UPDATE 19 March in main article.
The first of three main reasons being put forward for the closure of this special school for high functioning children suffering from Autistic Spectrum Disorder is that parents have asked the Council to develop mainstream provision rather than further provision in Special schools. This assertion appears now to have been discredited for KCC has been unable to provide evidence for the claim and KCC’s Corporate Director of Education has now acknowledged that there is well-evidenced increased demand for Special School places.
The key problem that parents have had responding to the Consultation is the consistent failure of KCC to answer the central questions about the proposal to close. I have the same frustration and formally requested the answers to 11 questions from Mr Leeson, questions that are also being asked by parents at meetings and in writing. Sadly, his reply to me only answered three of these. The ‘Kent On Sunday’ newspaper also asked the same questions with little success. What is the point of a Consultation where the key facts are being hidden from parents, and can it really be regarded as legitimate?
This rather lengthy article explores the powerful case for keeping the Furness School open, albeit under a different name, and yet again exposes the failures of KCC over its mismanagement of the whole issue………
CONSIDERABLY UPDATED WITH CORRECTIONS ARISING FROM FEEDBACK: 10TH FEBRUARY
Kent County Council has announced a Consultation on the closure of Furness School in Hextable. This is a scandal at the conclusion of four years of mismanagement by KCC, ending with a consultation that is a classic in misdirection. I wrote a previous article in 2012 entitled “Is this the most damning Kent OFSTED Report ever? Furness School”, which has set the scene for this denouement three years later.
Much of KCC’s argument for closure is false, based on two false premises, firstly that pupil numbers are low and getting lower, and secondly that education standards are low and not improving, as evidenced by the poor OFSTED Reports.
The school was redesignated to provide for high functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder children (ASD) last September, replacing Behavioural, Emotional and Social Disorder (BESD). This year, ASD numbers are already 22 including an unspecified number of high functioning children (rather an important detail I would have thought), with BESD just 8, and new admissions discouraged or prohibited for much of the second half of 2012 for two years. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the trend in ASD is upwards, whilst BESD numbers would soon become insignificant.
I find it difficult to know where to start to pick my way through the complexities that have led to the KCC decision to close the school, but the article that follows attempts to cast the story in a historical perspective……
Kent County Council is shortly to introduce an SEN and Disability Strategy seeking to improve and re-focus the provision of school places for children with Statements of Special Education Need (SSEN) and to raise standards of performance. This article looks at the Council's plans to increase the number of places in Special Schools and Specialist Resource Based Units by at least 275 children over the next four years. KCC has already published a Commissioning Plan that sets out its SEN provision needs, recognising an increase in the number of children with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorders), SLCN (Speech, Language and Communication Difficulties); and BESN (Behavioural, Emotional and Social Needs) across the county, putting great pressure on current provision. This article is based on that plan, and was reproduced in a slightly abbreviated form in Kent on Sunday on 24th January.....
Kent County Council is introducing an SEN and Disability Strategy seeking to improve and re-focus the provision of school places for children with Statements of Special Education Need (SSEN) and to raise standards of performance. This article looks at its plans to increase the number of places in Special Schools and Specialist Resource Based Units by at least 275 over the next four years. The strategy recognises an increase in the number of children with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorders), SLCN (Speech, Language and Communication Difficulties); and BESN (Behavioural, Emotional and Social Needs) across the county, putting great pressure on current provision.
Of some 6,500 Kent pupils currently with SSEN, around 3000 are in Special Schools, and 800 in Units. Most of the remainder are supported in mainstream schools. In total, these children comprise some 2.8% of the school population, but take up around 20% of the county direct school education budget.
Over half of the places in Special Schools are for children with Profound, Severe and Complex Needs, most of which have recently expanded to take in around 250 extra children in total.
Kent is now proposing a further expansion of 275 places for ASD, SLCN and BESN in Special Schools and Units.......
Furness School in Swanley is a special school which provides for boarding and day students who have behavioural, social and emotional difficulties. It has just 77 pupils, mostly boys, including 14 in boarding accommodation (one female) on site. All students have a statement of special educational needs and most students have previously experienced significant disruption to their education due to exclusion or non-attendance. Certainly Furness is a challenging school, but one that requires the highest standards for its children, many of whom have had seriously disrupted lives so far, and desperately need the stable education that other similar schools in Kent appear to be able to provide.
Kent County Council recognised there were problems back in February, and the headteacher was removed. However, in such a serious situation the consequences of losing the school figurehead need to be carefully managed, and insufficient thought appears to have been given to handling the fallout. KCC also removed the school governing body at the time, but did not follow the rules in doing so, and they were reinstated, only to be removed a second time - this time properly. The school was closed for three days in February, reportedly as it was out of control, and partially closed again later in the month. Since then KCC has been running the school directly using an interim leadership team and support from county officials. However, three months later, on May 15th and 16th, two of Her Majesty's Inspectors carried out an OFSTED Inspection which has produced the damning report published last week.
