Gove’s flagship free school fails to impress Ofsted

One of Michael Gove’s flagship free schools, which has been championed by the education secretary as “academically excellent”, has failed to attain the top Ofsted rating.

The London Academy of Excellence is one of the leading free schools in the country and earlier this year secured offers from Oxford and Cambridge for six of its pupils, more than any school in the London borough of Newham.

The specialist sixth form college, which opened two years ago, is located in one of the poorest areas of the country, so the disclosure that it had attracted a flurry of offers from Oxford and Cambridge was seized upon by advocates of free schools as proof of their potential.

Gove gave a rousing speech from the London Academy of Excellence earlier this year, in which he dubbed it as “superb new free school”.

Gove said in his speech: “This start-up- a genuinely independent school which is free to all, socially inclusive and academically excellent.”

However, its first Ofsted report reveals that the school failed to attain an ‘outstanding’ rating from the education watchdog, and was only rated as ‘good’.

The Ofsted report highlights a number of areas where the sixth form college is underperforming, including a shortage of students “achieving high grades at AS level which they are capable”.

This criticism comes despite the college being highly selective and only taking in students who achieved A or A* grades at GCSE for subjects they are taking at A-level.

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Another areas of weakness, the report highlighted, was a high turnover of teaching staff which is resulting in an “inconsistency in the quality of teaching, learning and assessment over time”.

Its failure to securing an ‘outstanding’ rating will be a blow to Gove and advocates of free schools, who argue that they drive up education standards by providing more competition.

Martin Freedman, director of economic strategy at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said he was shocked that sixth-form college failed to attain ‘outstanding’ status.

He said he believed the London Academy of Excellence’s results would have been outstanding “given the hype Gove has given it and the fact that it’s selective”.

He added: “The results are not any better I would have thought than lots of schools in the surrounding area.”

However, the headmaster of the school, John Weeks, said he was pleased with the Ofsted report.

He said: “We were very pleased to be graded ‘good’ by Ofsted. Although we expect to get the best A level and university entrance results in the borough this year, we do not believe we are yet outstanding.”

There are 174 free schools- which are independent from Local Authority control- in England. Critics argue that free schools only benefit middle-class parents, who have time to set them up and that they divert money away from existing schools.

There are four levels of Ofsted ratings-‘Outstanding’, ‘Good’, ‘Requires Improvement’ and ‘Inadequate’.

The Department for Education was unavailable for comment.

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