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Friday, 22 January 2021 19:16

Invicta National Academy: online lessons service

Written by
 Latest update here: 2nd February.
The following article opens with a re-print from the 22nd January Edition of Private Eye, under the heading 'T  IS   FOR TORY'
It has been expanded considerably since first publication. 

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Conservative politicians and Telegraph columnists alike have been falling over themselves to praise Kent-based live online lessons service Invicta National Academy since the beginning of term.

The website's daily offering of live video is hardly unique and its reach is not that enormous - one day in January its Twitter account excitedly trilled "a whopping 1,376 users accessed @InvictaAcademy lessons today!" Education programming on Children's BBC, secondary schooling on BBC2 and the Department for Education-funded "Oak National Academy" collection of teacher-made online content are helping tens of thousands more youngsters, as are home learning packages from various subject associations. So why the fawning over a small pop-up tuition website?

While former Tory MEP turned peer Daniel Hannan described the site's founders as "a mother of three and a Folkestone teacher" in the Telegraph, Anna Firth is a Conservative councillor in Sevenoaks and a former parliamentary candidate. Co-founder and teacher Stephen James is also the founder of Conservative Friends of Education (not an especially heavyweight organisation, it seems mainly a vehicle for James himself who says he started it because someone complained to his headteacher when he was campaigning for Damian Collins MP in the 2019 election). He is also approved to be a parliamentary candidate when a seat is available.

There were already concerns from many teachers that relying heavily on Oak National gives a lot of clout to the DfE-favoured academies who have been invited to contribute, which tend to be those with a more, ahem, "traditional" outlook. Figures like Tory peer Baroness Jenkin are now demanding on social media that DfE should also back Invicta, saying: "This should be rolled out across the country. The model is proven. Is works [sic]. Wake up @GavinWilliamson". Parents and pupils should know who is providing their "free" home schooling.

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Although I don't often quote it there is a Mail online article looking at the Invicta National Academy. What may be of more interest are the comments below, which offer an analysis of lesson delivery. Also, see articles in Schoolsweek and TES

Commercial Enterprise
In spite of labouring the fact on its website that 'Invicta Academy was set up with the sole purpose of helping the children of the United Kingdom catch up on missed 
learning', the organisation also runs a commercial 11+ preparation service 'little and often, throughout the school year' through the same site. 
 
The Academy has an impressive range of supporters featured on its website, including Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, Robert Halfon, the Chairman of the Education Select Committee, and a clutch of local MPs. 
 
Stephen James, co-founder of Invicta National Academy
He is undoubtedly a very high profile ex-teacher, with an impressive list of achievements including wide political involvement, together with a background in the Intelligence Corps including service in Afghanistan.  He was a teacher at Sandgate Primary School until August 2020, when he left under exceptional circumstances. See below 
Amongst his vast range of activities, Mr James is CEO of the commercial company: Social Media for Schools. Its website leads on a large case study with Seabrook Primary, omitting to mention he is a governor there (the school is federated with St Martin's which is also a member of the ten school #SocialSchools Family).   The company has been shortlisted for the Start-Up Entrepreneur of the Year category, at the 2020 Great British Entrepreneur Awards for the South East region. 
 
Anna Firth, co-founder of Invicta National Academy
Anna Firth also has a strong political pedigree, being an unsuccessful  Political Parliamentary Candidate for Canterbury and Erith & Thamesmead at General Elections. She is also Chairman of Sevenoaks Conservative Party. A former investment banker and a barrister, I am not sure what her qualifications are for the job. 
 
Conservative Friends of Education
A visit to the website of this organisation, founded and run by Stephen James, may give you a flavour of the political philosophy presumably underpinning the National Academy (including 'back heads to use exclusions').  Its advocates, who support its core aims and have publicly supported Conservative Friends of Education, include a wide range of Cabinet Ministers (one of whom is, of course, Gavin Williamson), eminent and also local Members of Parliament. 
 
From the website:
'Please visit  www.invictafoundation.com to find out more'.  I am not sure what this is about, but the link takes you to the opportunity to purchase the website! 
 
Post Script: Mr James Resignation as a teacher.
On his website, Mr James describes himself as: 'a School Leader at a local outstanding primary school where I teach 8-9yr olds. Through this employment, I also hold the role of a Specialist Leader of Education – this role involves supporting under-performing schools to develop leadership capacity. I am also a Maths Specialist for the National Centre of Excellence in the Teaching Mathematics. I have been a teacher since 2013 and won an award at ‘Kent Teacher of the Year’ in 2018  (Shepway Mathematics Teacher of the Year) and was also selected to go to Shanghai in 2017 by the Department for Education to fact find from a high performing education system'. This is now six months out of date as he left the school and, I believe, teaching in August 2020.  Although I pointed this out to him directly a week ago, it is still in place. He is still described on LinkedIn as a staff member at Sandgate Primary School, 
The website Shepway Vox reported that: 'We understand Mr James officially resigned with immediate effect. This was triggered by a disciplinary meeting being called, which was to do with his “professional standards“.  Rather than face an investigation over his “professional standards” Stephen resigned. That article has a number of comments attached, supporting the nature of concerns that led up to the reported proposed hearing, although not the central one.  
The reasons for the alleged hearing have been described to me by several different sources, but it is inappropriate to describe them. So far, all seems reasonably clear. However, when I wrote to Mr James asking if it were true he had resigned before a disciplinary meeting, he sent me an extraordinary response. This was that he could prove these allegations were not true because of his post employment reference from the school. He quoted the following section, which begs more questions than it answers: 'Stephen has never been the subject of any child protection concerns, any disciplinary offences including those related to children or had any allegations or concerns raised related to the safety and welfare of children or behaviour towards children and young people whilst employed at Sandgate Primary School'. As a retired headteacher, I find it impossible to conceive reasons that led up to the headteacher introducing such a comment without there being concerns expressed in the first place!.
 
I have attempted to describe the situation as I see it in the above, wholly based on the evidence I have seen. You must draw your own conclusions as to which way the truth lies.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
Read 930 times Last modified on Wednesday, 10 March 2021 07:07

2 comments

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 09 February 2021 23:17 posted by Teacher at Sandgate Primary

    Teacher at Sandgate Primary. I can't remember what the paragraph you have removed said in detail, replaced by ' awaiting a response from Mr James'. I can confirm that a disciplinary hearing was arranged with all that this involved, but Mr James resigned before it could be held, thus avoiding it. PETER: Thanks for this, but I am puzzled. Mr James claims that no such meeting was arranged. Could you have made a mistake?

  • Comment Link Monday, 25 January 2021 17:35 posted by Exhausted Kent Teacher

    So, clearly politically driven. I wouldn't be surprised if INA is used as a Trojan Horse to beat schools around the head again. After all, they are failing to deliver brilliant lessons to large audiences at home and simultaneously of course 1:1 and in class (to key workers families) whilst being heavily understaffed with teachers isolating or down with coronavirus. It wouldn't happen in private schools with their small classes, unlimited resources and all children fully equipped with the technology.

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