BLOG: Brave the challenge and reap the rewards of the ‘untouchables’


Our CEO Steve Docking responds to a recent article published on the TES website claiming there is an emerging trend of ‘risk averse academy chains’ rejecting troubled schools.

The Untouchables

I loved this film. All the clothes were designed by Armani, the baddies looked cool and the New York backdrop even cooler. At the heart of the plot is the formidable Eliot Ness – an ‘every man’ hero, taking on the seemingly impossible task of bringing down a sprawling gangster network. Told again and again that it was a lost cause, even Ness needed help from Sean Connery and a cast of A-listers to fight the good fight. The message was simple, and we as Academy Trusts must not turn our back on the overwhelming challenges of helping the schools that need us the most.

Our first sponsored school was Greenfields Primary, Winsford. We took this on in April 2014 and fifteen working days later the school recorded the second lowest results in the country. Behaviour was shocking; exclusions were high and staff moral was at rock bottom. The Year 6 class had endured 47 teachers in one academic year, staffing costs were at 98% of the total budget, free school meals 70%, pupil premium even higher – you get the idea.

From day one, we went ‘at’ this school, we changed its name to Oak View Academy; we bought all the children new uniform and over the first term we removed and then replaced 29 out of 35 staff. Crucially, we listened to what children and parents wanted and from that we appointed an excellent management team lead by a new Headteacher and Deputy. As a Trust we supported them both when they felt like dears in the headlights, offering advice and guidance to help them create a culture in which all staff wanted to achieve great things for Oak View. We had no additional cash from either the Department for Education or the Education Funding Agency for taking on this mammoth challenge, just the £25k conversion grant, but what we did have was a determined optimism that we could make a difference to children’s lives.

We were also incredibly fortunate to receive a bursary of £50k from the Timpson Foundation, money that came with no contract, no strings but with one mission, which was ‘to open the children’s eyes to the wonderful world of possibility’. The Head and her team have done a great job of doing just that, and the culture, ethos and values of the school now make it an exciting place in which children and all who work there want to learn and grow.

But what difference did all this make? In July 2014 we achieved 10% level 4’s in reading writing and maths, by 2016 this increased to 79% in reading 79% in maths and, overall, 63% combined with writing. This puts the school above national expectations in the new tests and our progress scores in reading alone placed us in the top 5% of schools nationally. Not perfect, but as we eagerly await our first Ofsted, definitely much, much better.

So to all the bigger trusts out there who turn down the challenge of an ‘untouchable’ school, please don’t. If we can achieve this in our first attempt at taking on a failing school, surely you can too?

Visit Oak View Academy website here