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Saturday, 08 February 2014 18:46

When schools struggle who is best placed to lead them to success: Kent on Sunday 8 February 2013

Former headteacher, Peter Read the man behind the Kent Independent Advice Service, examines a growing tension between Kent County Council and the growing number of schools opting to become Government Funded Academies

 Kent County Council (KCC) has submitted written evidence  to the Government Select Committee on Education’s inquiry into Academies and Free Schools which began on Wednesday.  It addresses concerns about both accountability and performance of academies, choosing The Marlowe Academy as an illustration. However, KCC could equally have chosen Tree Tops Academy and Molehill Copse Primary School, both run by the controversial Academies Enterprise Trust, which previously 'ran' Marlowe for a year. 

KCC's proposes that underperforming academies should revert to Local Authority accountability, but the weakness is that there is an assumption the LA is up to the job. I have written extensively on Medway Council's repeated failure to manage standards adequately, and they clearly do not have capacity to improve schools, whilst Kent is not yet a beacon of excellence. For, although it is improving, it has still too many primary schools fail OFSTED Inspections recently, all vulnerable to takeover by Academy groups (nine already on their way).  

This week’s news about the culling of sixth form courses for financial reasons whilst the Free School budget appears to have no bounds, underlines the illogical nature of current education policy, and KCC makes some very good points about the problems with Free School philosophy and implementation  .......

Much of the supplementary evidence to back up assertions in this article can be found on my website: www.kentadvice.co.uk......

KCC’s evidence leads with one of the government's most laudable education priorities, to reduce the achievement  gap for disadvantaged pupils. KCC demolishes the government claim that academies are leading the way here, citing evidence showing there is no narrowing of the achievement gap by academies. Further, it expresses concern about a fall of 12.5% of take up of Free School Meals in sponsored academies nationally compared with the schools they replaced, as some of those academies chase pupils who will improve their performance.

The document provides evidence showing there is no overall increase in GCSE grades at academies as compared to maintained schools, and looking at the recent Kent GCSE results, this is easy to believe, with nine of the twelve lowest performing schools being sponsored academies, the lowest also an academy - Castle Community College.  

As the evidence records: "In terms of overall pupil achievement, recent research has found that there is no direct correlation between being an academy and improved attainment levels, reflected in Ofsted judgements. The critical characteristic to raising attainment in a school is the individual capacity of the school leadership. Many sponsored academies are improving the quality of education and pupil outcomes, as they have often replaced very poorly performing schools". However, the end of this paragraph sadly comes close to demolishing the argument put forward by KCC, as these "very poorly performing schools" were previously run by Local Authorities such as Kent. A classic example is Wilmington Academy that, in its previous incarnation, was a KCC school in Special Measures. Four years later, under outstanding leadership, it is one of Kent's top performing non-selective schools.

The document is critical of the Department for Education's actions in improving failing or underachieving academies and rightly expresses concerns about the accountability of academies and Free Schools . It highlights the history of the Marlowe Academy, described in several articles on my own website: "It has been the subject of an OFSTED  Category (failing) twice and to date, the principal sponsor remains (Government is reported to have tried to force him out in 2011) and the Academy Trust does not appear to have been transparently held to account by the Secretary of State.  No Warning Notice has been served on this Academy Trust to date”. In fact the Academy was told in a pre-warning notice in 2012  that GCSE standards were unacceptably low. This year, after the academy finished 21st  worst school in the country, the headteacher left suddenly mid-term, and one has to wonder what further action government will now take.

Government still considers that: "Where local authorities fail to use their powers effectively (to improve maintained schools), the Secretary of State will exercise his powers with a view to ensuring that standards improve, which is likely to result in an academy solution for the school". However, there is no reverse process and KCC complains that where it has concerns about academies, the Authority has no powers to improve them, and government mechanisms appear too weak to bring about change.

KCC warns that the academy programme will bring about “the potential atomisation and fragmentation of the education system” with its serious risks to the future of vulnerable children, those with special needs and those excluded from school. Meanwhile, Government is trying to come to terms with the rapid increase in academies all controlled by central government, and is exploring what would be a new bureaucratic regional area management. This may look disturbingly like its LA predecessor but without local input.  

Whilst this article is critical, there are many examples of highly successful academies and academy trusts in Kent; all marked out by outstanding leadership, the key factor in a successful school of any type.

Turning to Free Schools, Kent County Council's evidence refers to the five now open in Kent: "All are in areas of socio-economic advantage, rather than growing diversity and choice in disadvantaged areas of need.  There appears to be ‘middle class capture’ of the Free Schools process, in order to create new capacity in areas that do not necessarily need school places". Perhaps for this reason, all the current Kent free schools are flourishing, as distinct from some other parts of the country; where too many are wacky, some corrupt, some unnecessary and failing to attract pupils, and some already failing.  The document forgets to mention the additional five new Free Schools that KCC has commissioned to meet strategic need for additional places, all in areas of socio-economic advantage, although it could have encouraged academies instead (Government no longer allows LAs  to build their own schools).

