what was known about The Griffin Schools Trust at the time the decision was made.

First, it was not a local academy chain and operated no schools locally. Its head office was – and is – in Catford in south east London and none of the 12 schools it operated at the time were within 50 miles of Milton Keynes (the other schools were in Gillingham in Kent, Leyton in East London, Bedworth and Nuneaton in Warwickshire, Birmingham and Dudley in the West Midlands and Worcester in Worcestershire).

Second, it had little experience of secondary education – it only operated 1 other secondary school – and could not claim any expertise in secondary school improvement: its only other secondary – Nicholas Chamberlaine in Bedworth – was already doing well when it was taken over by the Griffin Schools Trust in 2013 (though isn’t any more).

Third, it had attracted considerable media attention in October 2015 after The Guardian reported it had paid £800,000 in only two years to four different consulting companies owned by its founders or trustees as well as making payments to the wife of one of the Trustees.

Fourth, The Griffin Schools Trust’s accounts for 2012/13 reveal that in March 2014 independent auditors concluded that the Trust was not following Department for Education financial rules in the 2012/13 financial year with 11 breaches identified, including awarding six contracts without a competitive tender process and breaking the law on the number of trustees who were in receipt of remuneration for providing services to the Trust.

Fifth, at the time the decision was made there were serious concerns about the performance of at least one of the schools operated by The Griffin Schools Trust, Wayfield Primary School, which was rated as a Good school by Ofsted before it was taken out of local authority control in late 2013. These concerns culminated in a damning inspection on 10-11 May 2016 putting the school into special measures which was exceptionally critical of the Trust and resulted in the Trust agreeing to voluntarily relinquish control of the school from September 2016 on the same date it took over Stantonbury Campus. The inspection report – documenting failings that are very familiar from the 2020 report on Stantonbury – concluded specifically on The Griffin Schools Trust that:

  • Over the past two years [my note: since The Griffin Schools Trust took it over], the school’s provision has notably worsened. Pupil attainment and progress have fallen catastrophically.
  • The Griffin Schools Trust oversees the school unsuccessfully.
  • The governance arrangements, organised by the academy trust, are ineffective.
  • The Griffin Schools Trust recognises that it has not been successful in gaining the necessary support of parents and the local community.
  • The academy trust hopes the school is doing better than it actually is. It particularly highlights any perceived improvements, or ‘green shoots’, even though these are small.
  • The legal governance of the school is provided by the multi-academy trust. It has a system of different boards to check on the work of the school. Members of these boards are aware of many of the school’s weaknesses, but underestimate the depth of the problems.
  • The trust does not ensure that the school has the leadership it needs. It provides significant levels of support to the school. But this is not usually successful; the school does not have the capacity to receive or use that support effectively. The trust’s support for the school has not made the necessary impact on standards.
  • The trust has not developed a suitable working partnership with many parents, which it recognises. It has not been able to respond productively to parents’ understandable concerns.
  • Ultimately, the Griffin Schools Trust has failed to ensure that the pupils receive a suitable education or that they are kept safe.

The Department for Education – asleep on the job?

The first four of these issues alone – the distance of any of the schools in the chain from Milton Keynes, the lack of expertise in secondary education & secondary school improvement, the large amount of money trustees were making out of their roles and the failure to follow the Department for Education’s financial rules – should have given the UK Government serious pause for thought about the suitability of The Griffin Schools Trust to operate Stantonbury Campus.

However, the issues identified with how The Griffin Schools Trust were running Wayfield Primary School make it absolutely staggering that the Department for Education allowed them to take over Stantonbury Campus.

While the Regional Schools Commissioner for South East England and South London (Dominic Herrington, who is now the National Schools Commissioner) was taking a school away from The Griffin Schools Trust due to serious concerns about their effectiveness (and the Department for Education is clear that action to do this predates the May 2016 Ofsted inspection), another part of the Department was busy transferring Stantonbury Campus to them.

