New chapter for John Smeaton Academy as it starts new term under management of the GORSE Trust

A secondary school in east Leeds that has lost the confidence of its community as well as Ofsted inspectors is preparing to embark on a new chapter in its history as the September term gets underway.
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The formal transfer of the John Smeaton Academy from the United Learning Trust to the GORSE Academies Trust is set to be rubber stamped today (Wednesday September 1) ahead of schools returning next week following the summer holidays.

It follows a string of damning reports by school inspectors who first deemed the school, “Requires Improvement” at a visit in December 2016.

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In January 2019, John Smeaton was said to be “Inadequate” at a repeat visit and among the issues were low attendance, poor behaviour and attitudes to learning, considerable “staff turbulence”, what was described as a “legacy of underachievement” for pupils who had to be educated off site and assessments for pupils with complex learning difficulties that were “not fit for purpose”.

John Smeaton School on Barwick Road.John Smeaton School on Barwick Road.
John Smeaton School on Barwick Road.

There have since been two monitoring visits that maintained the school was still judged to be inadequate.

However, GORSE has moved more schools straight from Inadequate to Outstanding than any other trust in the country and expects to see that trend continuing in the 2021/2022 academic year.

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He began his teaching career at the then John Smeaton Community High School in 1987, a position he held until his departure to The King’s School, Pontefract in 1991.

Sir John Townsley, chief executive of the GORSE Academies Trust.Sir John Townsley, chief executive of the GORSE Academies Trust.
Sir John Townsley, chief executive of the GORSE Academies Trust.
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Sir John said: “I look back on my time at John Smeaton with immense fondness and affection. I was privileged to be trained by great teachers and I knew then that I was a small part of a very special school.

“The pupils were a privilege to teach and I will never forget the sense of happiness that we all felt within school. I will also never forget the October residentials that were so important in establishing friendships which would last a lifetime.”

“I have obviously been saddened to see the school lose the confidence of many families in recent years. Many years ago, John Smeaton was an exciting place to be with a proud reputation for innovation, inclusion and aspiration.

“I am determined to ensure that the school returns to that position of strength and hope that the community of east Leeds will trust me and the GORSE team more widely to deliver on that pledge.”

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Some of the changes that GORSE will bring to John Smeaton include an emphasis on student leadership and ambassadorship to combat the behaviour and disruption issues.

Students now have the opportunity to work with senior school leaders to implement a ‘House’ system where there will be rewards and opportunities for inter-academy events and there will be more emphasis on experiences and opportunities for young people at the school - which serves some of the more deprived areas of the city.

Students at John Smeaton Academy now have access to the trust’s BIG 3: rowing, karate and volleyball, all delivered by specialist coaches and, in addition to the traditional activities such as the arts, debating, music and technology, students will also be immersed in learning about the environment both locally and internationally.

This includes considering the science that supports the unique leaf cutter ant colony at home within the trust and where students will have the opportunity to travel to Trinidad to see the leaf cutter ants in action through The Trinidad Legacy.

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Leanne Griffiths, Principal at John Smeaton Academy, has impressed upon students the importance of being active within their school journey so that they are able to ‘Secure the Gift of Choice’ this being that they are able, whatever age, through the acquisition of strong qualifications and an impressive skillset, to choose their next steps rather than have avenues closed off to them.

She said that having the ability to be able to make a positive life choice is essential in one’s ability to be truly happy both now and in the future.