DfE leans on free school that entered no Year 11s for GCSEs

The government has threatened to rebroker a free school that was put in special measures after failing to enter any year 11 pupils for GCSEs.

The Route 39 Academy in Devon was rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted on Wednesday, with inspectors criticising the school’s decision to keep all 13 of its year 11 pupils away from the exams.

Inspectors said teachers had failed to promote sufficient progress for pupils, but believed they could have succeeded in the exams had they been entered.

The school was found to have breached its statutory requirements and its funding agreement by holding back the entire year group.

The school said it had decided to enter the pupils for GCSEs next year at the request of parents, and “strongly refutes” the judgement.

The governing body, in a letter to parents, said it would be challenging Ofsted on its “legal view, processes and the manner” in which the inspection was conducted.

The Department for Education has hit back, issuing a clear warning that it will take action should the school fail to produce a clear improvement plan.

It has already contacted the school to find out “how they intend to bring about the rapid and sustained improvement required”.?

“Every pupil deserves an excellent education and if we are not content with the school’s response we will consider alternative measures, including – if necessary – transferring it to a new high-performing sponsor,”? ?a spokesperson said.

The school argued that parents felt their children, who started with low levels of attainment, would benefit from an extra year “academically and emotionally” after joining following an “unsettled” year 7 in other schools.

This decision, it said, was discussed with “leading universities”, and the school’s DfE adviser said he could see it was taken “in the interests of the individual students”, though “he felt Ofsted may be concerned”.

Schools Week also understands that the regional schools commissioner for the area was also consulted about the academy’s plans.

Governors decided that the cohort’s circumstances were “exceptional”, adding: “We also made clear this decision was a one-off. We listened to our parents, assessed the benefit to each student and acted in their best interest.”

After the decision was made, two pupils left the school. One of the pupils left to complete their GCSEs at another school.

Ofsted rated the school ‘inadequate’ across the board, claiming safeguarding was ineffective, pupils had not made enough progress, and attendance was “very poor”.

The academy said that the safeguarding issues, which it put down “to paperwork and not academy practice”, had been addressed.

It has now employed an independent consultant to report on student attendance and exclusions, and haw undertaken an independent pupil premium review; it has also signed a management partnership with the South Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust to help move it from special measures.

The trust’s chief executive Hugh Bellamy said: “The school that Ofsted describew in this report is so divorced from the reality of Route 39, that we want to help address this evident injustice.

“South Dartmoor MAT will work closely with the academy to support improvement where required and to ensure that its unique vision and fantastic ethos is maintained.”

It was reported in February that Route 39 was facing repaying £250,000 of funding to the government after failing to recruit expected numbers of pupils.

The academy also had difficulties opening, after an initial planning application was turned down, though the government overturned the decision.

On its website, the school state it that students have the “very best education that the 21st century can provide”, with the bar set high giving “everyone ambitious and challenging academic targets”.

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


  1. According the the puff piece about Route 39 on the New Schools Network site, Route 39 was ‘started by a group of local parents in North Devon who were frustrated by the lack of a local school choice in their area.’ The proposers based their assessment of local schools on exam results only which were below the national average. But three were good and two were satisfactory. All five schools were undersubscribed and had surplus places. The Impact Assessment acknowledged that Route 39 ‘may affect the long term financial viability’ of two local schools.
    The head of one of the local schools wrote about how the proposed free school was not needed and threatened schools already facing falling rolls.
    He was ignored. And taxpayers’ money has been wasted setting up a new school where there were already empty places. Worse, it’s been downgraded from Requires Improvement to Inadequate and the pupils have had a raw deal.

    • Fiona Lockhart

      I believe the “threatened” schools with falling rolls are Primary and don’t include any Secondary Schools. Not all Students ‘fit’ the existing model of mainstream education on offer, in fact many are excluded from it, my son included, without even attending! We aren’t spoilt for choice here in Bideford (isn’t the College still in Special Measures after over 2 years?)and check out all the new houses under construction too. I question the motives of the naysayers – is it ideological, political, environmental or possibly self-interest?

      My son ‘fits’ Route39, the Teaching Staff are completely committed to their Students and they care more about them than any other Teachers I’ve ever met (bar one who turned my son around, he is high-functioning autistic ). He will be taking his GCSEs in Year 11 too. I have every confidence in Route39 as does every other parent I know.

    • Mark Watson

      You see this is the interesting outcome when theoretical opposition to the principle of academisation meets the people at the coal-face, i.e. the people directly affected by the school in question.
      I have no idea who Fiona Lockhart is, but have no reason to doubt what she says. Rather than someone doing their research online (which is all I can do as well so that’s not a criticism) she represents the local parents.
      My consistent opinion is that parents and local communities should, in most cases, have a choice about their schools. I don’t have any axe to grind about what they choose – it might be that the local authority offers the best opportunity, it might be the academy / free school route. However I don’t believe that I, or any other armchair expert, should dictate or restrict that choice based on my ideological position. I think her comments questioning the naysayers’ motives are absolutely to the point.
      I’d be really interested in Janet coming back and responding to these comments.