Do they not talk to each other?

It is hard not to conclude that the ideological drive to convert schools to academies has led to the Department for Education not exercising sufficient quality control over the organisations they let take over our schools and hiding behind the chronic lack of transparency of Regional Schools Commissioner business to evade accountability for this.

Key questions for the Department for Education

There are a number of questions for the Department for Education which, one would hope, our local MP is pressing them to answer:

  1. Did the Regional Schools Commissioner for South Central England and North West London introduce The Griffin Schools Trust to Stantonbury Campus as a suitable sponsor?
  2. Did the Regional Schools Commissioner for South Central England and North West London not think to ask their colleagues about how The Griffin Schools Trust were performing elsewhere in the country before handing them the challenge of running the second largest secondary school in England and driving significant school improvement?
  3. Did no one at the Regional Schools Commissioner for South Central England and North West London spot the damning May 2016 Ofsted conclusions about The Griffin Schools Trust’s performance at Wayfield?
  4. Did no one at the Regional School Commissioner for South East England and South London think to alert their colleagues to their concerns about the performance of The Griffin Trust, especially following the damning Wayfield inspection?
  5. Why didn’t the serious concerns of the Regional Schools Commissioner for South East England and South London about the Griffin Trust’s performance and the Ofsted inspection at Wayfield result in the Department for Education banning the Trust from taking on new schools?
  6. Why didn’t any member of the Headteacher Board for the Regional Schools Commissioner for South Central England and North West London ask any questions about whether The Griffin Schools Trust were appropriate sponsors of Stantonbury? Is this system working effectively to scrutinise the Regional Schools Commissioners’ decisions?
  7. Were the Ofsted conclusions about Wayfield just ignored as they were too politically embarrassing to do anything about given the Academy Order handing Stantonbury Campus to The Griffin Schools Trust had been issued and the funding agreement had already been signed in April 2016?
  8. Why wasn’t the decision to hand Stantonbury to The Griffin Schools Trust overturned when the full extent of the Trust’s failings at Wayfield had become apparent and they had Wayfield taken off them?
  9. What actions did the Regional Schools Commissioner put in place to ensure enhanced monitoring of The Griffin Schools Trust’s performance in running Stantonbury given the clear risks of poor performance implied by the Ofsted report into Wayfield?
  10. How will the Department for Education be changing their processes to ensure this does not happen again?
  11. What assurances can the Department for Education provide that the new Academy Trust won’t be another Griffin? Will parents have a say? Will the new Trust be a local one? Will the new Trust have expertise in secondary education? Will the new Trust have a strong secondary school improvement track record?
  12. Does the Department for Education accept that the lack of transparency of Regional School Commissioner business is contributing to poor decision-making and a lack of accountability?
  13. Will the Department for Education be apologising for their failures in appointing The Griffin Schools Trust to run Stantonbury Campus?
  14. Will there be a review of what went wrong here? Will the results of this be made public?
  15. Will anyone be held to account for the flawed decisions that led to The Griffin Schools Trust being appointed to run Stantonbury Campus?

Note: I am indebted to Peter Read, author of the Kent Independent Education Advice blog, for doing so much work on the failings of The Griffin Schools Trust at Stantonbury and elsewhere in the country which I have drawn on extensively in this piece.

Update – 4 March 2021

The Department for Education has released a few heavily redacted documents relating to this decision in response to my FOI request.

