City academy fails Ofsted inspection for a second time

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair's flagship academies programme suffered a new setback when one of the first to be opened was condemned by inspectors - 12 months after failing an inspection and being ordered to improve.

A report by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, said truancy, poor teaching and "exceptionally low" results meant the 1,200 pupils at the Unity Academy in Middlesbrough were receiving an "inadequate" education.

The findings expose a flaw in the Prime Minister's schools reforms because their main recipe for any state school failing to improve is that it should be replaced by one of his privately sponsored academies.

The legislation is silent on what happens if an academy itself fails.

The report from Ofsted, published at the weekend, paints a picture of pupils being afraid to attend the school, singling out its attendance record for particular concern.

It has an attendance rate of 79 per cent - which means that, on any one day, more than 200 pupils skip lessons. The figure is worse than at the time of its first inspection a year ago.

Worries about bullying and boring lessons were a major cause for concern, with inspectors warning: "Until students feel safe and secure in the academy, and enjoy the work presented to them, attendance is unlikely to improve dramatically".

The report also warned that several teachers were absent on long-term sick leave, with the result that lessons were taken by stand-in supply staff who did not know the pupils' strengths and weaknesses.

The Unity Academy was one of the first three academies in the country to be opened in 2002 under the Government's £5bn programme to establish 200 across the country by 2010. It has £2m sponsorship from the Amey business support services group.

In the past, ministers have passed off poor inspection reports by saying the new schools - most of which were replacing failing comprehensives with a poor record of achievement - needed time to improve. Opponents of the programme say these excuses are beginning to wear thin with academies such as Unity, which have now been up and running for four years. Any other school, they argue, would have been closed or become an academy by now.

Yesterday's report said pupils made "exceptionally low" progress between the ages of 11 and 14, with English and science results among the worst in the country.

Only 6 per cent of pupils obtained five A* to C grade passes including maths and English - placing it among the bottom 10 in the country for results. One in 12 pupils did not get any GCSE passes at all.

David Triggs, who was appointed the academy's chief executive at the start of the year, said he was "disappointed but not surprised" by the inspectors' verdict. He warned that the Government's one-year deadline to turn round failing schools was virtually impossible for schools in Unity's position.

"Whilst I can understand the Government wishing to get tougher - and rightly so - every school has a different context," he added. "Schools like Unity are in very challenging circumstances. You have to be realistic. To turn a school like that round in 12 months is, I believe, nigh-on impossible."

Asked if the academy would be closed if it continued to make "inadequate" progress, a spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said ministers wanted it to improve quickly and a "robust" monitoring system had been put in place to achieve that end.