Academies

Ofsted boost for school in ‘David and Goliath’ court battle against academisation

A 'good' rating takes Yew Tree Primary School a step closer to resisting academisation after it took the DfE to court

A 'good' rating takes Yew Tree Primary School a step closer to resisting academisation after it took the DfE to court

5 Nov 2021, 15:25

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A school which won a “David and Goliath” legal battle against the government has landed a fresh victory in its bid to stop forced academisation – notching up a “good” inspection rating.

Jamie Barry, head of Yew Tree Primary School in Walsall, said its lawyers would now write to the Department for Education urging him to finally revoke an academy order imposed in 2019

The order followed the school’s “inadequate” inspection that January, but it had been swiftly upgraded to “requires improvement” by October 2019.

The school asked government to revoke the academy order, arguing it would have subsequently been rated “good” – but lacked the chance to prove this as inspections were paused during the pandemic.

But then-education secretary Gavin Williamson refused to revoke the order in December last year. Governors of the West Midlands school embarked on a judicial review.

Deputy high court judge Gavin Mansfield ruled this July that decision was “irrational” and the order should be quashed, saying Williamson should have considered all evidence available with inspections suspended.

The DfE said at the time it would consider a new Yew Tree bid to revoke the order, but was also considering appealing the decision. The department was ordered to pay the school costs of £75,000.

Barry said the DfE had agreed to consider the school’s evidence, and now had a fresh Ofsted report today marking Yew Tree “good” in all areas.

“It means so much to us. We’ve known for a while we’re a good school and feel validated,” he added. “But it makes me sad the department think the only thing that proves it is Ofsted – we went to court as we felt we had evidence to show it.”

He added that the school was not “anti-academies”, and had worked with some. Its fight was against an “ideological agenda” to get it to join a trust, when it was happy with council support and felt a transfer would be a “distraction from our improvement journey.”

The school’s battle has been a landmark case in testing the government’s ability to resist school pressure to revoke orders.

Only in 2016 did legislation take effect giving ministers power to reverse orders, and statutory guidance said it would only be used in “very exceptional circumstances” without giving further details.

Clarification was only offered last year in new legal guidance, specifying scenarios including when maintained schools become “good” or “outstanding”.

Rob Kelsall, national secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said Yew Tree’s case marked the first time efforts to revoke an order had reached the High Court.

He echoed the school’s plea for the government to go ahead and finally abandon the order, letting the school “continue on its magnificent school improvement journey”.

“Today’s news should mark the end of a long-running David and Goliath battle.”

The Department for Education said: “We are considering Yew Tree’s request for their academy order to be revoked in light of their most recent Ofsted judgement.

“Our position remains that underperforming schools with an inadequate Ofsted rating should become academies to gain the support of a strong academy trust and secure sustained improvement.”

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