My simplistic conclusion: most good schools thrive irrespective of their status and circumstances; its the leadership that matters! 

Last modified on Saturday, 08 February 2014 22:13

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  • Knole Academy and the Scandal of Exorbitant Headteacher Pay in Kent and Medway

    Update: Shortly after I published this article, the BBC has led with the same issue on its website. 

    The headteacher of The Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, a moderately performing single school academy, was paid £210,000 in 2016-17 making her the highest paid academy head or Chief Executive in Kent and Medway. This is an increase of 35% over the past three years after what can only be described as an irresponsible series of decisions by Governors, bringing the whole process into disrepute, and undermining the credibility of the very real financial crisis in schools, as explained below. By contrast the Principal of Homewood School, the largest secondary school in the county, had a salary of just £110,000 last year, one of majority of secondary heads around or below £100,000.

    knole

    After Knole the next two highest paid heads are the Principals of Leigh Academy and Wilmington Academy, both part of the Leigh Academy Trust, who each received £200,000 in remuneration, including their roles as Directors of the Trust. They were followed by the CEOs of two of Kent’s largest Academy Trusts, both responsible for more than a dozen primary and secondary schools: Swale AT and Leigh AT at £190,000 and £180,000 respectively.

    Grammar School Academy Headteachers are generally paid from around £85,000 to £110,000 annually, with Dartford Grammar School, the largest and most oversubscribed grammar school in the county on the latter sum. Highest paid Grammar School Head is at Rainham Mark Grammar, Medway. with £155,000 (£90,000 for HT salary, £65,000 for Academy Trust CEO), followed by Barton Court, Canterbury, at £125,000 (also a Trust CEO).

    At primary level the previous highest earner, the Head of Meopham Community Academy, has now retired from his £150,000 salary post, his replacement being employed at less than half of that rate. The highest paid heads of schools or multi academy trusts I have found this time round are the same two single standing academies as previously: The Academy of Woodlands in Gillingham, £105,000 in 2015-16, and St Stephen’s Academy, a Junior school in Canterbury on, the same figure for 2016-17.

    I look more closely at the Knole situation, and that of other high paying academies below. 

    Read more...
    Written on Wednesday, 21 February 2018 20:29 4 comments Read 305 times
  • Medway Council fails its most vulnerable children

    Medway Council has once again failed its children, this time the most vulnerable, as confirmed by a scathing Ofsted Report on its ‘services’ to children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities, published this week. The report concludes ‘Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) has determined that a Written Statement of Action is required because of significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice’. I think that is putting it politely. There are strengths identified; it just happens that all these appear to be down to the health service and not education.

    Concerns centre about chaotic management of the ‘Service’, resulting in failure to take necessary action. This can be seen from the following quotes: ’Medway’s education and service leaders do not share one vision and strategy for SEN and/or disabilitiesNo arrangements are in place to ensure effective joint oversight and clear lines of accountabilityLittle progress has been made in addressing several of the pressing priorities for improvement identified as far back as 2012Leaders’ understanding of what has and has not improved in the meantime is limited. I could have chosen many others.

    Medway

    'The collaborative work between professionals and children and their families to plan services and meet individual needs, known as co-production, is weak at both a strategic and individual level' This criticism is underpinned by the heavy criticism of the implementation of Education and Health Care Plans for children with the greatest needs, which are at the heart of Departmental work, and ‘A considerable number of parents shared concerns with inspectors that the needs of their children are not being identified and met sufficiently well’.

    There is of course reference to Medway's record exclusion rates: ‘Although improving, rates of permanent and fixed-term exclusion are still notably higher for pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities in Medway than for similar pupils nationally, as it is for all pupils. Lack of specialist provision has brought serious consequences for pupils with severe SEN or disabilities travelling out of Medway daily on long and very expensive journeys.  

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    Written on Saturday, 10 February 2018 22:33 4 comments Read 284 times
  • Goodwin Academy – SchoolsCompany Trust on the way out?

    Updated 15th February: see also comment below.

    The new Interim Chief Executive of SchoolsCompany Trust has apologised in a letter to parents of pupils at the Goodwin Academy for ‘previous financial failings, which are unacceptable’.

    Sadly, this has come as little surprise to me, as I foresaw issues as early as 2014, when I noted in an article that SchoolsCompany had contributed to the startling decline of the predecessor school Castle Community College (CCC), in Deal from Ofsted Outstanding to Special Measures in three short years. As a reward SchoolsCompany took over as sponsor of the school as recently as July 2016. The school was awkwardly renamed SchoolsCompany Goodwin Academy, presumably to advertise the name of the Sponsors as a priority, above creating a new school image.     

    The Academy limped on for a period, after 2014, with the 'support' of SchoolsCompany,  unpopular with a third of its places unfilled, and underperforming, although there have recent strong signs of improvement under new school leadership. Unusually, eight of the eleven Company Trustees were paid a salary by the Trust, hardly an inducement for encouraging scrutiny. After the school received a Financial Notice to Improvefrom the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) in October, seven of the Trustees resigned including the Executive Principal of the Company This left the school with just four Trustees including the CEO and founder of the company, Elias Achilleos, although he now appears to have been replaced by the new Interim Chief Executive.  The Trust has demonstrably failed some of the Financial Notice's requirements for improvement. 

