The Division of Education Quality and Standards in the Education & Young People's Services Directorate of KCC is shrinking fast, suffering both from a reduction in school adviser numbers and also the departure of three of the four senior officers.
Sue Rogers, Director of Education Quality and Standards left at the end of December to take up post as - Managing Director of Lilac Sky Academy Trust (update 20/2/15).
My exposure last Spring of the Division’s dubious tactics in removing primary head teachers of underperforming schools eventually saw Simon Webb, Principal Primary School Adviser and key architect of the policy, subsequently retiring in October, although KCC had initially refused to acknowledge any problem. Amongst the festering issues left behind was the debacle at Kings Farm Primary, discussed previously.
Special Schools and Pupil Referral Units Principal Adviser, Diana Robinson, was made redundant at Christmas, although she was immediately re-engaged part-time as a consultant. The Authority is now engaged in recruiting a replacement.
The fourth and sole remaining member of the management team is Nigel Blackburn, Principal Secondary School Adviser, who is surprisingly only contracted to work part-time at four days a week, the fifth day being devoted to his B & C Education Consultancy, in partnership with Debbie Coslett, CEO of the Brook Learning Trust. He presumably has to walk a tightrope to avoid any conflict of interest.
As a result, there is at present no full-time permanent senior manager in the Division. No appointments have yet been made to the three vacant posts, which will remain unfilled until any new person is able to take up post, so School Improvement of necessity must be taking a lower priority.
In parallel with these departures, KCC has had to reduce its school adviser numbers, both because of financial pressures from government on al local government functions, but also because the increasing number of government directly funded academies is further reducing the funds available to the Education Department to support its remaining schools.
The issue of PFI schools seeking to become academies is back on the agenda……
The proprietor’s statement of action is not fit for purpose. The academy’s action plan is not fit for purpose.
Clearly, the Academy proprietors are panicking after a highly critical Special Report by OFSTED in July on TKAT. As part of their Report on Drapers Mills, OFSTED notes:
No action had been taken before the summer holiday except the removal of the governing body and the formation of an IEB….Since the inspection the previous headteacher has left. A new executive headteacher was put in place from 1 September 2014 who is a TKAT regional director of education. Two heads of school were also appointed and began work on 1 September 2014. The governing body was replaced with an interim executive board on 17 July 2014. There have been a large number of changes to the staff since the inspection. Fifteen members of staff have left the academy, including four out of the six newly qualified teachers who started at the beginning of the academic year.Fifteen new members of staff have joined….The executive headteacher and the two heads of school have acted decisively since September to address some of the inspection’s findings…. The proprietor has recently made available an additional team of skilled teachers to support the academy.
But we are now two years on from TKAT taking over a previously Satisfactory school. Two wasted years! Governors of the Primary School with local accountability were no doubt pressured to turn it into an academy. Do they feel responsible for the way it has turned out? Where is the local accountability now?
Salmestone Primary School
School became a TKAT academy in Sept 2012, after a previous Satisfactory OFSTED. Headteacher left September 2013, replacement left Easter 2014. OFSTED June 2014, found school Requires Improvement. The October Monitoring Inspection reports:
Half the teaching staff have left and been replaced. The governing body was suspended on 17 July 2014 and replaced with an Interim Executive Board (IEB). The IEB has had one meeting this year. The headteachers continue in part-time acting capacities. One of them is also headteacher of a school in London, and one is an educational consultant.....The external review of governance recommended at the last inspection has not taken place. The academy’s arrangements for governance are unusual as it is governed by the central TKAT IEB which oversees another academy locally. These arrangements are not sustainable if the long-term success of the academy is to be assured because the necessary time and skills for effective governance are spread too thinly.
Alternatively, schools in Special Measures may choose/fight to remain with KCC, like Lydd and Beaver Green Primaries, although there are problems with the support provided here also, as explained below.
School Governors are increasingly being held to account if their school is in difficulties, but it is increasingly difficult to see where they should turn to for help. Has the departure of the Senior Primary Schools Improvement Officer seen a change in the aggressive attitude of some officers in the Authority to schools in difficulty?
If governors don’t know where to turn (and for the first time I have fielded a number of enquiries for assistance from both governors and headteachers this year) what about the distraught parents trying to get a decent education for their children? Unfortunately, with the pressure on primary school places, the only vacancies that exist in many areas are in failing or underperforming schools, and so there is often no alternative. Strangely, the recommendation to move if you don't like what you are getting is often made by headteachers who must know there is no appropriate alternative. The lucky ones who can afford it have the option of private schools often seen as second choice but, for most, all they can do is watch as their children’s life chances are damaged by those responsible for nourishing them.......