These confirm that:

  • It was the Department for Education who first introduced The Griffin Schools Trust to Stantonbury Campus. This was despite officials observing that there had been “some recent negative press reports on the financial issues at the Trust”.
  • The Department for Education noted that Stantonbury Campus “is not strictly in scope [for academisation] (but) it’s a school we have pushed the LA on for a number of years”.
  • There appears to have been no mention of the issues at Wayfield Primary School, with a report in April 2016 – when the Department were in negotiations to remove Wayfield from Griffin – silent on the matter and claiming that “The Griffin Schools Trust has a good record of school improvement mainly at primary but recently at secondary level”. However, discussions about this may be included in the withheld documents.
  • There appears to be no consideration at all of the Ofsted monitoring report about Stantonbury Campus from 22 October 2015 which suggested that the school was already improving thanks to the efforts of the LA and concluded “Senior leaders and governors are taking effective action to tackle the areas requiring improvement identified at the recent section 5 inspection in order to become a good school” and that “The local authority has been working much more closely and effectively with the school recently. Its understanding of the school’s needs is good enough to allow it to broker good and useful support from each of the three teaching schools locally”.
  • It was claimed that The Griffin Schools Trust had “expertise at secondary level” despite them only operating one secondary school, which was improving under the same school leadership long before Griffin took them over.

Curiously the Department for Education also states in one of the documents dated 27 October 2015 – when Milton Keynes Council was already run by the current Labour administration – that “Milton Keynes LA has asked us to consider possible sponsors for Stantonbury Campus” and refers to a forthcoming meeting with the LA on 5 November 2015 where they would be discussing Stantonbury. Another document also states that “Ofsted found that governors had good skills and experience and understand the issues facing the school although they took much persuading to engage in the academies process”. There are plenty of questions for Milton Keynes Council to answer about events leading to Stantonbury becoming an Academy – did they push for this to happen contrary to their political rhetoric?

There is much we still do not know. A lot of documents are being withheld by the Department for Education on the grounds that their disclosure would prejudice, or would be likely otherwise to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs and that this outweighs the public interest in releasing the documents  (Section 36 of the FOI Act). We do not know what these documents refer to and the secrecy means that it is not possible to put those documents which were released into their proper context or definitely conclude that the Department did not consider the Wayfield issue and the lack of secondary experience of the Trust at all (rather than, say, considering it and then ignoring it). An internal review of the decision has been requested to try and at least obtain a list of withheld documents and their subject matter.

9 thoughts on “Stantonbury Campus: What Went Wrong?

  1. What an excellent analysis taking matters much further than my own website articles about Griffin Trust, my main interest being in the Medway schools. Sadly, the total lack of accountability and interest by the Local and National Conservative parties as Stantonbury descended to the depths where pupils could not feel safe, let alone get a decent education is not unusual where Trust fail across the country (see my Kent examples). One of the matters that caused me most grief was the complete arrogance of the Trust leaders and the refusal to acknowledge any responsibility for the debacle. Threatened with imminent removal of the school from their Trust, all they could come up with was: ‘Leaders are not able easily to provide data and records of impact. This evidence finding takes up too much of their valuable time’.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with everything in your article with a correction and some further observations – parents have been in contact with the MP and his staff since before March 2020 – and can confirm that he had been working on these issues.
    Some parents were also told by sources within the school that for at least one intake after the trust took over that the council placed every child in Milton Keynes whose parents had not applied for a secondary school place at Stantonbury Campus which caused more than a few problems. Parents asked the Council about this at the time – and were ignored. Therefore the Council has not acted in the best interests of the school at times either.
    From this we can see that neither political party has covered itself with glory in this situation and frankly parents are not interested in the political mudslinging contest. Parents want their children to be able to access good education in a safe environment with out the blame game. Just fix the problem!
    Academies are here to stay but they need holding to account properly, they need proper oversight – not just their finances checking by accountants. Public funding must be proven to have been spent to benefit the children’s educationin material ways, not on companies formed by their academy overlords. Legislation needs changing to allow a more rapid removal of failing trusts with punitive measures introduced as an incentive to ensure their whole focus is on the children instead of their coffers. The money needs to go to the school – and only the school. Wages within the trust should be linked to results. Parents MUST have a voice – and should have to play an important role within the management of their child’s school.

