Exclusive: Free school ‘forced me out’ for not being top university ready

An MP is to start a ‘vigorous’ inquiry into a selective sixth form’s admissions policy after a number of students were ‘kicked out’ for failing to get high enough grades at the end of their first year.

Schools Week has learned that teenagers who do not get certain grades in their AS-levels are being told to leave London Academy of Excellence (LAE) as their marks will not be enough to gain a place at the most “competitive” universities, such as those in the Russell Group.

After learning of this, West Ham MP Lyn Brown has said she will investigate to discover what has happened at the Newham school.

Lyn Brown
Lyn Brown MP

Former LAE students (pictured below) told how they were only informed of the grade requirements during the school year – rather than during the application process – and that they were expected to achieve three C grades in their AS-levels to continue into Year 13.

LAE said it told students and parents about the requirements in a letter in January. There is no information for prospective students about this policy on the school’s website.

Ms Brown said: “The admissions arrangements state that schools procedures should be fair and transparent and that if there are individuals who feel that these procedures have not been followed, then as their MP I will make vigorous representations to the school to get to the bottom of what has gone on.

As their MP I will make vigorous representations to the school

“Schools have a duty to spell out clearly to prospective pupils what their requirements are, and when I make my representations to the school, this is precisely what I will expect.

“They must make it clear what their requirements are and recognise that all pupils should be treated fairly and transparently.”

LAE opened in September 2012 and was the first sixth-form college established under the former education secretary Michael Gove’s free school programme.

It is backed by a group of eight independent schools, including Eton and Brighton College, and students are selected based on expectations of high GCSE grade attainment.

Its headteacher, John Weeks, was formerly the deputy headmaster at Brighton College.


LAE said in August that 39 per cent of sixth formers got AAB grades in traditional subjects, with four pupils going to Oxford or Cambridge and 42.5 per cent heading to Russell Group universities.

However, two students, Jean Gregory and Banudi Srikanth, both 17, spoke exclusively to Schools Week about their experience of leaving LAE due to their low AS grades.

Both had to restart their A-level course from scratch meaning it will take them three years in total before their A-level courses are complete.

Jean said she was on holiday on results day and discovered three days before the start of this academic year that she would have to find a place at a new college.

She has since started at NewVic and has changed subjects. Speaking of her time at LAE she said: “I had six different teachers in the year. You can’t get used to a teacher’s style if they change all the time.


“I knew I was struggling and I was not given any support. There was a big difference in how you were treated if you weren’t doing as well, compared to those who were. I felt like I was ignored because I was behind. I don’t think they gave us enough support and now I am having to start all over again.”

In Banudi’s case, she was predicted mainly A grades after mock exams earlier in the year, but personal problems made it difficult for her during the summer exam period.

She said: “I did not get the grades I was meant to get. I wasn’t told I would need to get three Cs or I would be kicked out.

“I got As in my mock exams but then I had problems at home around the exams in May time and there was just lots going on.

“There was no one I could talk to about this at LAE and they weren’t aware what was happening. When I got my results and they weren’t what I was predicted they didn’t care about what the reasons were behind it.

“They just made me feel like I had failed and I wasn’t wanted because of it.

“I was basically told to get out and handed a list of other colleges where I could go instead.”

Mr Weeks said there were a “small proportion” of students who did not meet the criteria which would enable them to get a place at a top university and so have since left. LAE did not elaborate on the exact number of students involved.

He said the school now has 425 pupils although when asked about how many pupils started in Year 12 last September and how many continued into Year 13 this year, Schools Week received no response.

Mr Weeks confirmed that students were only told of the requirement once they had started their course. Adding: “The year group were made aware of this requirement early on in the year and close guidance was given to sixth formers from January if their grades suggested that they may not secure the criteria.

“A number of students, following school based and independent careers guidance given both before and immediately after AS results day, have moved to other institutions who offer a broader range of courses. These moves will give them the best opportunity to secure places on university courses that are right for them.”

The decision by LAE has come under fire from headteachers across the country. Geoff Barton, headteacher at King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds (pictured left), said: “We know that selective sixth forms can make themselves appear more narrowly successful by ‘culling’ groups of students who get disappointing AS results.

“But it hardly seems in the spirit of the free school programme, designed, we were told, to broaden access to academic success in disadvantaged areas. Nor does it seems value-for-money for taxpayers.”

Eddie Playfair, who heads NewVic college where a number of former LAE pupils have now started, said: “It is a real blow to confidence; it is really destabilising and knocks confidence if they, having started on a journey as a successful student, to not doing as well and feeling their place is in jeopardy and their future is in jeopardy.

“That is a very destabilising effect. On the whole, as colleges, we should take responsibility for learners and see them through all the ups and downs of their two, or three, years with them.

“It depends on each college’s judgement whether students have a good chance of passing.

“This is all about students being successful. It is up to the college to guide students if they are not likely to succeed on a particular path.

“But it does seem to me that those providers who do have a very high threshold to progress from first to second year are not keeping faith with their students and are not seeing students through and not necessarily supporting students through those ups and downs of study.

