Core Knowledge UK pioneering Cuckoo Hall school in special measures

Janet Downs's picture

In July 2014, Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, announced* that schools in Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT) would receive £260,900 from the London Schools Excellence Fund to deliver a project with think tank Civitas to deliver aspects of the Core Knowledge UK curriculum in CHAT academies.  

Johnson awarded money to schools following recommendations from an Award Panel and advice from the Expert Advisory Group. Sitting on the advisory group was Patricia Sowter, executive headteacher at CHAT and its then CEO.  

Sowter was also involved with developing the Core Knowledge curriculum with Civitas (see CHAT newsletter February 2013 downloadable here).    

The implementation of Core Knowledge in CHAT schools was Sowter’s vision and CHAT became a Core Knowledge Partner

The potential conflict of interest between Sowter, Civitas and a group advising Boris Johnson about which schools should receive grants adds to concerns about CHAT’s lead school, Cuckoo Hall.

Because Cuckoo Hall is now in Special Measures.

Inspectors identified problems including ‘unstable leadership’ and a ‘great deal of staff turnover’ but said acting head Florinda Shamolli had made Cuckoo Hall ‘a much more positive place to work that it was in the recent past’.  This comment confirms concerns raised on this site about Cuckoo Hall in past years and which were the subject of a letter to the then education secretary from the local MP.  

The negative Ofsted judgement follows a string of problems besetting CHAT and its lead school in particular.

  • March 2013:  Advertising Standards Authority tells Cuckoo Hall to change its website and remove false claims that Sowter had turned round Cuckoo Hall from Inadequate to Outstanding.  
  • 2014: Sowter blames her staff for plummeting SAT results in 2013.  
  • February 2015: CHAT hit with a Financial Notice to Improve which has not yet been lifted.  
  • 2016: Cuckoo Hall’s SAT results show pupils made well-below average progress in reading and maths and below average progress in writing.
  • February 2017: CHAT wrongfully dismissed an IT manager

Inspectors paid tribute to CHAT’s new CEO, Marino Charalambous, and Trust members who had supported Cuckoo Hall ‘through a great instability’. 

Ofsted’s comment about instability shows all was not well at what was one of Michael Gove’s favourite schools.  Sowter was one of his Magnificent Seven and was awarded a CBE for services to education.

It will be a blow to proponents of the Core Knowledge curriculum that a flagship Core Knowledge school has been judged Inadequate.  It should be emphasised, however, that inspectors didn’t criticise the curriculum content but its delivery:

‘The school’s ‘stage not age’ approach to the curriculum does not meet pupils’ needs.’

Core Knowledge, published by Civitas, has been endorsed by former education secretary Michael Gove and schools minister Nick Gibb.   Cuckoo Hall’s fall into special measures is a reminder that a curriculum is only as good as the way it is taught.

*I couldn’t find the original announcement.  It seems to have disappeared.  I initially referred to it in a comment dated 5 May 2015 under this thread.

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victoria scott's picture
Wed, 15/11/2017 - 19:24

Proof that bullying and bullish behaviour never deliver positive results and the results that do deliver are plastic and short term. Never have I worked in such an unhealthy environment or in a school with such unhappy staff. Poor children.

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