Revealed: Harris school praised by ministers ‘overaided’ pupils in SATs

A Harris primary school held up by ministers as a shining example of academisation “overaided” pupils in their SATs, an investigation has concluded.

Pupils at Harris Academy Philip Lane in north London were given too much help in their English reading and maths reasoning SATs papers, the Standards and Testing Agency has decided.

Now year 6 pupils’ scores in those papers have been wiped and they will only receive scores for their grammar, punctuation and spelling tests.

A letter seen by Schools Week was sent to parents on Monday from Susan Head, the academy’s chair of governors, which describes the findings as “deeply regrettable and disappointing” and says the school is “determined to get to the bottom of what has happened.”

She says principal Emma Penzer wrote to parents before the summer holidays to say that SATs results had been delayed while the STA investigated an allegation that the academy had mishandled the tests.

The investigation’s findings are being taken “extremely seriously”, it continues, adding that responsibility lies with the academy and no pupil is at fault.

The school, which was previously known as Downhills primary school, first came to public attention after schools minister Nick Gibb publicly praised the trust takeover.

It was formerly called Downhills primary school before it was controversially forced by the government to become an academy in 2012.

In June 2015, Gibb invited Harris boss Dan Moynihan at a public bill committee to describe “the change in pupils’ life chances, as a consequence of Harris taking [the school] over.”

Moynihan responded that “the number of children reaaching secondary-ready standards in reading, writing and maths has improved dramatically.

“They are better prepared for secondary and will be successful as a result.”

In response to the letter revealed today, a Harris spokesperson told Schools Week the nullified scores will not adversely affect the pupils’ move to secondary school.

“Pupils have been given accurate teacher assessments and these have been provided to the secondary schools they are moving on to, along with their grammar, punctuation and spelling results.

“This will ensure their transition to secondary school is not affected.”

But the trust has launched its own investigation into the events and promises to take “the toughest action” in light of the findings.

“We were shocked and dismayed to hear of the over-aiding. As well as cooperating in full with the STA, we have arranged our own thorough investigation.

“This will begin in the autumn term and we will not hesitate to take the very toughest action wherever this is appropriate.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Teachers and parents must have confidence in the integrity of the assessment system, which is why we take allegations such as this very seriously.

“Following an investigation by the Standards and Testing Agency, several key stage 2 papers were annulled.

“This will not, however, adversely affect any of the pupils as the school can provide teaching assessment data to show the pupils’ progress in these subjects.”

Here is the letter in full:



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    • Mark Watson

      Didn’t think it would take you long to jump on this.
      What I find telling from your article is where you say “It raises questions about whether Harris Academy Philip Lane is a rogue Harris primary or whether teachers in other Harris primaries feel under pressure to deliver high results.”
      As if somehow there’s something fundamentally wrong with teachers being under pressure to do a good job (which of course is something that applies in every other profession).
      Tell you what would be interesting – your article, as well as others by the Guardian and various other anti-academies outlets, talks all about how the parents weren’t in favour of being taken over by Harris back in 2012. Has anybody gone back since Harris took over and asked the parents what they think now, and whether (a) they’re happy that Harris took over, or (b) they would have preferred the school hadn’t converted?

      • ‘every other profession’ – wow! Massively sweeping statement with no possible way of backing it up. If you are going to police this website in a pseudo academic/journalistic manner Mr. Watson – keep your bile in check .

        • Mark Watson

          I’m making a point, rather than snarky comments.
          Please address the main issue – do you think teachers should be under pressure to do a good job or not?

          • Snarky-circumspection . Do you think pressure in all other professions is greater? Do you think schools are under an inadequate, good or outstanding level of pressure? Do you believe the greater the pressure the better the outcome? Accountability – pressure – nuanced. Much more interesting and much more likely to result in school improvement.

          • Mark Watson

            I’ll do you the courtesy of replying to your questions, though you didn’t reply to mine.
            Do you think pressure in all other professions is greater? – No. Some professions will have greater pressure (medicine springs to mind), some will have less.
            Do you think schools are under an inadequate, good or outstanding level of pressure? Impossible to answer without understanding what these made-up categories are meant to mean, and “schools” don’t feel pressure people do. In the context of this article and the comments I think that some teachers are under too much pressure, but I also think there are undoubtedly some teachers who are not under enough pressure.
            Do you believe the greater the pressure the better the outcome? – No. I believe that it is necessary to have some pressure to get the best results, and the tougher the job the more pressure is needed. Too much pressure is counterproductive though, so the job of a good leader is to understand the situation and apply the optimal amount of pressure.