Charles Dickens School in Broadstairs has been placed in Special Measures by OFSTED, just three years after being found “Good”. This follows the even sharper decline of Castle Community College in Deal, from “Outstanding” to Special Measures in March, but is all the more surprising as there appeared few signs of decline to the outsider, with very good GCSE results in previous years, a well established headteacher with a good reputation and parents queuing up to send their children to the school.
However, as I warned in a previous article, the new GCSE regime, along with a new Inspection regime, is going to provide Kent’s non-selective schools with a strong challenge.
Academically, the school steadily improved its confirmed 5 GCSE A-C including English and maths to a sound 53% in 2013, and the Report notes that the school has reached the government’s current floor standard of 40%, which sets minimum standards for attainment and progress. However, along with the large majority of Kent’s non-selective schools, there has been a strong dip for the unconfirmed 2014 results to 34%, connected with the changes in GCSE result calculation. This will have played its part in influencing the decision.
The problem I have with this Report is that whilst it reads as the most critical I have ever read of a Kent secondary school (worse even than Castle), it almost appears to have lost objectivity and to be deliberately vindictive: “boys’ shirts are often hanging out untidily”! hardly the stuff of serious reporting. This sense is compounded by the fact that the Inspection Team invited the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to join them on the second day of the Inspection, or was it that the findings of the team were so awful, they needed him to see them for himself?
So what are the key issues? The reality is that this is a damning Report, with copious evidence cited to back it up:.....
Chatham Grammar School for Boys:Good OFSTED excellent news just before secondary application deadlineWritten by Peter Read
OFSTED has provided Chatham Grammar School for Boys with some excellent news just a week before the closing date for secondary school applications, by classifying the school as "Good" just fifteen months after failing it by placing the school into Special Measures. The school is the only secondary school in Kent or Medway over at least the past two years to achieve an improvement of two categories. You can read the full Report here, and my most recent previous article on the school here.
This remarkable turn around will be a great relief to all those students and families who have shown faith in the school, and a matter of congratulation to all those staff and leaders who have contributed to this exceptional performance. The school was a good school and is now again one in which families can have confidence.
This version of the website has been running for four years, a previous one for another four years. In all that time I have never seen anything that compares to the activity on the site over the past four days. However, the signs were not propitious when my computer crashed on Wednesday morning and my wizard took three hours to remove the virus that had infected it, in the middle of my attempt to prepare my article setting out the news and my comments about this year's new style Kent Test.
However, I managed to finish it just in time for 4 p.m. and the website has been hit like never before. The news item Kent Test Results 2014: Initial Outcomes and Thoughts has already had almost three and a half thousand hits in three days, smashing all previous records (UPDATE: 5513 exactly a week on). Most of my other data is for the past four weeks, with the Information Page on Kent Grammar School Applications for Entry in 2015 which has recorded 11,433 hits from the 31,587 visitors. Not surprisingly, the next most popular is the Information Page on Medway Grammar School Applications 2015.
Reprints of Newspaper articles posted this year have also proved a great hit. The most recent one, appearing in Kent On Sunday, about advice for secondary school admissions has already attracted 1857 hits in two weeks; shortage of primary places 1328 over the same period; hit rates rising all the way back to February, when an article I wrote on accountability of academies and their relationship with KCC has attracted an astonishing 25,201 hits.
Over the years the site has attracted a limited number of comments, but the Kent Test page has again broken all records with 25 browsers initially posting their thoughts on the test and my article. However, ........
Two issues of social mobility affecting Kent children were in the news yesterday.
Firstly, the proposal by government to extend its current freedoms for academies and free schools to prioritise admission for some disadvantaged children to all schools. I was able on Radio Kent to identify the one Kent academy, a grammar school, that has already gone down this route, However, I cannot see those oversubscribed church schools where the freedom would be most likely to have an effect, taking advantage of this opportunity to increase social cohesion and mobility.
Secondly, the Sutton Foundation, a highly respected education charity identified the best and worst academy chains in the country for improving disadvantaged pupils, finding a huge variation in the performance of sponsored academies run by the 31 long standing chains examined. One of the of the best performers, the Leigh Academy Trust, operates in Kent. Of those don’t who perform as well as maintained schools, five operate in Kent, including one very surprising chain based in the county......
Twydall Primary School: Commonsense rules with Governing Body decision to delay becoming a Sponsored AcademyWritten by Peter Read
Governors of Twydall Primary School were asked at their Governing Body meeting last night to approve a binding resolution at the GB meeting last evening, for the school to become a Sponsored Academy. The resolution was put by Medway Council which appeared to be trying to steamroller the decision through, as explained in my previous article here, only to back down on its demand at the last moment.
In the event, and following wide media coverage, articles on this website, a Facebook Campaign and a parental demonstration against the vote last evening, