Leeds schools boss sets out vision to transform city education

VISION: Sir John Townsley with pupils from Hillcrest Primary School and Ruth Gorse Academy, on the rowing machines at the academy.
VISION: Sir John Townsley with pupils from Hillcrest Primary School and Ruth Gorse Academy, on the rowing machines at the academy.
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The leader of a Leeds-based academy chain which has a track record of transforming failing schools has set out his vision to transform education in the city.

Sir John Townsley, chief executive officer of the Gorse Academies Trust, wants pupils from all backgrounds to be given the opportunity to access a decent education.

And he believes providing children from all walks of life with “great schools” is the key to social mobility.

Sir John said: “In the Leeds city region there are still a lot of children from disadvantaged backgrounds who aren’t attending great schools and we need to change that.”

The trust currently runs 10 schools in the inner city 
and inner south, including a sixth-form college - Elliott Hudson - which moved into its permanent base near the White Rose Centre last September and is due receive its first inspection.

Sir John said: “Our first set of post-16 results are among the best in the country and they show that our disadvantaged students are outperforming their peers.

“For us this starts off really young, for example Hillcrest in Chapeltown was considered one of the worst primary schools in the country and it is now an outstanding school.”

Of the six schools in the Gorse family that have been inspected, five have been judged to be ‘outstanding’ by schools watchdog Ofsted. Sir John puts this down to “strands of consistency” within the schools’ management.

Laying out his plans for the future, he said: “The part of the city we would like to make a breakthrough in next is the inner and outer east. It is now an area of concern regarding educational standards.”

He added: “Gorse is looking to transform education in Leeds and this is something that can be replicated all over the country.”

Sir John Townsley has described how his views on immigration have been transformed after working in city centre schools.

He admitted that five years ago he believed immigrants were a drain on resources and the country was struggling as a consequence. 
However, he said he had now come to understand that they “are the lifeblood of the country”.

He said: “They are so proud to be here and are determined to take advantage of every opportunity.”