          • Mr . Watson . Thank you for your reply . Very nuanced. I could not agree more. Accountability is so much more useful than pressure. Under the right leadership and moral purpose this is what makes the difference over time.

      • Mark – I was being circumspect. I would like to have written ‘…whether teachers in other Harris primaries feel under pressure to deliver high results by fair means or foul.’
        Getting high results doesn’t necessarily mean teachers are doing a good job. Of course teachers (and ‘every other profession’) should be expected to do a good job. But when the ‘good job’ is measured by high-stakes tests, then the pressure can result in negative consequences such as ‘gaming’, ignoring subjects which aren’t tested, deterring applications from pupils likely to reduce league table position, off-rolling and, yes, cheating.

        • Mark Watson

          You are of course right (and my original comments about pressure were slightly tongue in cheek). The difficulty for any employer is applying enough pressure to ensure a tricky job is done, whilst not applying so much pressure that systems are gamed or rules broken.
          Without any specific reference intended, where a school employer applies too much pressure (which MIGHT be the case here) it is immediately seized on by the press, and rightly so.
          However there seems to be much less attention paid to the equally damaging scenario where not enough pressure is applied and pupils suffer as a result.
          That was the real point I was (hamfistedly) trying to make.

      • Mark – you missed other ‘telling’ points in my article. The main point being that Downhills was improving. Ofsted admitted that during monitoring but changed its mind less than a term later after being ordered back by Gove. The head resigned immediately, his career wrecked.
        SAT results improved again in the year the campaign was running and were above the SATs threshold set at the time. Pupils’ art work was chosen from many schools nationally to be displayed at the National Gallery – hardly the sign of a school needing special measures (or don’t creative subjects count?)
        As well as maintaining the false impression that Downhills was chronically failing, Gove insulted the parents (‘enemies of promise’ etc).
        It’s hardly surprising, then, that I ‘jumped’ on the cheating scandal.

        • Mark Watson

          You can’t pick and choose which parts of Ofsted you like and which you don’t.
          You can’t dismiss Ofsted’s overall 2012 rating of Inadequate, but then pick out sentences in the report which support your argument and say that those words are reliable.
          Since Downhills was opened in 2000 it had five full Ofsted inspections:
          1) It was put into Special Measures in 2002
          2) In 2005 and 2008 it was rated as RI (in today’s terminology)
          3) In 2011 and 2012 it was rated Inadequate.
          It’s a point I’ve made before, but twelve years of failure (varying in its severity, but never making it to Good) does not inspire confidence that Haringey was ever going to make the school a success.
          In contrast, when Harris Academy Philip Lane was inspected in 2014 it was rated Good in all categories with outstanding leadership and management.
          An Ofsted rating certainly isn’t the be all and end all, but it’s a handy marker.

          • Mark – you’re missing the crucial monitoring of Autumn 2011 which said there were signs of improvement.
            But Gove intervened and ordered Ofsted back (surely this was interfering with Ofsted’s supposed independence’?)
            The school wanted Ofsted to wait until the expected full inspection in the summer term but this plea was ignored. The same lead inspector who’d noticed signs of improvement in the Autumn returned and decided there had been no signs after all (a dubious about-turn, surely? Was she wrong the first time round or the second time round? Either way, it throws doubt on her judgement.
            The grade Satisfactory meant ‘satisfying the criteria’ not requires improvement. It was scrapped in January 2012 and replaced with Requires Improvement.
            I suspected at the time that this would be used retrospectively to show schools which had previously satisfied Ofsted criteria were actually requiring improvement. You have done just that.
            You say Harris turned it round. On paper it did so, but the signs of improvement were already there. The 2012 SATs results were above the threshold. And the standard of creative work was exemplary (inspectors did eventually praise the art work but not until Harris took over – but Harris had nothing to do with Downhills when its pupils’ work hung in the National Gallery.)
            The whole affair stunk. And we mustn’t forget the head’s career ended. Perhaps that’s just collateral damage.

          • Mark – sorry to keep banging on about what Ofsted said, but check out the final monitoring before Downhills was handed to Harris. It was done in July 2012. It said ‘The local authority has provided a range of support to help the school make satisfactory progress in laying the foundations for improvement’. Harris capitalized on this to raise the Ofsted grade to good.
            The monitoring report also repeated this statement from the full inspection in January: ‘As a matter of urgency, and by July 2014, raise attainment in English and mathematics across the school so that by Year 6 it is at least in line with national averages.’
            The monitoring report judged progress towards this end as ‘inadequate’. But when SAT results for 2012 were published, they showed that Year 6 results were above the threshold. In other words, the target of 2014 had been reached by 2012. Not enough to save the school, of course.
            Monitoring also noted that more staff were expected to leave in September. More collateral damage.

