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Friday, 31 October 2014

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Ex-Ofsted chief plans academies chain in Cumbria

The former chief inspector of schools in England is setting his sights on transforming standards of education in Cumbria.

Chris Woodhead photo
Sir Chris Woodhead

Sir Chris Woodhead, who was in charge at Ofsted between 1994 and 2000, hopes to create an academy chain in the county with a Penrith comprehensive central to the plans.

Sir Chris has told The Cumberland News that he wants to set up a multi-academy trust and have Ullswater Community College as the flagship school.

He believes it could help transform the fortunes of struggling schools by offering them support, knowledge and expertise from stronger schools in the area.

Peter Ireland, a former head of Nelson Thomlinson School in Wigton who is now dean of education at the University of Birmingham, and financial experts Dominic Shorthouse and Chris Hohm, would join the former chief inspector on the trust’s board of directors.

Sir Chris, who has known Ullswater’s head Nigel Pattinson for about 20 years, met with governors at the school on Monday night to set out his vision. Governors meet next Wednesday to discuss his proposals. They have already agreed in principle to convert Ullswater Community College into an academy. It currently can not do this yet on its own as it is not yet judged to be good or outstanding by Ofsted.

The school expects to be inspected before the end of the academic year and Mr Pattinson has invited Ofsted to visit as soon as possible. The move comes as the quality of secondary education in Cumbria remains under scrutiny following a blitz of inspections on about a third of schools in the run-up to Christmas.

As a result, three schools have been plunged into special measures after damning Ofsted reports – two of which could now close and be replaced by an academy within a year – and others have been criticised.

All its findings have yet to be published.

Sir Chris, who applied to become Cumbria’s director of education back in the 1980s but failed to secure an interview, said: “We’re in a position to make a real difference in Cumbria.

“I’ve known Nigel since the mid 1990s when he was deputy head at Nelson Thomlinson and I’ve followed his career since then and seen how he has turned around schools.

“I want Nigel and the governors at Ullswater to be involved in this trust,” added Sir Chris.

“I’ve always been interested in the challenges that have faced places like the west coast of Cumbria and Barrow.

“If you grow up in places like Whitehaven and Barrow the school education children receive is vital to their prospects in life.

“I know a multi-academy trust could make a real difference and maybe there is a need for a new dynamic, innovation that could help transform children’s lives. The focus would also be on quality rather than quantity; we wouldn’t rush to expand the trust just for the sake of it.

“In addition, I know a bit about primary education and of the difficulties of running a school that is quite remote. I was an adviser in Devon, Shropshire and Cornwall. I know that it is not easy and that local authorities find it difficult to provide encouragement and support, particularly to head teachers who may feel isolation in places like Cumbria.

Sir Chris said: “If the trust was to be based in Penrith it would make a real contribution, not only in the Eden Valley but to a much wider area. It could create a vibrant, professional, education community where heads could come together and really think about how they want to educate children.”

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