    The school under Michelle Newman appeared to be moving in the right direction, however it was apparent in Spring 2019 that she was stepping back from her role as Head and that more and more budget restrictions were being placed on the school and staff. Parents speculated if this was because Mrs Newman realised that it just would not be possible to run the school viably following the instructions given by the GST. The trust then took a greater role in running the school – which was catastrophic.
    As the trust appeared to have been steadily decreasing the numbers of experienced staff at the school over time, it is with little surprise that we watched behaviour worsen and managed poorly with little or no support given to teaching staff. Support staff were redesignated as Admin staff. Staff reported to parents that some staff were being bullied and intimidated by the Trust and School leadership. Staff were being penalised for speaking out and then little information was subsequently given to staff so that they could not tell parents anything. A common statement that teachers made whenever asked simple questions regarding the behaviour policy, curriculum management, safeguarding issues or staffing is that they didn’t know anything.
    Parents have had to work to an archaic complaints procedure that was rarely responded to or followed – forcing parents to approach the DFE and Ofsted whose own complaints procedures are censorious and appear designed to discourage complaints.
    (Interestingly the GST complaints procedure was updated in Spring 2020 introducing the vexatious and serial complaints procedure that the school and trust now use to refuse to answer parental concerns and use in a punitive way to further restrict parents from actively raising concerns).
    Had a child not been stabbed by another child with scissors in Jan 2020 then many parents doubt that any action would have been taken by Ofsted.
    Staff at the school in December 2019 were telling parents that they needed to complain to the DfE, that conditions within the school were shocking. The GST denied everything and still are doing. They have not acknowledged their utter failure of the children and staff of the school and in the wake of their withdrawal notice have left a skeleton staff of teachers in charge of the school valiantly trying to hold everything together for the children during the Pandemic.
    Trust staff no longer appear to be at the school.which ironically has meant that more communication has come out to parents in the last three weeks than they managed in a whole term previously. Remote Education is currently adequate but a poor relation if compared with that provided by other schools. Uptake of remote provision by children is low which is going to prove to be a real problem when children eventually return to school – and parents fear that the staff that are left are going to really struggle to manage the problems that the trust has left behind. As the children had already missed out on a years education before the Pandemic then had to face the schools inability to provide adequate provision during the first lockdown followed by a failure to manage the return to school in September safely and with now just adequate provision for this lockdown, this means that the children of Stantonbury are slipping further and further behind.
    The GST should hang their heads in shame.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think there needs to be political debate (aka a “blame game”) about the causes of the issues if they are to be fixed. The Department for Education bears a large part of the blame – they introduced The Griffin Trust to Stantonbury and allowed the takeover to go ahead despite the clear warning signs which are discussed in the blog. The only way to stop this happening again is via political pressure.

      I’m sure our MP received complaints from parents but there’s no evidence he pressed the government to remove The Griffin Trust as is being claimed. I also doubt MKC were unfairly placing children in Stantonbury if it was not their closest school with surplus places and extra children are surely helpful to a school with financial issues due to falling rolls (unless all of those placed had substantial unfunded SEN).

      I agree entirely with your other points. The accountability system for academies isn’t working and the loss of the local governing board – and a formal parental voice in the governance of the school – is a real issue.

      In my opinion, Labour asks a valid question about whether local authorities should be enabled to take failing academies like Stantonbury back under their wing. And such political pressure is also necessary to encourage the government to consider options for improving academies within their own ideological constraints to fight off political criticism about the current system not working where academies are failing.

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  3. Both comments and the excellent article make valid points with only one significant error: The statement that Michelle Newman , the former Headteacher “appeared to be moving the school in the right direction” is fundamentally flawed. Ms Newman was and still is a person of questionable integrity. In her short tenure she was responsible for the widespread bullying and intimidation that the staff referred to. Ms Newman seemed to take great delight in the random issuing of suspensions, Non Disclosure orders and staff capability notices sometimes announced with no prior warning on the last day of Christmas and Summer Terms. She created a culture of fear and at least four members of staff were hospitalized as a result of her intimidation. Although her public profile looked positive on the surface, within the school more than 100 staff – both teaching and associate either chose to or were forced to leave including some of the brightest young minds and highly respected senior leaders who have been swallowed up by schools in the local area. It is important to note that the damning Ofsted report ( certainly the worst I have ever viewed) was written during her Headship and published a couple of weeks before her sudden departure! Yes Lewis and Tyler and their GST sheep were the controllers of the chaos through their fundamentalist and naive ideology and wish to create a private school culture in an inner city environment ideology and a refusal to concede any view bar their own educational extremism. But be in no doubt, Michelle Newman on the days that she actually turned up in school, willingly did their bidding. One long standing senior member of staff once commented to me that Newman appears to delight in making good people’s lives a misery and appears to delight in the unhappiness of others!

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  4. Mr O’Callaghan’s comments are accurate.The staff lost confidence in Newman early on in her tenure.She came with questionable experience having only been in any of her previous schools for a maximum of two years! She made the staff’s life a misery and seemed to delight in making them cry, I’ll or leave. She was surrounded by a group of nodding heads – White, Gilbert and others who were eventually themselves “persuaded to leave” leaving behind the mess they helped to create. Everyone knew this was going on and GST and Newman should be held accountable for the damage they inflicted on both students and staff alike! The lowest of the low – educationalist extremists – Shame – Shame!!!

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  5. Thank you to the other commenters for shedding more light on the conduct of Michelle Newman towards staff as this is the first time that I have heard of it. I can only say what my perspective was at the time – and I was only shown the Dr Jekyll persona rather than Mr Hyde at the time. Bullying of staff – or anyone is never acceptable – and had parents known what was happening then maybe we could have helped to more robustly challenge what was happening earlier than when experienced staff levels dropped so low as to render the school so obviously unsafe in 2019.
    It was only when it became so obvious that parents were prompted and empowered to act. It is sad that staff had to so carefully ask parents to contact the DfE. It is horrifying to hear how staff were being treated – although sadly it doesn’t surprise me.

    What can be done to stop this happening again? Academies are here to stay – it’s an unwelcome truth to many but how are we going to make them completely accountable for their actions?

    If as you say – the school paid GST companies money for their services- then the school should be refunded as the services rendered were not adequate/fit for purpose.

    Regarding the LA – I obtained the information regarding the dumping of every child left unenrolled at Stantonbury from a senior member of staff during a meeting that I had requested regarding various school issues – and they said that it had caused a lot of disruption as many of the children had needs that required resources that the school just didn’t have. It took a lot of time, effort and resources to help some of these children.

    I accept that using the opposition to prod government to act is sometimes helpful but it shouldn’t be necessary.

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  6. Mark O’Callaghan gives an all too accurate picture of the management style of Michelle Newman, but the culture came from the top. Griffin are arrogant, out of touch, and ruthless with a deliberate policy of bullying and constructive dismissal of staff who express a dissenting view or are too expensive. Michelle feared experienced staff and Griffin saw them as obstructive.
    Griffin is a small trust and at first they presented themselves as both determined to create a culture of artistic creativity and to give state school students an educational experience that replicated the advantages of the private system. For those who saw old Stantonbury’s progressive ways as out of touch with the zeitgeist, a more traditional approach appealed – all uniforms, bells and zero tolerance. Some hoped that this might also answer the increasing awareness that Stantonbury was now the school of last resort for many parents.

    When Griffin first took over there was still some vestige of the old school and many good and experience teachers who were anxious for a fresh start. Stantonbury had problems and running a school is not easy- but there is one golden rule- almost all students want to learn and almost all teachers want to teach – and they want these things desperately.

    Initially, I saw Ange Tyler and Ann Powell as naïve and comically out of their depth at Stantonbury- in a secondary school of this size. A videoed ‘Founders Day’ message from the ‘Talent Factory’, shown at assemblies, was excruciatingly inept and embarrassing as well as incomprehensible to the students.

