Times blames white working-class parents for departure of ‘Colditz’ academy head

Janet Downs's picture

‘The parents screamed and swore at me,’ says a Sunday Times headline for an article explaining why the ‘visionary head’ of Ebbsfleet Academy, Alison Colwell, is leaving to work abroad.

Colwell has been head of Ebbsfleet since 2012.  She featured in a 2014 Times magazine article which claimed her tough approach had turned round a school which had been catastrophically failing.  The Sunday Times repeats the same sound bite:

When she [Colwell] arrived at the then Swan Valley Community School it was “failing on every measure”’

But Swan Valley Community School had not been failing as Peter Read, Kent Independent Education Advice (KIEA), and this site pointed out at the time.  It’s a pity the Times didn’t do some basic research before twice taking Colwell’s word for performance at the predecessor school.

Swan Valley wasn’t inadequate.  It had been judged satisfactory in 2009.   Leadership was judged good.   Ofsted praised Colwell’s predecessor Nigel Jones: Swan Valley was ‘improving rapidly’.  But the reputation of this long-serving and popular head was trashed.

Colwell was confrontational from the start introducing what is known as ‘tough love’ discipline.  In the Times magazine article, she mocked ‘a bit of mentoring here, a bit of counselling there’ which she said was a feature of Swan Valley.  She reinforced her words by miming someone stroking someone’s arm.  She would have no truck with such softness: pupils must leave problems, however devastating, at the school gate.

It’s true the school was upgraded from satisfactory to good after it became an academy.   But it remains an unpopular school.  Ebbsfleet has ‘one of the highest vacancy rates’ in Kent secondary schools, according to KIEA, and ‘some of the highest number of Local Authority Allocations (children placed who did not apply to the school – 83 this summer.’  Ebbsfleet also has ‘one of the highest proportions of children leaving for Home Education’ in Kent.

In the Sunday Times article, Colwell admits the number of parents who behave appallingly are a ‘tiny minority’ of mostly white working-class parents.  But the paper dwells disproportionately on examples of unacceptable parental behaviour described in a forthcoming book about Colwell’s experience over nearly three decades not just the seven years she’s been at Ebbsfleet.

But the impression given by the Times is that intolerable parental conduct is a feature of Ebbsfleet Academy and of white working-class parents in particular.  This is at odds with recent advertisements for teaching vacancies at Ebbsfleet.    They say ‘Our parents are supportive and ambitious for their children’ (see here for example). 

The Brook Learning Trust, which runs Ebbsfleet Academy, had better hope that applicants for the many vacancies don’t read the Sunday Times. 


NOTE:  Ofsted reports for Swan Valley Community School are no longer available on Ofsted’s website.

All Times articles are behind a paywall.


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