In particular this condemns the interim management and leadership of the school installed by KCC, including the following comments:.........
I was delighted to accept an invitation to the opening of the Laural Centre, an SEN Unit for children on the Autistic Spectrum, attached to The North School in Ashford. This is the first Unit to be opened since the reversal of county policy two years ago that sought to phase out all SEN units in the county. The Centre was opened by Paul Carter, Leader of KCC, who has been a strong champion of SEN Units and Special Schools in Kent........
The following item served the basis for an article in KOS on 11 June 2011, and also triggered the front page news story.
A Freedom of Information request I submitted has revealed a number of alarming features in the pattern of permanent exclusions (expulsions) in Kent schools.
The first two new style academies created in Kent top the list of permanent exclusions between September and Easter, headed by Westlands School in Sittingbourne with 11. Next is Canterbury High School with nine permanent exclusions.
Both these schools previously had outstanding Ofsted reports, so it is difficult to believe they have difficult disciplinary problems.
Other schools with high numbers of permanent exclusions over this period are: Chaucer Technology School, also in Canterbury (nine); Hartsdown Technology College (converting to an academy – eight) and the Marlowe Academy both in Thanet (seven); and Astor College for the Arts in Dover (seven).
The total over this period is rising alarmingly already being almost the same as for the whole of 2009-10.
In general, an excluded child does not just go away, they are moved to another school to be given a fresh chance but, as this will usually be one of the few with vacancies in the area, it just heaps the problems on a possibly struggling school.
Of particular concern is the number of children with statements of special education needs (SEN) who continue to be permanently excluded, in spite of government policy that “schools should avoid permanently excluding pupils with statements, other than in the most exceptional circumstances”.
While I don’t yet have figures for this year, in 2009-10 out of a total of 168 secondary exclusions 22 were of statemented children, a further 68 being of other children with SEN, together over half of the total.
However, the most astonishing and alarming statistic in this whole survey is that nearly all of the 34 Kent primary school exclusions in the last school year were of children with Special Education Needs, with 13 statemented children and another 18 with SEN.
So much for Kent. Meanwhile up in Medway there is a remarkably different picture. The council reports that there were just three permanent exclusions from Medway Secondary Schools in 2009-10 (none statemented), and none from primary schools. For 2010-11 the reported figure is currently zero, although Medway Council has subsequently claimed it is unaware of at least three permanent exclusions from Bishop of Rochester Academy, even though it would have responsibility for those children, so this figure needs to be treated with some caution.
This all begs many questions. Firstly, why are the pictures in Kent and Medway so very different?
Medway may only have around one sixth of the children being educated in Kent, but this does not come close to explaining why some Kent schools resort to formal exclusion proceedings so often, whereas Medway can avoid a dramatic, stressful and bureaucratic process so effectively.
Medway schools have always co-operated well over what are called ‘managed moves’ to a fresh school, although whether this will continue when all are independent academies remains to be seen.
How can Kent primary schools exclude children with statements in such numbers, compared to a negligible number of children without special needs, in direct contradiction to the government imperative that this should only happen in exceptional circumstances?
Why does Kent but not Medway have so many exceptional circumstances?
Once again KCC is seeing children who surely deserve the highest standard of care, at the bottom of the pile (see last week’s Kent on Sunday).
Another factor to add to KCC’s Scrutiny Committee investigation into primary school standards.
What is special about Westlands and Canterbury High apart from the fact they are outstanding Ofsted schools, that they need to take this extreme action, effectively forcing these children to less popular and successful schools, whereas others, often in far more difficult situations, appear to be able to manage better? Are they showing the future for academies?
What happens to the schools that become ‘dumping grounds’ for children excluded by other schools better able to cope with them?
Above all, why does KCC not look at Medway’s procedures to learn how to improve these dreadful figures?
I gave an interview on Radio Kent (today) supporting a letter written by Sarah Hohler (Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Education) to Michael Gove urging him to reconsider the inclusion of many children with SEN in Government performance tables as they distorted the achievements of schools. I made three points:.........
Where there has been a recent OFSTED Report, there are more details for each School below.
