Ruling

02055-16 Martin v Bristol Post

    • Date complaint received

      12th August 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02055-16 Martin v Bristol Post

Summary of complaint

1. Beverley Martin complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Bristol Post breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “’It will be a challenge’ – new executive head takes over at South Gloucestershire’s biggest school”, published on 28 March 2016.

2. The article reported that a new Executive Head Teacher had taken over the leadership of the Ridings Federation, the education trust that runs the Winterbourne and Yate International Academies in South Gloucestershire. The article said that, in September, more than 100 teachers had gone on strike at Winterbourne Academy following “a row” between union members and senior management. It said that teachers had been blamed for the schools being rated “Requires Improvement” by Ofsted. The article said that the complainant, the previous Executive Head Teacher, had “left under a cloud” less than six months after starting the role. It said that more than 30 teachers had left Yate International during the previous summer, and that Ofsted had visited again during the strikes, but had not agreed to upgrade the school’s rating because it had not made sufficient improvements. The piece said that both schools used to be “the most outstanding schools in South Gloucestershire”. It also included a time line of events.

3. The complainant said that the article was intentionally biased against her and contained numerous inaccuracies.

4. She said that staff at Yate Academy had not taken part in the strikes, as implied by the article. She had also not been “Executive Head Teacher”, but Chief Executive Principal and Principal of Yate International Academy; and she had not left the post “under a cloud”, but of her own volition seven months after starting the post, not “less than six months”, as reported.

5. In addition, she disputed the report that “more than 30 teachers” had left Yate International in the summer; in fact, approximately seven had left. She also denied that Ofsted had visited the schools during the strikes: the strike at Yate International had taken place in September, and the Ofsted inspection had taken place in October. She accepted that talks between the parties were still ongoing in October, but considered that the reference was deliberately emotive and misleading.

6. The complainant disputed that the schools had once been “the most outstanding in South Gloucestershire”. Winterbourne had never achieved a grade higher than “Good”, and Yate International had never achieved more than “Satisfactory”. She noted that Yate had become part of the trust because it had been a failing school.

7. The complainant said that she had not started as Executive Principal of the Ridings Federation in May 2015, as reported; she had been the “substantive” Chief Executive Principal and Principal of Yate Academy on 1 April 2015. In addition, Richard Haupt had started as Head Teacher on 1 June; not in May 2015.

8. She also expressed concern that the article had stated that Ofsted had found that there had not been “enough progress under Mrs Martin’s leadership”. She said Ofsted had never linked her role as the Chief Executive Principal of the Ridings’ Federation to the schools’ inspection reports. She noted that the Winterbourne Ofsted report had said that “the newly appointed Chief Executive Principal is committed to achieving the highest standards. She has taken swift action to improve leadership”, and that the Yate Ofsted report had said that the Chief Executive Principal had played no part in the inspection.

9. The newspaper said that the article had not stated that staff at Yate had taken part in the strikes; the previous sentence had made clear that it was staff at Winterbourne who had taken strike action.

10. The newspaper said that it had referred to a Ridings Federation press release, which had said that the complainant would be “taking the helm” during term six of the 2014-15 academic year, which would normally start in late May to early June. It said that it would be happy to amend the online article to state that the complainant had, in fact, started on 1 April.

11. The newspaper did not consider that it was significantly misleading to state that the October 2015 Ofsted inspection had taken place during the strike action. The protests had started in September, and talks were still ongoing in mid-October.

12. The newspaper said that it had relied on a school newsletter, published in July 2015, which had said that 30 members of staff were leaving that summer. It had understood that the newsletter covered only Yate, but in fact it had covered all three Ridings Federation schools.

13. The newspaper said that the article had not stated that the schools had once been given an “Outstanding” Ofsted rating. It said that Ofsted reports for both schools demonstrated that standards had fallen. It said that Yate’s had fallen from “Satisfactory” to “Requires Improvement”, while Winterbourne’s had dropped from “Good” to “Requires Improvement”. It noted that in 2012, Winterbourne had also ranked first in the GCSE league table for South Gloucestershire schools.

14. However, as Yate had never achieved an Ofsted rating higher than “Satisfactory”, it offered to amend the assertion that it had once been an “outstanding” school in the area. It also offered to address the complainant’s concern that 30 members of staff had not left Yate that summer. It offered to publish the following correction in print on page two, with similar wording appended to the online article as a corrective footnote:

On March 29 we reported that Yate and Winterbourne "used to be the most outstanding schools in South Gloucestershire" and that 30 teachers left Yate in summer 2015. We are happy to make clear that while Winterbourne ranked highly in the league tables, Yate has only ever been rated "satisfactory" by Ofsted and that the 30 members of staff who left the Ridings Federation in summer 2015 had worked across the three Federation schools, not just at Yate as originally reported.

15. The newspaper did not consider that it was misleading or inaccurate to state that Ofsted had decided that not enough improvement had been made under the complainant’s leadership. Overall the Ofsted reports had made clear that more work needed to be done, and that the schools’ ratings would not be upgraded.

16. The complainant noted that Ofsted had replaced its “Satisfactory” grade with “Requires Improvement”. As such, Yate’s grade changing from “Satisfactory” to “Requires Improvement” did not indicate that standards at the school had fallen.

Relevant Code provisions

17. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i. The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii. A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iii. A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.

iv. The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

18. Yate International had only ever achieved an Ofsted rating of Satisfactory/Requires Improvement, which were in effect the same grade, following revisions in 2012 to the Ofsted grading scheme. Yate International had never been one of the best schools in South Gloucestershire, as reported. This inaccuracy had given the significantly misleading impression that Ofsted had found that standards at the school had fallen under the complainant’s leadership. This impression was compounded by the inaccurate assertion that 30 members of staff had left Yate International in the summer of 2015. This represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i). A correction was required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

19. The newspaper had offered to publish a correction on page two – 10 pages further forward than the original article had appeared – which made clear that 30 members of staff had not left Yate in summer 2015, and that Ofsted had never given Yate International a grade higher than “Satisfactory”. It had also offered to amend the online article and to append a corrective footnote to it. The Committee considered that the newspaper’s offer to address the complaint was sufficient to meet the requirement of Clause 1 (ii). There was no further breach of the Code on this point.

20. Given that there was an ongoing industrial dispute between union members and senior management when the complainant left her post, the Committee did not consider that it was significantly misleading for the newspaper to state that she had “left under a cloud”. The Committee also did not consider that it was significant that the complainant had left her role at the Federation after seven months, rather than the reported six months, or that she had started in April, not in May. In addition, as the schools’ Ofsted ratings remained “Requires Improvement” under her leadership, it was not significantly misleading for the newspaper to report that Ofsted had found that there had not been enough improvement while she had been in post. There was no breach of the Code on these points.

21. The Committee did not consider that the article had given the misleading impression that staff at Yate Academy had taken part in the strikes; the piece had clearly referred to strikes at Winterbourne Academy. While it noted that the Ofsted inspection had taken place during talks between the parties, and not during the strike action itself, the Committee did not consider that this was a significant inaccuracy that required correction under the terms of Clause 1. There was no breach of the Code on these points.

Conclusions

22. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial action required

23. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

24. The newspaper had promptly offered to publish a correction and to append a note to the online article, which identified the inaccuracies and made the correct position clear.

25. The newspaper should now publish the wording and make the amendments, as offered.

Date complaint received: 30/03/2016
Date decision issued: 25/07/2016