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Saturday, 22 August 2020 06:00

Griffin Schools Trust: A Danger for Pupils?

I have followed the misfortunes of the Griffin Schools Trust for many years since it took over four primary schools as academies in Medway, then having Wayfield Primary taken away from it in 2016, following a catastrophic Ofsted Report that highlighted 'Pupils’ safety and well-being are at risk; Staff manage pupils’ behaviour poorly; Normal discipline has broken down; On occasion, staff lose control of pupils, who are then at risk of being harmed'  a theme echoed in the most recent Ofsted report on a Griffin school: 'Many pupils do not feel safe attending this school. They feel intimidated by others’ conduct. Pupils are right to be concerned. Leaders have not been effective in managing pupils’ behaviour. It is increasingly rowdy and sometimes dangerous', this time about Stantonbury International, a school which had been the largest in the country when they took it over, although unsurprising it now has numbers falling sharply. Two recent articles in Education Uncovered focus on the Trust, its failures and its control by a small coterie of four individuals, three of whom have run it since its foundation in 2013. 

One is left in bewilderment as to why the Education Funding Agency awarded Stantonbury to the Griffin  Schools Trust in the first place, with their limited experience of running just one other secondary school, which it has now brought down to Ofsted 'Requires Improvement' and why it has not now closed the Trust down. This is what eventually happened with two other notorious Academy Trusts which also operated in Kent

I first wrote about the Trust in 2015, following 'a review of the trust by the government’s Education Funding Agency (EFA) in 2013', about how the EFA 'found 11 breaches of the Academies Financial Handbook, including six contracts awarded by the trust without evidence of competitive tender and no evidence of a register of business interests. The independent audit for the EFA added that there was no evidence “a process was in place for independent checking of financial controls”. The auditors additionally found that a financial arrangement with a “connected party of one of the trustees” was approved by a board on which three out of six of the trustees were “connected to companies providing services to the trust”'. An article in the Guardian amplified this scandal, reporting that ‘in just two years the Trust paid over £700,000 to a company jointly owned by its two chief executives, one of whom is Elizabeth Lewis, previously a headteacher of Dover Grammar School for Girls’. The other Chief Executive was Ange Tyler, the company was Capital Talent which is still run by the pair who were both still being paid for services in 2019.

Unbelievably, on the very same date that Wayfield was re-brokered to the reputable Primary First Trust, 1st September 2016, Griffin Schools was awarded the Stantonbury International School in Milton Keynes. At that time Griffin comprised ten primary and just one secondary school, the Medway schools being  Kingfisher, Lordswood and Saxon Way.  The Trust's first action on taking over Lordswood was to impose an increase in the level of payment to the centre from the agreed 5% of funds to 7% without the school having a say. The secondary school is Nicholas Chamberlaine in Warwickshire, which it has now brought down to Ofsted Requires Improvement, the inspectors identifying a pattern of shipping out pupils with SEND, which has also occurred elsewhere in the Trust. It beggars belief that such a record is considered appropriate to take over what was at the time the second-largest school in the country, presumably with the intention to improve it. Stantonbury had been classified by Ofsted as Requires Improvement the previous year and had been served with an Academy Order following its poor Ofsted record but why did the Regional Schools Commissioner choose the totally inappropriate Griffin Schools Trust? Two years later, after a shorter period than the normal three years allowed to a new academy, Stantonbury yet again found to Require Improvement, presumably and rightly because of concerns which had arisen. 

In January 2020 it was placed in Special Measures, with Ofsted Inspectors arriving a week after a boy was stabbed at the school, as reported in the national media. It followed parental concerns which had reached the stage of being considered by Milton Keynes Council and will have triggered the urgent inspection. Because of Coronavirus, the Report was not published until 29th June.
 
The Report opens with:  'Many pupils do not feel safe attending this school. They feel intimidated by others’ conduct. Pupils are right to be concerned. Leaders have not been effective in managing pupils’ behaviour. It is increasingly rowdy and sometimes dangerous'. It continues: 'Pupils do not achieve well. This is because the curriculum has not been planned or taught well enough. Things have got worse this year. There are high levels of staff absence and several staffing vacancies. Lessons are often taught by non-specialist or temporary staff. Pupils’ learning is hampered because the work they are asked to do is often disjointed, does not match curriculum plans and does not build well on what they’ve done before……….The trust has overseen the decline of the school since the last inspection'and then really lets its hair down!
 