“The more providers which do that, the more movement there is going to be and more students who will be affected by this. Ideally I would prefer to see us all taking responsibility in our role, whether students do well or not.”


Funding cut for college coming to the rescue

Students repeating their first year of A-levels is reducing college budgets, says the principal at NewVic.

Eddie Playfair
Eddie Playfair

Eddie Playfair told Schools Week he is having to slash £300,000 – or two per cent – from his budget this year after government changes in policy mean colleges

are now awarded less funding for students aged 18 at the start of the academic year.

The change came into force last month and colleges are now paid 17.5 per cent less for older students.

Mr Playfair said at least 100 students had transferred to the college from other institutions, including LAE, this year, many of whom will be taught at NewVic for a further two years up to the age of at least 19.

Mr Playfair said he was having to make savings, but was trying not to cut back on teaching time for students.

He said: “I don’t want to pass this funding cut on to the students. We have had to shave two per cent off our budget. Some cuts are harder than others, but I haven’t cut teaching hours yet.

“Class sizes are probably going to have to get bigger because of this.

“Students will change what course they are doing after a first year or come to us after being at another provider for their first year.

“This will inevitably get worse as students come to us at an older age.

“Our 18 plus numbers will be based on the previous year, this is a lagged system, and if the numbers of over 18s go up we may lose more income.

“I am not sure what we are going to do about it in the long term.”

Full statement from John Weeks, principal at LAE sixth form

LAE provides a pathway for able children of East London to secure places at Russell Group and other high status universities. It does this through providing excellent teaching in only the most difficult, facilitating, A level subjects, and also through giving the very best guidance on securing places on competitive university courses. There were 398 children in the school last year, and 425 this year.

This year our year 12 secured strong AS results, comparable with the year group above them who went on to secure 72% A*-B at A level (having had an entry requirement of 5Bs at GCSE).

The halfway point of any two year course, at any institution, is a natural point for the students to pause and take stock. They are on the cusp of university application and are making decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. The academic team at LAE has regular conversations with all of our sixth formers about their chosen pathways.  Individualised and specific careers guidance from highly qualified staff is at the very core of what LAE does. Well informed and robust advice on the best route to chosen careers and universities is fundamental.

John Weeks
John Weeks

Some students, based on their AS results, chose not to continue studying the A levels which LAE provides in year 13. There were a small proportion of the students who did not secure the generally recognised minimum AS progression criteria necessary if students are to secure the grades required to gain a place on the most competitive university courses. The year group were made aware of this requirement early on in the year and close guidance was given to sixth formers from January if their grades suggested that they may not secure the criteria.

A number of students, following school based and independent careers guidance given both before and immediately after AS results day, have moved to other institutions who offer a broader range of courses. These moves will give them the best opportunity to secure places on university courses that are right for them.




Nicky Morgan was keen to voice opposition to selective education at the Conservative Party Conference. And she’s right.

Yet on pages 6 and 7 a highly selective sixth form, praised in February by Michael Gove as a “superb new free school,” is exposed by Schools Week for dumping students halfway through their A-levels.

Why? Because, as the principal at the London Academy of Excellence (LAE) admits, if students don’t stand a strong chance of getting into a ‘competitive university’ he has decided they must retake their A-levels elsewhere.

Visit the LAE website and instead of an end of first year ‘forcing out’ policy for parents to ponder, you find press releases about their progression rates to Russell Group universities.
LAE should not be applauded for rigging their success.

The plaudits should go to the further education sixth form college next door.

Eddie Playfair at NewVic sixth form is supporting the ex-LAE students to retake their A-levels, and now doing so on less funding once they turn 18.

With the help of the local MP let’s hope LAE do the right thing for their students.

Nick Linford, editor








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  1. Yet again the free schools scam exposed for what it is – cherry-pick your cohort and dump the strugglers without having offered them any vestige of support. I just wish they’d be up front about their vision of education as a privilege for the elite and not a universal right. And where’s Gove as all this unravels? Oh, of course, he’s out of the firing line and will never be held to account for the catastrophe he’s created. Shameful, despicable, cowardly, disingenuous, hypocritical. They disgust me.

  2. Im an ex lae student you lot don’t know half the things that happen there. Its a systematic process as it were to weed out the weak. Students were made to also drop their fourth AS level after mocks so roughly after half a year of teaching being told sorry you have drop the subject.

  3. Anonymous

    I’m not a member of staff nor a student at this academy, but I can’t help but feel that the academy has every right to select it’s students at every stage. We always complain that schools aren’t strict enough, but as soon as a school that is pops up, it’s a problem that needs to be stopped. The school wants to maintain its high standards and if there are students hindering this goal then they have every right to do so, those students haven’t been kicked out onto the street, there are hundreds of other sixth forms out there. Those students also should not think that their grades are bad, it’s just they weren’t “LAE’ standard. Not everyone can get into Cambridge and Oxford. So? They just weren’t up to their standards, that doesn’t in anyway mean they weren’t bright or clever, it doesn’t mean they can’t go to another great uni, its just Cambridge and Oxford were after something specific, why can’t LAE do the same?! For once east London has been able to boast of a ‘decent’ sixth form and now you guys want to stop them? East London isn’t in need of ‘another’ sixth form, for once east London had a selective school for the bright ones, yes it should be clear from the start their requirements, but don’t stop them doing it.

