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NAHT comments on High Court ruling that Secretary of State’s decision on academy order was ‘irrational’

Today (23 July) the High Court ruled in a landmark legal case that the decision of the Secretary of State to force Yew Tree primary school to academise was “irrational”.     

Following the judgment, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “For some schools converting to academy status is a positive step, for others it is an unnecessary and unhelpful distraction. We want schools to be able to succeed in their improvement journey and a big part of that is retaining the freedom to find the right type of support in their individual context. This case is important as the unnecessary disruption of a conversion would have been counterproductive and I congratulate the governing body in their successful attempt to bring clarity in this area.”

“There are other schools in similar circumstances. The pandemic prevented Ofsted from visiting schools but that does not mean that improvement journeys have halted. I hope that this decision will bring sufficient reassurance to them that their efforts and success throughout the most difficult of years will not be disregarded.” 

Head Teacher of Yew Tree Primary School, Jamie Barry, said: “Yew Tree have been on an incredible journey over the past two years and the improvements, due to the dedication and talent of everyone at the school, have been truly remarkable. I am pleased that the High Court have recognised the incredible efforts of the team and the support that we continue to receive from our local authority.

“I am pleased that the governing body of the school had the confidence in me and my team to challenge the decision taken in Westminster and I am grateful for the personal support that I have received from my union, the NAHT.”


The Governing Body of Yew Tree Primary School, in the, West Midlands, sought legal intervention on the grounds that they had made the necessary improvements required by Ofsted in 2019 that triggered the academy order.  The change to structure would have taken effect in September just as children hope to return to a school free of disruption. 

The High Court judgement agrees with the governors that, due to the suspension of Ofsted inspections for Covid-19, the school was not able to obtain a grading to prove that it had made sustainable improvements and is now performing at a “Good” level.

Deputy High Court Judge, Gavin Mansfield QC noted that this constituted exceptional circumstances, and that the Secretary of State’s concern “must, reasonably, be with the substance of the performance of the school, not with whether there has been a formal grading by Ofsted”. 

He added that there were “several aspects of the Decision that cause me grave concern,” and “There was clear evidence before the Defendant, from the School and the Local Authority, of both continued efforts to improve and success in achieving those improvements”.

He concluded: “I have decided that the Defendant’s decision, on 15 December 2020, to refuse to revoke the Academy Order was irrational. I will make an order quashing that decision.”

Case No: CO/930/21

  • In the High Court of Justice
    Queen’s Bench Division
    Administrative Court


  • Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London


  • Hearing date: 15 July 2021
First published 23 July 2021