ALL FAITH’S CHILDREN’S COMMUNITY SCHOOL – TOTAL COMMUNICATION Unit (Primary), Strood
ABBEY COURT COMMUNITY SCHOOL Severe and profound learning difficulties RAINHAM CAMPUS, Gillingham (4-11years) STROOD CAMPUS, Strood (11 –19 years)
(OFSTED July 2010 - Outstanding) Abbey Court is based on two sites 12 miles apart. It has a capacity for 150 pupils aged from three to 19, all funded by Medway local authority. All pupils have a statement of special educational needs including severe learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties. An increasing number of pupils joining the school have very complex medical conditions or extremely challenging behaviour. There are fewer girls than boys. The vast majority of the pupils have a White British heritage. A few pupils are from minority ethnic backgrounds and have English as a second language. A small minority of pupils are looked after in public care. Secondary pupils, including sixth-formers, are based at the Strood site. The site for primary-aged pupils is in Rainham and this has recently added a nursery to its provision. The school has specialist school status for cognition and learning. OFSTED 2012 - Outstanding; Excerpts: Information about this school - Abbey Court is based on two sites, some 12 miles apart. The Rainham site provides for Early Years Foundation Stage, infants and juniors. The Strood site provides for secondary and students aged 16 to 19. Currently, the school has more than its official capacity of 150 places; Pupils have severe learning difficulties or profound and multiple learning difficulties as their main need; Some have additional needs such as visual impairment, hearing or sensory impairment, severe autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) and physical disability; A few have life threatening medical conditions; All have statements of special educational needs; The school continues to experience a shift in the complexity of levels of need, including severe challenging behaviours; A minority of pupils require a minimum of full time one-to-one staff support to meet their needs; Currently, the large majority of pupils are boys and most are of White British heritage; The proportion known to be eligible for the pupil premium is well above the national average. Key findings - This is an outstanding school; Pupils make outstanding progress, particularly in literacy, numeracy and information and communication technology (ICT); Those with speech, language and communication needs make significant strides in developing and improving their communication skills through signing, the use of picture symbol cards and the use of a range of new technologies; Children attending the part-time sessions in the Early Years Foundation Stage make excellent progress, which prepares them for learning and enables them to proceed successfully to the next stage of their education; The outstanding sixth form provision enables older students to continue their seamless progress through the school and achieve nationally recognised qualifications - They improve their independence and social skills and this prepares them successfully for life beyond the school; As a result of a robust and sustained focus on improvement by the senior leadership team since the previous inspection, the quality of teaching across the school is now outstanding; Other strengths of the school’s work identified at the last inspection have been sustained and further improved; Pupils’ attitudes to learning and behaviour are excellent, which is a result of highly effective class management by teachers and other adults supporting in the classrooms; Pupils told the inspectors that they are safe and well looked after, which is further confirmed by the school’s own surveys, which are carried out regularly; The headteacher’s inspirational leadership of the school, together with the support of her highly effective senior leadership team, ensures the school meets fully its vision and aims and lives up to its motto, ‘We grow people’; The highly experienced governing body is outstanding in its role as a critical and supportive friend and successfully ensures the school is financially stable.
BRADFIELDS SCHOOL, Chatham. OFSTED October 2013. Good. Excerpts from Report - Information about the school: Bradfields provides for students who primarily experience complex learning difficulties and disabilities, including speech, language, emotional, sensory, physical and autistic spectrum disabilities. Since September 2012, the school has been re-designated to include Early Years Foundation Stage children and Key Stages 1 and 2 pupils with autism and severe learning difficulties. The Lower School site has been redeveloped so that the Key Stage 3 MLD provision now includes additional and new build facilities for students with autism and in some cases additional challenging behaviours; Currently, the large majority of students are boys; The school is organised into five Learning Zones where most classes are taught by the stage of their learning. The Blue Primary (including the Early Years Foundation Stage) and Blue Secondary Zones are for students whose primary need is autistic spectrum disabilities. The Yellow Zone is for lower school Key Stage 3 classes, the Red Zone is for Key Stage 4 classes and the Green Zone is for is for Years 12 to 14 classes. In addition, there are three separate mixed-aged ‘special programme’ classes in the lower and upper schools and the sixth form for students with more complex needs, including severe learning difficulties. Key findings: This is a good school; Students make outstanding progress over time, particularly in English and mathematics. There has also been a year-on-year improvement of the proportion of students achieving GCSE passes, as well as successes in other accredited courses such as BTEC; Children attending the Early Years Foundation Stage in 2012 to 2013 made outstanding progress. This prepared them for learning and enabled them to move on successfully to the next stage of their education; The sixth form is outstanding. Many students continue their seamless progression throughout the school, others move directly to other further education provision, and some now join the school from other mainstream settings. All are prepared very well for the next stage of their lives beyond school; Students benefit from teaching which is mostly good and sometimes outstanding. However, a small amount of teaching requires improvement; Students’ behaviour is good. This is as a result of the highly effective care and support that staff provide. In lessons, students were highly motivated and wanted to do their best; Students say they feel safe and happy at the school, as well as at the off-site provision they attend weekly; Leadership and management are good. The headteacher and his senior leadership team have a strong focus on continuing improvement of all aspects of the school’s work; The governing body is highly supportive of the school, knows it very well and supports on-going improvements in all aspects of the school’s work.
