College defends principal's trip to California amid criticism from staff

PUBLISHED: 12:56 14 January 2014 | UPDATED: 12:56 14 January 2014

Ely College. Assistant Principal and head of the challenge and Develop curriculum. Damien Whales.

Ely College. Assistant Principal and head of the challenge and Develop curriculum. Damien Whales.

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Ely College has been accused of spending thousands of pounds sending the head teacher and a second member of staff to America on a fact-finding trip which could just as easily have been carried out on the internet.

An anonymous letter sent to the Ely Standard declared that many at the college were “outraged” that the trip took place, alleging that it cost thousands of pounds of the school’s money.

But the college has hit back at the claims, saying that the principal joined a large team of teachers from around the UK on the trip, as part of the drive to make the Downham Road school outstanding and raise standards across the board.

The letter read: “Staff at Ely College are outraged that the principal and one of her assistant principals went to San Digeo during the last week of term – costing thousands out of the school budget.

“The trip was to investigate project based learning…information which can be gained from the internet. A scandalous waste of the school’s money.”

But deputy head teacher Damien Whales has defended the trip, saying it had had a “significant impact”.

Mrs Jenkinson-Dix and a colleague joined a group drawn from other schools around the UK to visit High Tech High, in San Diego, California.

High Tech High is well known in education circles around the world as the leading provider of project-based learning, which the college said it - and many other UK schools – was seeking to introduce into its curriculum.

The college said that the American school was visited by hundreds of teachers and school leaders from around the world each year and that a pilot group of UK schools, probably including Ely College – could soon be working with the school to match its success.

Since she was appointed head teacher at Ely College, Mrs Jenkinson-Dix has achieved record GCSE results and earned a ‘good’ rating from Government inspectorate, Ofsted.

Defending the trip, Mr Whales said: “The visit completely changed our view of how best to adopt project-based learning at Ely College, and clarified which aspects we need to focus on to ensure our students gain as much as theirs do.

“It was an incredible experience that has had a significant impact on my professional development, not least because of the students we met. If we can help our young people become as self aware, motivated and ambitious as those we met at High Tech High, we will have succeeded.”

And Ben Gibbs, chair of governors at Ely College, said: “Having seen how inspired both Catherine and Damien are after their trip, I am completely satisfied that the visit has provided a great return on our investment. I am encouraging the college to arrange further visits to other leading schools and to develop partnerships, like that with the Innovation Unit and Whole Education, which broaden our horizons and improve our students’ experience.”

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