Accusations of pupil selection, declining exam results and lack of consultation with parents have been directed at Banbury Academy.
Parents report an exodus of teachers and accuse the academy of offloading under-performing pupils by exclusion.
One parent said: “Exam results are declining. Teacher departures seem excessive and those who leave are vocal to the students in their reasons. I am staggered at the dismissive attitude and general non-engagement with students and parents.”
Aspirations Academy Trust took over Banbury School in 2012. Its then principal, Dr Fiona Hammans stayed on temporarily as an ‘executive principal’. The GCSE A-C results for that year, 2013, were 64 per cent. The following year the figure was 52 per cent and for last year it was 43 per cent.
Banbury Academy principal Emily Gent referred the Guardian to a letter from Ofsted following a monitoring visit last month. The inspection teams make regular visits to the school which was rated ‘requires improvement’ in 2014.
The letter referred to a quarter of staff leaving last summer and five at the end of last term. Since the inspector’s last visit the senior vice-principal, an assistant principal and the head of sixth form had left. However, the Ofsted letter acknowledged staff replacements had previously worked at ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools.
Ms Gent said: “A recent parents’ forum noted parents felt the Academy was the recipient of ‘bad press’ which was not a reflection of how the majority felt about the educational experience their children received at Banbury Academy.
“Our recent Ofsted inspection noted we are on track to being a good academy.”
Ms Gent said 2014 results went down due to changes in entry regulations.
“All Ofsted and government data indicates that 2013 and 14 results cannot be compared as they are not compatible. However, Banbury Academy performed 18th out of 55 similar schools.”
None of the 17 schools performing better had a higher pupil premium cohort, meaning students did extremely well in comparison with schools with similar cohorts, she said.
The academy should be taking 1,953 pupils but is some 400 pupils short.
Last year a government watchdog upheld complaints by the county council that the agreed admission policy was not being observed on the basis of selection and literacy testing that may discriminate against children for whom English is not their first language.
“This is a legacy from diminishing numbers of students in the catchment along with legacy issues over the quality of education at the predecessor school. This diminishing cohort has offered us the opportunity to improve and tighten up the quality of teaching,” said Ms Gent who failed to address the issue of exclusions.
One parent said: “My view is the academy has been taking these actions to manage the number and ‘quality’ of its intake to achieve ‘better’ exam results and its league table position. As a parent under both ‘regimes’ I think it’s a travesty to say that all the problems with the school are a legacy of Fiona Hammans’ time there.”
“Being an academy, run by a distant proprietor with no direct stake in the local community makes it freer to follow its own interests rather than those of the wider community.
“Under the local authority system, Oxfordshire County Council would look at the broader picture and take a view on whether a school was acting in the best interests of the wider community,” said the parent, who did not want to be named.