The newspaper report contains a whitewash response from Griffin that shows an utter failure to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation: 'A spokesman for the trust said: “Parents and students can be reassured that Stantonbury International School is a safe place for children. The school has appropriate safeguarding policies and procedures in place which are followed. These have been shared with Milton Keynes Council. The most recent inspection has offered useful advice for further improvements and the school’s action on these can be viewed on its website."' I have searched hard on the website for these actions but, apart from the Report itself as required by law, there is no mention of the outcome. It certainly is not mentioned in any news item, although it is surely a critical item. What there is is a 'Review' which took place at the beginning of June, before the Report was published,  'Following our Ofsted visit in January, we have worked very hard on a long list of improvements'. I can find NO connection whatever between the massive failures identified in the Report and the wonderful things reported here as happening in the school: 'There are still things to do but the review highlighted some excellent work including' ... First up is: 'the way our families and students have worked hard to engage with our on-line learning' continuing in the same mode.  What hypocrisy there is in this fantasy establishment! 
 
Academically, the school is performing badly with the 2019 GCSE Progress 8, government's key measure being classified as 'Well Below Average', at -0.73 and second-lowest of MK's 13 secondary schools. At A-Level Progress is 'Below Average'. Naturally, no mention of the poor academic standards in the Review, although highlighted in the Ofsted Report.  

Education Uncovered has carried out an extensive analysis of the appalling management of Stantonbury International leading up to the 2020 Inspection (100 staff departures since academisation out of a staff of 120, including a number of ‘headteachers’, student roll down by a quarter, a decline in academic standards, the dangerous environment with bullying rampant). It has also has looked closely at the leadership of the Trust and established how it is principally controlled by three people through a charity, Griffin Education Trust: Liz Lewis, Trevor Edinborough and a Sarah Anne Galvini, of whom little is known except that she is 'an academic' who has been a Director of Griffin Schools Trust since 2013. The Review reports that 34 new staff are joining the school in September!  

The fourth key player is Ange Tyler, the second Director of Capital Talent since 2013, who was Chair of Governors of Stantonbury International at the time of its 2018 Ofsted. Trevor Edinborough had taken on this role by the time that Ofsted placed the school in Special Measures, with Ange Tyler having become Executive Head. Her Linkedin profile describes her as having been Head of St Joseph's Academy, Blackheath for 20 months until it was academised, being a small struggling 11-16 boys school at the time. There is then a gap of two years until she became Head of School Improvement for Croydon for 13 months, the following year becoming Chief Executive of Griffin until the present, although she resigned as a Director of the Trust in 2016. Her Griffin Trust profile describes her as 'After serving as a Head and Executive Head in inner city schools, Ange led change programmes for LAs and for the DfE'. I am sure there must be a way these are consistent. At the time of the 2018 Inspection, Ms Tyler is responsible for School Improvement within the Trust (!), was Chair of the Trust, but became Executive Head of Stantonbury in December 2019, just in time to take responsibility for the catastrophic Ofsted the following month. She was succeeded as Chair by Mr Edinborough who is also a Trustee, one of the many conflicts of interest and irregularities in the operation of the Trust, which are highlighted by Warwick Mansell in Education Uncovered. These include the operation of a charity called Griffin Education Trust which is the official sponsor of Griffin Schools Trust, but which carries no website and is described by Companies House as being a dormant company for the past seven years, although with a regular turnover of directors. 

None of this has helped the scandal of Stantonbury International College. The school website introduction opens as follows:

We are delighted to welcome you to our website and hope it gives you an understanding of our school and its core values, as well as providing useful information. We are a dynamic and fun-loving community; we believe that when children and staff find school to be enjoyable and enriching, wonderful communities grow.

We are all on a journey, and travelling fast, to become the best school in the country. Our aims are to become a Griffin Great School, beyond the expectation of Ofsted Outstanding, and to be known across the UK – and the globe – for the work that we do.

As proud members of the Griffin Schools Trust, three pillars underpin our vision: Proud Traditions, Wide Horizons and High Achievement. We aim for excellence beyond the norm. We share the belief that great schools are built upon a broad enrichment programme and high-quality pastoral care, as well as an inspiring curriculum, expertly taught.

Stantonbury International School has a rich history and is an exciting place for learning and creativity: a place where students, staff and parents can work in partnership to achieve success. We have exceptional resources, including a professional theatre and a community leisure centre on site. Our students are proud of their campus and we pride ourselves on our friendly and welcoming ethos. Whatever a student’s dreams and aspirations, we nurture and support that educational journey and we celebrate all our successes along the way.

 I have read many fantasy descriptions of schools promoting themselves, but never one containing so many actual lies. 

Final Thought:  One of the Officers of  Griffin Schools Trust is the distinguished Professor Mary Stiasny,  Pro Vice-Chancellor  (International) and Chief Executive of University of London Worldwide. One wonders if she is aware of the state of this organisation for which she carries some responsibility. 

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 August 2020 17:49

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