New leaders for failing flagship academy

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The Independent Online

One of the Government's flagship academies is under new leadership today after being placed into special measures.

Mike Gibbons, a former headteacher, has taken up his post as chief executive of the Richard Rose Federation, which runs the Richard Rose Central Academy in Carlisle.

Yesterday it became only the second academy to be put into special measures by Ofsted.

Mr Gibbons was appointed after previous chief executive Peter Noble, and the academy's headteacher Mark Yearsley, left their posts.

Russell Wallace, another headteacher who has worked on turning around failing schools, is to take up an interim role as director of the academy, the Federation said.

Ofsted uses special measures when it rules that a school is failing to give pupils an acceptable level of education.

Parents complained to Ofsted about the academy, which opened five months ago, after pupils staged a protest on Friday.

In a statement on the academy's website, Federation spokesman Brian Scowcroft said: "We fully accept the Ofsted findings and I want to reassure students, parents, teachers and the local community that we are already addressing the issues they have raised and they are starting to have an impact.

"Our top priority is to ensure high standards of teaching and learning for all our students and that necessary support is provided for staff and parents to meet this goal."

Academy schools, introduced under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, are a flagship measure of the government's education policy.

They are semi-independent state schools set up with backing from private sponsors.

The government wants to see 200 academies opened by 2010.

The Unity Academy in Middlesbrough was the first academy to be put into special measures in 2005. The status was later lifted after the school was deemed to have improved.

Schools minister Jim Knight said: "I am extremely concerned that the Richard Rose Central Academy has gone into special measures but I am satisfied that the actions agreed with the sponsor in Carlisle will allow the school to move forward with confidence."

He added: "Our new complaints procedure has allowed parents to draw their concerns to the attention of Ofsted, which has, as a result, highlighted important issues which will need to be addressed urgently."

Schools in special measures are typically given a set of targets imposed by Ofsted that must be reached.

Ofsted will regularly visit the academy to ensure that these are being met.

If a school fails to reach the targets it may then be proposed for closure.

Teachers' unions last night blasted the academy and called for the school to be placed back under the control of the local education authority.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said: "The Richard Rose Central Academy was a disaster waiting to happen.

"There was a complete failure in the duty of care to pupils, parents and staff.

"It is right that the head and chief executive should leave. There was no alternative, they had totally lost the confidence of everyone at the school."

Carol Thompson, founder of the Parents Action Group for Education and parent of a child at the school, criticised the decision to appoint Mr Noble in the first place.

She said: "It was a really, really stupid idea. He had no experience of education and he was essentially out of his depth at a school of that size."

She said parents had grown increasingly concerned about the health and safety of the students at the academy.

She said: "The parents were just getting increasingly worried about the quality of education their children were getting."

Mr Gibbons has more than 30 years experience in education, and has most recently been working as the chief executive of The Innovation Unit, a Government education think-tank.

Mr Knight said Mr Gibbons was the "ideal person" to take over.

The Richard Rose Central Academy was formed after two local schools St Aidan's and North Cumbria Technology College were merged.