Doncaster 'Free School' taking over running of more academies in the borough

Pupils at XP School
Pupils at XP School
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They have been judged outstanding - and now they are expanding their influence.

The recently-built XP School, at Middle Bank, was judged to be outstanding when it was inspected by Ofsted for the first time time over the summer, with the findings published last week.

Now the school has become the centre of a multi-academy trust - called XP Multi-Academy Trust - with one school already moving into its umbrella, a second on the way, and inquiries from several others.

The school first opened three years ago with its own ideas of how education should be.

Children are taught on the basis of taking part in projects, arranged to contain the parts of the curriculum that they need to learn.

At the end of the project, they publish a book made up of the children's work, and invite members of the community to hear what they have done.

They have been doing the work at the XP School site on Middle Bank for three years, and now the XP Multi-Academy Trust has confirmed it has taken over the running of Green Top Primary School in Thorne.

It is also set to be the trust which runs the XP East School, due to open next year on a site close the existing XP School.

Green top joined the trust after having been categorised by Ofsted as a good school with outstanding features.

Chief executive and co-founder of the XP trust, Gwyn ap Harri, said: "We are a multi-academy trust now. We have also been joined by Green Top in Thorne who have joined us this month. We had been working with them and last year did a professional development course with them.

"Their year five and six pupils have already done their own book, based on their work. The subject was how do you think we will evolve? It was looking from the big bang into the future.

"We want to expand our MAP (multi-academy trust) and Green Top is the lead primary school.

"We are not empire builders, but we want all our schools to be outstanding schools."

XP is expanding as a trust at a time which has just seen six schools across Doncaster plunged into uncertainty after the The Wakefield City Academies Trust pulled out of running them.

XP has not ruled out taking over any schools, but it not in touch with any of those affected by the Wakefield City Academy Trust's move.

Mr ap Harri said: "If the DFE asked us, we would look at all opportunities, but it would be on our own terms.

"Others have been in touch; we are going to let Green Top lead on primary schools.

"Ultimately, I think we would like to show we can transform an existing secondary school, but it has to be the right place at the right time.

"We will not create another XP school after XP East is built. There is no point. We have shown that we can do it. If there are opportunities to help existing schools, that would be the next step.

Headteacher Andy Sprakes first come to the attention of the public as headteacher of Campsmount School in Norton. He was headteacher when the school suffered a crippling fire and organised his pupils' education in buildings across the community in the aftermath of the blaze.

He said: "Our expectations are academic achievement for all pupils and their character growth. We want keen students producing beautiful work who become beautiful people who make a positive contribution to were they live."

Mr Sprakes was with XP at the very start of the project.

He said the school had high expectations of all pupils both academically as as people.

Ofsted pointed out that disadvantaged pupils do well and often better than their peers. They said this was because staff and leaders know these pupils very well, and use their very detailed knowledge to remove barriers to learning and progress.

They start the day in a 'crew' which he likens to a school family unit. When they are taking part in their school projects, they are parts of groups of around 25, who typically work with three teachers during the duration of their projects, helping build close relationships with the teachers.

They also work with outside organisations during the project work.

A recent example was a project to look at the influence of the mining communities on Doncaster. Pupils worked with former miners and other workers at the borough's pits.

The results were put into a published book, and they presented their work at an event which saw them doing public speaking in front of the people they have worked with.

No pupils have yet done their GCSEs because it has not yet had pupils in year 11.

At present XP has 50 pupils in each of year seven, eight, and nine. It will grow to full capacity over the next four years to become and 11 to 19 school.

It is non selective, but there were seven applications for each place. They are assigned by the Doncaster education authority at random.

The new XP East School will be a separate school run by the trust. It will be autonomous, a with its own separate Ofsted report, but run with the same vision.

Mr Sprakes said: "I keep getting told small schools are unviable. I can show people accounts that show that is not true.

"I've also heard people say that of you get an interesting curriculum, you won't achieve academically. That doesn't make sense to me. Children work hard because they are interested in what they're doing. They remember what they're doing here because it is purposeful, and they are getting wider evidence than just a teacher."

Mr ap Harri said: "We want to be the best school not just in Doncaster or the UK, but in the world."