Seckford lick wounds after disastrous GCSE results at Beccles and Saxmundham

Back in 2012 I wrote extensively about the proposed Seckford Free Schools at Beccles and Saxmundham saying they were unwanted and that they would waste money better spent elsewhere. One thing I did not expect however was that these schools would deliver truly terrible GCSE results. Results so bad that the Seckford Foundation themselves feel the need to launch an external investigation into what happened.

In the key target of five Grade A-Cs including Maths and English Beccles Free School got 39% (just under the 40% Government "floor target") and Saxmundham did considerably worse with 28%. Sir John Leman in Beccles that came in for a sustained attack on its good name by Seckford and its supporters got 66%.

Even IES Breckland the troubled free school in Brandon that lost its first principal and was then put into special measures by Ofsted did better just scraping 40%.

More worryingly than the poor results Seckford did not appear to even see them coming commenting to the press that they recognised that the schools had not done as well as they wanted or expected to.

Seckford Free Schools CEO Rob Cawley told the Ipswich Star:
Each of our schools has a shared sense of ambition and a broad and balanced traditional curriculum. They are underpinned by strong pastoral care and an exceptional breadth of enrichment activity which challenges each student to aspire to personal and academic goals. Our expectations are for each student to make above average progress and achieve to the very highest level in all that they do.
He seems to have completely forgotten the pledge that he gave in the application form to the DfE that :
The whole school target will be that for the first GCSE taking (2015) 50% of students will qualify for the EBacc
Both schools feel well short of this target with Beccles getting 29% and Saxmundham 19%.

The applications also included the following comments critical of other local schools and making promises that the Seckford schools would improve educational outcomes.

  • … the school is mindful that this part of the East of England has under achieved compared to the national average
  • The educational experience of the Seckford Foundation will ensure that the Beccles Free School will be of high quality.
  • Academic outcomes for local schools in the North Suffolk area fall behind national averages.
  • The demand within the community is for a senior school with a focus on academic standards.
  • Academic performance in North Suffolk is amongst the worst in the country
  • Beccles Free School will challenge a culture of low expectations and low achievement in the area.
  • Beccles Free School will be one of the best schools in Suffolk.
Seckford owe local schools and those of us that supported them an apology but more importantly they owe it to the children in their schools to act to turn the low achievement around. Ironically with these first results it appears the schools have made the situation worse in North Suffolk rather than better.

Having made all these promises and failed to deliver on a truly epic scale I cannot see how Rob Cawley can survive as Principal and CEO. Maybe Seckford should follow the example of IES Breckland and change the management.

One thing is for sure. Running all ability state schools isn't as easy as Seckford arrogantly assumed it would be. They need to listen more and collaborate with other schools rather than thinking they are something special. These results need to bring them crashing down to earth. They aren't just poor they are disastrous.
They could perhaps look to the relative success of the other suffolk free school Stour Valley Community School who with a small cohort under similar circumstances got 46% in 2014 and increased that this year to 54%. This school did not make exaggerated claims or start off by attacking other local schools and has done significantly better than the Seckford schools.

The criteria for Ofsted putting a school into special measures is that it is both failing and does not have the capacity to improve. With Seckford already launching an external investigation it is looking to me like an admission that it does not know what is wrong or how to fix it.

In any event these results are a crushing embarrassment for Seckford who must be running the risk of tarnishing their own brand if the free school project continues to fail. The danger for Seckford is that parents might not just think twice about sending their children to their free schools as many already have but might do the same for Woodbridge School as well.

Maybe the best thing for everyone would be for these schools to be given to an experienced academy chain with a track record of success and leave Seckford to run Woodbridge where they managed to get a pass rate of 92%. 

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