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Wednesday, 16 July 2014 00:00

Disappearing Primary School Headteachers and the Consequences

In 2012, Kent County Council, worried about the low performance achieved by our primary schools, laid out its strategy to improve standards in “Delivering Bold Steps for Kent”. This document set as a central policy aim for 2015:“No KCC schools will be in an Ofsted category of concern. There will be more good schools, with at least 85% of primary and secondary schools judged as good or outstanding”. This article explores some of the unintended consequences of that aim.  

Just a year off the target date, OFSTED outcomes for Kent primary schools have actually fallen, compared both to previous performance and also to national norms over the same period. Since September 2013, 16 Kent primary schools have failed their OFSTEDs  out of a total of 103 inspections, three times the national average. There is a fall in the proportion of Good or Outstanding Schools inspected by OFSTED from last year’s dire figures which placed Kent 133rd out of 151 Local Authorities to a new low up to the end of May. In 2012, 61% of Kent’s Primary schools were classified as Good or Outstanding, a figure that the Document described as “clearly unacceptable”. One wonders therefore how the Authority will describe the current shocking figure of 53%, (down again from last year’s 56%) compared to a national average of 59%. 30 of the schools inspected have even seen the grade assessed declining from last time around, with half a dozen of these declining by two grades.

Meanwhile, KCC claims that OFSTED outcomes are improving, thereby showing its strategy for school improvement is working. How to explain the contradiction? Quite simply, KCC has included secondary school and Special School OFSTEDs in the total, notably with 83% of the 18 much maligned non-selective schools inspected this year being “Good or Outstanding”, a really praiseworthy statistic which has received insufficient public acknowledgement. Special Schools have 75% of the 12 schools inspected reaching this standard.

Kent’s strategy to try and improve the primary schools under its control has included a strong element of pressure, with some headteachers alleging this amounts to bullying, creating a climate of fear. There has been much debate about  KCC’s removal of 21 primary school headteachers since September 2012, a similar number leaving their posts with ‘encouragement’, in the forlorn drive to improve primary school standards.

A Freedom of Information Request about headteacher vacancies and recruitment paints an alarming picture of the consequences. There is a sharp increase in the number of primary headship vacancies across Kent, from 47 two years ago to a forecast 60 for 2013-14.  This is accompanied by an equally sharp fall in the number of applicants for each vacancy from an average of 3.85 per post to 2.33 over the same period, with four posts attracting no applicants and a quarter of all primary headships re-advertised, many of the rest being filled with temporary or part-time appointments. This does not take into account the growing number of temporary Heads of School in place of headteachers, appointed by KCC, governing bodies, Federations and Academy Groups. Many of these decisions follow unsuccessful attempts to recruit a headteacher, but allow Kent to state that all schools currently have a headteacher or acting headteacher in charge!

KCC argues that there is a national picture of falling numbers of applicants for headships, but anecdotal evidence clearly identifies a purely Kent factor as many local deputy heads, having seen Kent’s tough tactics, have no desire to take up what is now a high risk occupation.

Kent County Council has a protocol in place to replace some headteachers of schools placed in Special Measures who have been in post for more than two years, but states it does not take such action with heads of schools in Serious Weaknesses or Requiring Improvement. It also promises to be supportive of heads who are being moved on. I continue to receive reports showing that KCC is breaking its own protocol with headteachers, some of whom have given their schools and the county long and distinguished service, being forcefully removed at short or no notice, sometimes being publicly humiliated in front of their school, who fall outside this protocol.

Most worrying for parents is the increasing number of primary schools where the child is not known by anyone apart from an oft-changing class-teacher, with a series of temporary or part-time heads and no improvement in standards. Something has to change. 

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 07:14

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