BROMPTON ACADEMY, Gillingham
(11-16 years) SPLD & Speech & Language @ COMMUNICATION CENTRE
CHALKLANDS CENTRE, Elaine Primary School, Strood
(5-11 years) Emotional & Behaviour difficulties.
DANECOURT COMMUNITY SCHOOL, Gillingham (4-11 years) OFSTED 2012 - Outstanding. Excerpts from Report: Information about this school - Originally designated as a school for pupils with moderate learning difficulties, Danecourt is now increasingly catering for pupils with severe learning difficulties and more complex needs, including speech, language and communication needs. It also has a designated unit for pupils with severe autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) with two classes in Key Stage 2 and one class in Key Stage 1. In addition, it has a commissioned ‘hub’ class, based in a mainstream primary school for pupils who do not need full time specialist provision. The school also operates an outreach service, through which its staff provides advice and support for pupils identified as having special educational needs in mainstream schools within the local authority. Currently, the large majority of pupils are boys and most pupils are of White British background. All have a statement of special educational needs. A few pupils are looked after by a range of local authorities and the proportion known to be eligible for the pupil premium is well above the national average. Key findings: This is an outstanding school; Pupils make outstanding progress, particularly in the key skills of literacy, numeracy and information and communication technology (ICT); Those with speech, language and communication needs make significant progress in developing their communication skills, both through the use of picture symbol cards and use of new technologies; Children in the Early Years Foundation Stage make excellent progress, which enables them to proceed successfully to the next stage of their education and, in some instances, reintegrate into mainstream education; As a result of a rigorous and sustained focus on improvement by the headteacher and his deputy, the quality of teaching is now outstanding; this is a significant improvement since the previous inspection; Because of highly effective class management by staff, pupils’ attitudes to learning and behaviour are excellent. Learning is rarely affected by disruptive behaviour;The headteacher provides highly effective leadership of the school, ensuring it meets fully its core aim of providing a safe and caring environment in which to develop pupils as individuals and maximise their learning; The governing body is outstanding in its role as a supportive and critical friend of the school.
MARLBOROUGH CENTRE, Hoo St Werburgh Primary School
(5-11 years) Autism
RIVERMEAD COMMUNITY SPECIAL SCHOOL, Gillingham (11-19 years) complex emotional and behavioural needs including Autism: OFSTED 2012 - Good School. Excerpt from Report: Information about the school - Provides for students aged 11–19 with complex emotional and behavioural needs. It is smaller than average in size and the overwhelming majority of students have a statement of special educational needs mainly related to autistic spectrum disorders. Most students have additional communication and language needs and/or medical/mental health needs. The length of placement at the school depends on individual needs, and many students have spent a considerable amount of time away from mainstream education before admission. The provision in the sixth form is still under development. It will be implemented fully in September 2012 and until that time there are no students of this age in the school. Key findings - Rivermead is a good school. The development of the sixth form is progressing well in preparation for September 2012 when new students will start. Students of different ages, backgrounds and abilities make good progress and achieve well. They achieve particularly well in the development of their skills in communication and in mathematics. In the vast majority of lessons, teachers provide students with activities that engage their interest and they use information and ICT well to enhance learning. They assess students’ work regularly and accurately and ensure that students know what they need to do to improve. The overwhelming majority of students make significant improvements in learning to manage their own behaviours, and bullying of any kind is almost non-existent. Students feel extremely safe and secure in school at all times. They enjoy school, support each other well and attendance levels are above average. The school is very well led and teachers’ performance is generally managed effectively. The strong leadership team ensure there is a sustained focus on improving classroom practice and outcomes for students. The very effective way in which the school promotes students’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is a key factor in its success.
RIVERSIDE VI UNIT, Riverside Primary School, Rainham
(5-11 years) Visual Impairment
RIVERSIDE HUB, Riverside Primary School,Rainham
(5-11 Years) Autism
SILVERBANK PARK, Chatham
(11-16 years) Emotional & behaviour difficulties.
ST WERBURGH CENTRE FOR AUTISM, Hundred of Hoo Comprehensive, Hoo
THE ROBERT NAPIER SCHOOL – VI UNIT, Gillingham
(11-16 years) Visual Impairment
TWYDALL INFANT PD Unit, Twydall Infant School, Gillingham
(4-7 years) Physical Disability
TWYDALL JUNIOR PD Unit, Twydall Junior School, Gillingham
(7-11 years) Physical Disability & Complex Medical Conditions
WARREN WOOD COMMUNITY PRIMARY SCHOOL Speech & Lang UNIT,Rochester
(4-11 years) Speech and Language difficulties
WILL ADAMS CENTRE, Gillingham
(11-16 yrs) Emotional & behaviour difficulties
WOODLANDS HUB, Gillingham
(5-11 years) Moderate learning difficulties