Downhills Primary School: A notorious school that has become an advert for the academy system

Chalk Talk

One of the interesting facts to emerge from last week's primary school league tables concerns the performance of the once notorious Downhills Primary School in Haringey, north London.

A little more than a year ago, it was embroiled in a bitter battle with Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, over plans to force it to become an academy.

He cited the fact that it had failed to meet minimum targets for the percentage of 11-year-olds reaching the required standard in maths and English for five years in succession. Teachers and parents pointed to the fact that it had reached the target in its previous year and was on the up.

Needless to say, the battle was lost and it was taken over by the Harris Federation and changed its name to the Harris Primary Academy Philip Lane.

Last week's results indicate a major turnaround: it has more than doubled the number of pupils passing the Government's new phonics test check for six-year-olds from 36 per cent to 75 per cent. In the results for 11-year-olds, those reaching the required reading standard are up from 67 per cent to 78 per cent and maths from 69 per cent to 81 per cent.

Kirstie Fulthorpe, the new school principal, said: "They've had a higgledy-piggledy couple of years. What we had to do was see they get the best education they can."

New innovations include assessing each pupil every six weeks – and ensuring that parents are given the chance to play a key role in their children's education.

A few teachers left after the handover – some because they did not feel that they could live up to the new regime's insistence that every lesson should be good or outstanding, others out of principle that they would prefer to work for a local authority-maintained school than an academy. Almost all the parents stayed loyal to the school, though.

I must confess that at the time of the controversy I felt that the Government was being a bit heavy-handed because of the school's 2012 results. However, it would now be hard to deny that the children are getting a better standard of education. And that's the main thing.