ARK's response to Amber Rudd MP on Castledown

Please see the response to Amber Rudd MP below from Ms Lucy Heller, Chief Executive of ARK:


Dear Amber,

Many thanks for passing on the letters of concern you have received regarding the proposal that Castledown Primary joins the Ark network in September 2017.

As you’re aware, the school has faced significant challenges over the last few years, reflected in last year’s Year 6 outcomes which placed the school among the bottom 10% in the country.  Both the school and the local authority think that, at its next inspection, which is due imminently, Ofsted is likely to place the school in Special Measures. As a result of this assessment, governors took the decision to consult on the proposal to join the Ark network in September.

We have held a number of meetings with both parents and staff since starting the consultation period on 18th January. In response to the issues raised, the governors have published the attached Q&As on the school’s website and provided all staff and parents with both their and our contact details. I’ve attached Q&As to this letter but in response to the key issues raised:

1. Why is Castledown becoming an academy?:

East Sussex County Council has been providing the school with assistance but have confirmed that they are not in a position to provide the extensive support required to bring about the long-lasting change the school desperately needs. Governors worked with the local authority to review options and, based on advice from the Regional Schools Commissioner about local sponsors with capacity to take on schools, concluded that pursuing academy status as part of the Ark network, was the best option for this achieving sustainable change. Ark has the capacity to provide the extra leadership support, resources and experience needed to bring about the rapid change required at Castledown.

Governors applied for an academy order in October 2016 and the academy order was issued on 16 January 2017 – the school announced the academy consultation two days later. The consultation ends on the 1 March 2017 and a report on the consultation will be submitted to the Regional Schools Commissioner, who has the final say on whether Castledown becomes an academy as part of the Ark network. The consultation report will be published on the school website.

2. Background on Ark

As you know, Ark is a registered charity; we do not make a profit from education. While the Ark Schools board has legal responsibility for all of our schools, day-to-day decision-making – especially around curriculum design and extra-curricular activity – is devolved to our schools who are supported by our strong network of expert educationalists. Our schools are funded by central government, just like local authority schools, and if Castledown were to become an Ark academy, the freehold to the school land would remain with the Council. We are fortunate to receive philanthropic donations too, which helps to provide extra support (including, for example, our very strong music programme across the network and bursaries to help our pupils to overcome financial barriers to university).

We are pleased with the progress of the majority of our schools in Hastings. This includes Ark Blacklands Primary, which is one of only eleven schools in the country to move from a Special Measures designation straight to Outstanding. Ark Little Ridge has also improved rapidly since joining Ark – exceeding national averages in Early Years, Year 1 Phonics, and key stage 1 and 2 SATs results. We are clear that progress has not been as strong in the secondaries as we would have hoped; but we are confident that the  strong leadership team now in place and tailored training and development for staff to improve the quality of teaching and learning will accelerate the pace of improvement.

We have more than ten years of experience transforming schools and are proud of what has been achieved. We have a shared approach across our schools that includes prioritising reading, writing and mathematics because we believe that a strong grasp of these gives our pupils the foundations to succeed across the curriculum and beyond. But we know that creative subjects are important to children’s education and development as well. While our primaries typically focus on maths and English in the morning, afternoons are used for the wider curriculum, including music and art. We are also clear that an excellent education is about more than just exam results. Our extensive extra-curricular offer is decided at school level and is designed for that school’s pupils. Joining Ark means that pupils have access to a whole host of extra events and activities, such as the Shakespeare Schools Festival, science and mathematics challenges, sports days and our annual music gala. 

Every pupil and every school is different and we take pride in our tailored approach. One of our core values is ‘knowing every child’ which means that every child knows and is known by the staff. We also work closely with parents and carers to offer support that varies depending on need as well. We do make decisions based on evidence; using data effectively has allowed staff to pick up issues and provide targeted interventions early enough to make a real difference. 

3. Ark’s approach to Special Educational Needs

Ark is an inclusive network and every Ark school offers priority admissions and specialised support to students with Special Educational Needs (SEND). Ark aims to give children from all backgrounds and abilities an exceptional education. We have a dedicated SEND team at our central office that supports all our schools, making sure that they have the right staff to support the specific needs of each of their pupils. Overall, Ark invests heavily in teacher development to ensure SEND pupils receive as much support as possible. We work with local authorities to support schools and link in with local specialist agencies to help provide advice on targeted or specialist provision - which we review regularly through pupil progress meetings.  

Please  let me know if you’d like further information or if there’s anything that you think we can usefully do to make the transition run more smoothly.



Lucy Heller | Chief Executive | Ark


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Castledown Parents Q&A's 123.06 KB