    • Jeremy Dean

      Schools are meant to create high standards by teaching well, not by booting out weaker students.
      What if all colleges only accept A-grade students. Where will the rest go then?

      • Anonymous

        There forever and always will be sixth forms to cater for “rest of” the students as you put it, the real question is where do those A-grade students go? There aren’t that many selective schools and not everyone can afford to go into private education.

        “Teaching well” is very subjective. What one may consider to be good teaching another may consider it poor. Everyone is different, again I repeat that these students are bright, they just didn’t fit in with the LAE’s standard.

        Everyone is bright, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking its stupid. My point is that just because someone didn’t succeed in one school doesn’t mean they won’t elsewhere, it also doesn’t mean the teaching is poor and nor does it mean the school is ineffective. I am sure each of those students will go on to do amazing things in other amazing places, but we shouldn’t assume the school was the problem. Look at all the other students that did outstandingly well in their A Levels.

        Having one selective school amongst many other nonselective ones should stop being treated as a civil wrong.

  4. Lucinda Preston

    Wholly unacceptable. C or above at AS? Don’t agree with policy or fact parents/students weren’t made clearly aware of it at the beginning of the school year.

  5. Christine Best

    Sounds as if there is a high staff turnover and a lack of positive staff/student interaction- which leads me to suspect the quality of the teaching being offered. The recruitment of Mr Weeks seems to be an attempt to add legitimacy to what is essentially a ‘Crammer ‘ with the sole aim of achieving quotas presumably for financial gain.

    • Well yes from the original set of teachers which began the school only two remain from 18 After two years with both Head and deputy heads also having left. With most teachers being unqualified fresh out of uni and have no idea about how to teach but as they come from good universities apparently that should translate into good teaching which never does without training

  6. Anonymous

    I’m a current student in LAE and I have just entered year 13 after graduating from year 12 and I have to say that this article is completely unrepresentative on how great and supporting LAE actually is!

    LAE had made it VERY clear that you need a minimum of 3C’s to enter A2 and others were given opportunities to retake year 12 if they wish. In addition to this, you cannot do traditional A-level subjects and expect it to be easy. Some of the students that didn’t enter A2 it was quite unfortunate but they even admitted that they didn’t work as hard as they should have. Others that got kicked, I’m actually glad they didn’t because they were a completely distracting and clearly not in the frame of mind of studying A-levels.

    I don’t know of any other sixth form that supports students as much as LAE does. If you feel you need more support, all you have to do is go after school to the teachers and they will be willing to help. I used to stay after school and even go to school during study leave and the teachers would always be there to help you with whatever you needed. In regards to comments about having so many teachers leave. I agree with that. I too had the same issue. However, if a teacher were to leave, LAE had immediately found a replacement teacher who was equally qualified or better than the previous teacher. Sometimes LAE would even get teachers who used to teach at our partnering private schools. Even after all of this, she found it hard to learn in her subject, she could’ve always switched to the old fashioned method of learning from a text book. I still managed to get an A’s in Economics and Physics even with several teachers leaving throughout the year. I strongly believe that these students who didn’t enter A2 were students who didn’t put as much effort into their studies as they should have.

    Last, I find it quite amusing how Newvic took this opportunity to try and make LAE look bad. Newvic, please stop being jealous of LAE, it’s quite pathetic.

    I’m a student who is now in year 13 and this is my personal opinion that I also believe represent my peers opinion too. I wouldn’t have spent time writing this up if I didn’t feel strongly against this article. LAE is a very good sixth form and I have no objection to the decisions the school has made.

    [edited to remove reference to other students]

  7. Anonymous2

    I too, am a student of LAE and feel strongly against this article. Currently in year 13 I can confirm students were made well aware of the 3 C’s requirement to continue onto A2.

    LAE’s vision is clear and concise. To provide excellent teaching for the facilitating subjects that allow people to progress onto Russel Group universities.

    Although the comments on teaching are not entirely false, as teachers have left throughout the year – but this was expected. We are still in the early years of the Academy currently I am only part of the second ever cohort to study their A2 levels. LAE has ensured teachers are always replaced with equal teaching abilities before it affects the learning of the students.

    If it is clear on results day that you did not achieve these grades, you are then offered several conversations with senior leadership team members of LAE, yes you are told that it is best to consider studying elsewhere but many at LAE are re-taking their first year at A level and many on their A2 course are even re-takes. This is not mentioned in this article.

    At the end of the day, you will have teachers good and bad at every institution you go to. It is ultimately up to the student to ensure the desired grade is achieved.

  8. Barely on par with Eton/Brighton and so called ‘elite’ schools.
    If every other education provider kicked out students performing below the CCC threshold they would also be boasting about ‘The best results in the country’.
    Oh. And I’d love for Lord Weeks to give out statistics on the amount of students who were kicked out from this Academy of ‘Excellence’. 1 in every 3?
    After all, I shall fully expect this debacle to repeat itself August next year.
    “History does nothing but repeat itself.”