Lowestoft academy head teacher: I’ll quit over school trust row
- Credit: James Bass
Senior teaching staff at a Lowestoft high school are threatening to quit their posts over moves to transfer its control to a Norfolk-based academy trust, it emerged this week.
Principal Neil Powell has vowed to step down as head of East Point Academy if it is taken over by the Inspiration Trust under changes being overseen by the Department for Education (DfE).
His announcement has prompted head of humanities Don Marchand and assistant principal Angela Kendall to say they will follow his lead as they fear further disruption at East Point could undo the work being done to turn the school around and improve behaviour.
And to show the strength of feeling among students that Mr Powell's measures are working, a petition has been launched to try to convince him to stay on and continue his work.
The academy – formerly Kirkley High School – has had six different headteachers in less than six years and was placed on special measures by Ofsted in April last year.
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It is currently run by the Essex-based Academies Enterprise Trust but, as reported by The Journal in July, a 'transfer process' is under way to switch its control to the Inspiration Trust.
This week, Mr Powell, who became head at East Point in April, released a statement in which he said: 'I am unable to remain principal if the proposed change of trusts takes place.
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'I have not taken this decision lightly but I am afraid that for a number of reasons I am unable to work for the Inspiration Trust and will be staying with AET.'
Staff and students have told The Journal that since Mr Powell took over, he has improved behaviour by banning mobile phones, stopping eating in corridors and adopting a 'zero tolerance' approach to bad language and disruptive behaviour. The quality of lessons is also said to have improved, with teachers being provided with more on-the-spot support and more homework is being set.
Meanwhile, the attendance rate at the school, which has 39 teaching staff and about 700 students, has risen to 95pc.
With the proposed transfer now apparently inevitable, Ms Kendall, who is assistant principal for inclusion and literacy and has been at the school for 13 years, said she planned to leave along with Mr Powell.
She said: 'We don't want more change at the school and I feel we are all making very good progress now under Mr Powell. Any change will be unfair to the students as they need stability. Mr Powell has brought stability to the classroom.'
Mr Marchand, curriculum leader for humanities, added: 'I think he (Mr Powell) has brought continuity, accountability and drive to the school.
'There has been quite a lull here for the last number of years and that has all changed structurally now. Mr Powell quickly looked at the problems here and came up with quick diagnosis... I can see a winning formula here for the first time.'
Other teachers, some who asked to remain anonymous, also voiced fears that the transfer of control would cause unwanted disruption and that they would consider leaving too.
Year 11 students Lorna Woodward and Sophie Rayner have set up a petition urging Mr Powell to stay and have so far collected about 200 names.
Sophie said: 'We all want to keep Mr Powell because he has improved our school so much. We have better lessons and behaviour in classes now.'
In May, an Ofsted monitoring inspection report at East Point concluded there was a steady improvement in students' attainment and progress and that the academy was making reasonable progress towards the removal of special measures.
Two months later, The Journal reported on plans to transfer the control of the academy from AET to the Inspiration Trust, which runs schools in Great Yarmouth, Norwich, Thetford and Cromer.
The DfE had approached the Norwich-based trust about taking on East Point and its chief executive, Dame Rachel De Souza, argued that there was 'geographic logic' to the move, with the Hockley-based AET admitting it was finding it difficult to give the academy the support it needed.
Despite the threat of senior staff resigning and the student petition, the DfE said the transfer would go ahead as planned.
A DfE spokesman said: 'Ensuring children get the best possible education is at the heart of everything we do. East Point Academy was placed in special measures by Ofsted in 2013 and AET agreed it should transfer to the more locally based Inspiration Trust, which has an outstanding record in quickly turning around underperforming schools with minimal disruption.
'The transfer is in progress and any future decisions on staffing will be made by the Inspiration Trust.'
A spokesman for the Inspiration Trust said it was 'looking forward' to East Point joining its portfolio of schools and that it was 'committed to transforming' the academy and raising standards.
Asked for its views on the comments Mr Powell and his staff, an AET spokesman would only say: 'We are delighted that East Point is enjoying a period of rapid improvement which has been highlighted by Ofsted inspectors.
'We also deeply appreciate the total support and expertise that the staff continue to give along on the journey to secure the success of the academy.'
Waveney MP Peter Aldous said he acknowledged the transfer process was 'unsettling and unacceptable' and 'unfair' on the students and staff.