    Goodwin Academy

    The school will clearly have a future in its new £25 million premises opened four months ago on October 6th, just three weeks before Trustees resigned en masse, but it looks increasingly likely it will not be with Schools Company. Indeed a more than doubling of first preferences to 173 for 2018 admission, shows confidence in the school and its leadership, achieved without obvious input from the few remaining Trust members. 

    Read more...
    Written on Thursday, 08 February 2018 10:43 4 comments Read 707 times
  • School Vacancies according to the 2017 School Census for Kent and Medway

    As schools come under tighter financial pressures (never mind official news, but ask your local school how it is managing), pupil numbers become ever more critical as they generate the largest part of the income of each school. This article looks at a number of issues in Kent and Medway highlighted by the October 2017 schools census. 

    Which seven Kent secondary schools have more than 40% of their Year 7 places empty for September 2017? 

    Which four of these were more than half empty in Year 7 for 2016, with two over 40% for all of the past three years?

    Which secondary school lost over a third of its cohort Years 7-11?

    Which two secondary schools, one in Kent one in Medway, lost over a fifth of their cohort Years 9-11,
    a pattern associated with off-rolling.  

    Which six grammar schools lost over 20% of their pupils at the end of Year Eleven?

    What happened after last year’s Year 12 expulsion scandal at Invicta Grammar and elsewhere?

    Which six primary schools (two in Medway) failed to fill half their places for each of the last two years?

    Answers to these questions and more below.

    Read more...
    Written on Thursday, 01 February 2018 08:53 4 comments Read 620 times
  • Kent GCSE Results Final Outcomes

    Medway Outcomes here

    This is the second year of the new GCSE assessments for measuring schools performance, Progress 8 and Attainment 8, which replace the long established 5 A*-C GCSE league table including English and maths. The key measure is Progress 8 (full table here) which looks at progress from the end of primary school to the end of Year 11, and is rightly given priority in measuring performance.  Under this measure, Kent is slightly below the National Average of -0.03, at -0.11.

    Meopham 2

    Attainment 8 (full table here) simply measures what it says, with Kent exactly equalling the National score of 46.3 ranked 60th out of all Local Authorities, although there is a variety of other statistics provided to choose from to suit your case. 

    Headlines: the Grammar School progress table is no longer the sole preserve of West Kent and super-selectives with four girls' schools  invading the top eight. Highworth, Invicta, Folkestone Girls' and Maidstone Girls have joined Tonbridge, TWGGS, and Dartford Girls', leaving Dartford as the only boys school.   

    Top non-selective school is Bennett Memorial, one of six church schools in the top ten, the top three ever present also including St Simon Stock and St Gregory's. For the second consecutive year there are remarkable performances by Meopham School and Orchards Academy, neither of which have the built in advantages of other top performers. Six schools are below the government floor level with well-below average progress, down from eight last year, and so  facing government intervention. 

    Five of the top six grammar schools on attainment are unsurprisingly super-selective in West and North West Kent - along with Tunbridge Wells Girls'. These are the same schools as in 2016, balanced by five boys and one mixed grammar at the foot.  The Non-selective table is led by three church schools, Bennett Memorial leading the way above two grammar schools. Four non-selective schools are at the foot of both Progress and Attainment Tables.

    Orchards 1

    Further information below. including the performance of individual schools......

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    Written on Friday, 26 January 2018 12:46 Be the first to comment! Read 472 times
  • Holcombe Grammar loses its bid to go Co-Ed. An excellent decision by the DfE in the interests of Medway children!

    I make no apologies for this being the fourth consecutive news item about Medway on this site but, as my previous articles suggest, the education system in the Authority has become unstable, with self-interest by academy chains driving decisions.

    Chatham Boys 3

    The controversial proposal for Holcombe Grammar School (previously Chatham Grammar School for Boys) to become co-educational has just been turned down for the second time by the DFE. This was no doubt for sound reasons, including those I have identified previously, most recently here.  When the school first proposed the change, it made clear in its paperwork that it did not care about any damage a change would cause to Chatham Grammar School for Girls by increasing the number of girls' school places where there was already a surplus. It would also alter the balance of grammar school provision in Medway to just one heavily oversubscribed boys' grammar and three girls' schools, along with two mixed grammar schools.

    This is one of the worst of a number recent proposals for change by Medway secondary schools, the reality being that neither Chatham grammar school was attracting enough local children to be viable in the long term at that time. 

    BUT: Congratulations to the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, which runs Holcombe Grammar School and features in most of my recent Medway articles, by being identified in a government analysis as the highest performing Multi-Academy Trust nationally in KS4 (GCSE) Progress 8 Assessment Tables
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    Written on Thursday, 25 January 2018 15:11 6 comments Read 485 times