    Soon I began to see that they were deeply arrogant and convinced of their own ability to run schools and would impose their ill-defined vison of ‘proud traditions’ top down – staff were spoken to like children or lied to or simply kept in the dark. An increasing atmosphere of blame and fear was encased in a carapace of data which even seemed to baffle the hapless managers who fumbled and droned through presentations of tables or figures.
    However, the financial mismanagement, disregard for the safety of staff and students as well as the pecuniary self-interest made me realise that they were in fact opportunistic charlatans.

    As the reality of the school became ever more distanced from the party line, their bullying, threats and surveillance intensified. Michelle’s cheery persona gave way to threats and finally she was sacked. The bizarre hiring and almost immediate firing of a new head teacher suggested the image of pilots hammering away at the controls as the mountain loomed in front of the aircraft. His appearance and rapid disappearance were airbrushed out of history with no explanation.
    And all the while, young people’s education suffered and the precious few years of school, were for too many Stantonbury students, fearful and chaotic. There was an increasing financial squeeze and a rapid deterioration in behaviour from students. Buildings declined, toilets reeked, paper and books ran out, and middle managers searched cupboards for paper or pens. Some classes became dangerous and staff morale plummeted. Experienced teachers left and new teachers departed quickly. This was the school Ofsted saw. Ofsted were drawn to conduct and emergency inspection by multiple complaints from parents and a stabbing or as described by the heads the ‘scissor related puncture of a student.’

    A few days before Ofsted appeared, I received an email to ‘cover’ a lesson of year 9 Art and Design. This was not my subject but money for supply was now restricted and with high levels of absence, covering lessons was now common. (National DFE guidelines – cover should be a minimum and, in an emergency,) The lesson unfolded in a way which had become my usual experience of covering- no work had been set- and the head of the faculty nowhere to be found. The classroom was a ragged tip of litter and uncared for displays. Thirty year 9s showed up and I had them for the next hour- no paper, no books. I improvised as best I could. Some students burst in from another class, their teacher had not shown up. I attempt to help. My own class was becoming difficult. They told me they haven’t had a regular teacher yet this year. I found a couple of old exercise books and pulled them apart for paper and set a task- I engage the class with stories and link it to something artistic- no pencils can be found- students scribble with pens if they have them- some sit aimless and bored, It works for a while. Until a fight breaks out. Some students from another untended class appear and begin banging on the window. I quell the class and position myself by the door to prevent escape or the students outside from getting in. The lesson lurches from incident to quelling and back to incident. On the edge of the class I notice a girl, impeccably turned out and equipped. I reflect she had left home that morning with instructions to ‘do her best’ as my daughters had when they attended Stantonbury years before. The girl had earphones in to exclude the noisy reality, she was attempting to read a book. She looked at me, as the representative of authority, with contempt and pity. The hour concluded and I released them, table by table, then I leave with a profound sense of self-loathing.

    After school that day, there was a staff meeting for the whole staff, teaching and support. One of the Griffin chief execs – Ange Tyler, smiled and told us how great things are. Two days later Ofsted arrived. Remember that an Ofsted inspection, even one with almost no notice, produces a frenzy of activity from teachers and particularly the managers, who vacate their offices and buzz around the school, desperate to ensure good behaviour, they strain every sinew to assert good order. It was in this context that Ofsted saw an environment where the students were unsafe. No degree of managerial effort could obscure the reality. Yet it was a reality Griffin and the heads denied or refused to see- preferring to discipline staff who spoke out.

    To date no apology just whining and self-pity. Good riddance to the Griffins- they must now rely on their egos and bank accounts to console them.

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    1. Thanks for the comment – astounding things continued like this for so long and depressing that this was predictable as soon as the DfE decided to hand Stantonbury to an already-failing academies trust. Hopefully the new Trust is better

      Liked by 1 person

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