          • Mark Watson

            You’re still doing it though, even though you acknowledge that the first inspection may have been wrong.
            If you want to rely on Ofsted saying there were signs of improvement in 2011 (which let’s remember was a short monitoring inspection) then you have to accept the outcome of the full inspection in 2012 which put the school into special measures.
            Or alternatively we take the position that Ofsted can’t be relied on and none of the reports are valid.
            Let’s not miss the bigger picture – Haringey had been running the school since 2000 and after 11 years you seem to be saying that the fact that there were “signs of improvement” is sufficient success for them to be allowed to continue. A slightly flippant comment, but if a school is the worst in England then becoming the second-worst is an improvement. “Signs of improvement” does not mean “signs that the school is good”.
            And I don’t mean to be dismissive of peoples’ livelihoods, but plenty of heads have been in charge of schools that were put into special measures and it didn’t end their careers. As a general question should Ofsted be tempering their criticism of failing schools in case it affects head, governors, LAs, academy trusts?

  1. David Gilchrist

    I have worked at this school as a supply teacher. The kids are great but the teachers whilst working extremely hard are under great pressure to produce ‘results’. This leads to burn out and stress. There was not a teacher that was not senior management over the age of 35. Teaching was to a very narrow subscribed curriculum followed by all the Harris schools in the same rote way. The school was full of silly rules that pupils had to follow that did not aid learning in any way.
    I bet they hat some poor teacher will have to carry the can for this cheating whilst the management and the Harris bosses get off scot free.

    • Mark Watson

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not evangelising for Harris and I’m certainly not saying they’ve got everything right. Unlike a lot of people on these boards though I’m coming from the position of a parent rather than a teacher (that’s not a criticism at all), and from everything I’ve seen and heard Harris has turned around inner-city schools that have had serious and long-term problems.
      Have they been perfect in how they’ve done this – clearly not. I don’t think anyone could have been. Creating this much of a turnabout is an incredibly difficult job, and the brunt of it has almost inevitably fallen on the shoulders of the teachers in situ. I didn’t intend to trivialise this.
      However I’m genuinely interested to know what the parents and local community think now about Harris. I accept completely there was significant trepidation and indeed outright hostility to Harris before they took over this school, as there was with others, but has this changed once the impact on the children has been understood?

      • Try looking at Ofsted Parent View. This shows parents overwhelmingly positive about Harris Academy Philip Lane in 2017/18 up to 16 May 2018. There were 49 responses (422 pupils on roll).
        Parent View results should be treated with caution, however. Parents/carers (if they are indeed parents/carers of pupils in the school) are a self-selecting group. The results are also susceptible to social media campaigning either for or against the school.
        I’m no longer a parent of a school age child so I can’t legitimately contribute to Parent View (I’m reluctant to lie to see how far I could get). But if you’re a parent of a school age child, it would be interesting if you gave a view about your child’s school. I’m not interested in what you think about the school but I would like to know how easy it would be for responses to be accepted. Does a parent have to provide an email address, for example? How does s/he prove s/he is a parent of a child in that school?

        • Mark Watson

          Thanks for the info – I’ve gone and submitted my view. I had to register (with my email address which was corroborated) and tick a box that said I had a child there, but there was no checking that was true (how could there be?)
          As you say, that’s very open to abuse and so can’t be seen as being the most reliable indicator of parent opinion.
          That being said, it does appear to be likely that the majority view of Harris is very positive among the community, and it does appear that on all Ofsted measures the school has improved.
          This “overaiding” issue is surely going to reduce the positive perception, but I can’t see it tipping over into overall negativity.
          On that basis, despite the initial misgivings and antagonism towards the conversion into Harris, would you agree that it has proved to be a success?

          • Mark – thanks for checking how easy it was to use Parent View. That’s very useful information which I couldn’t have got myself without lying.
            Re Harris and Downhills – we can no longer say it’s a success when that success could have been based on test results which are now open to doubt.
            The number of pupils on roll has fallen slightly. The January 2011 Ofsted said there were 463 pupils on roll.
            Get Information About Schools says there are now 422 pupils on roll (school capacity 446). This small drop in numbers may signify nothing. Perhaps the number of pupils of primary age in Haringey is falling – I don’t know.

      • Mark – have a look at the Ofsted short inspection for Philip Lane done in May and published on 3 July (presumably before STA started investigating the administration of SAT results). It confirms that parents were overwhelmingly positive.
        Whether parents are so overwhelmingly positive now they’ve discovered the school’s being cheating is up for debate.