It was meant to be the shining example of a new wave of state academies sponsored by private schools.
But in a blow for the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, the founding head of Wellington Academy has been forced out after disastrous GCSE results. Andy Schofield left the Wiltshire school last week after what were described as "unacceptable" results.
The academy receives funding and guidance from Wellington College, the £30,000-a-year Berkshire independent school where the historian and Tony Blair's biographer, Dr Anthony Seldon, is Master.
Mr Schofield, who helped to set up the academy which opened in 2009, was said to have paid the price for GCSE results in which the number of student receiving five A* to C grades dropped by 10 per cent in 12 months – falling from 47 to 37 per cent this year.
The academy, which offered 100 boarding places to pupils in 2012, was at the forefront of Mr Gove's demands for independent schools to invest in the public schooling system. Eton College plans to sponsor a state boarding school, Holyport College, next year.
In 2011 – a year after Ofsted inspectors said that Wellington Academy was making "outstanding" progress – Mr Gove heaped praise on the project and challenged other private schools to follow suit, saying: "If you're so good, why is Anthony Seldon proving that he is better at transforming state education than you are?"
This summer, when Sir Michael Wilshaw, England's chief inspector of schools, spoke at an education festival held at Wellington College, he also backed the programme, saying that independent schools should end their "splendid isolation" and work with state schools.
Yesterday, Mr Schofield was unavailable for comment, but he is thought to be represented now by the Association of School and College Leaders. "More later – for the time being in the hands of ASCL," Mr Schofield wrote on his blog, which is still titled: "Sky blue thinking – teaching and learning at Wellington Academy."
A source described it as "extraordinary" that Mr Schofield had been "summarily dismissed" on the basis of GCSE results, which reflected the "significant turbulence" triggered nationwide by harder tests and pressure on exam boards to set tougher grade boundaries.
Dr Seldon has taken over as the executive head of the academy while remaining Master of the Wellington College. Dr Michael Milner, currently the college's director of studies, has been appointed acting principal of the academy.
"We've taken action because these results are unacceptable," Dr Seldon said in a statement.
"We profoundly believe that all the children in the Wellington family of schools deserve to be set rigorous and ambitious targets and to have a culture of aspiration aiming at the very highest grades."
The academy's ties with the Conservatives extend to its board of governors, on which sit the Devizes MP and David Cameron's adviser on internet child abuse and pornography, Claire Perry, and Sir Anthony Salz, the executive vice-chairman of Rothschild and lead non-executive member of the Department for Education board.Reuse content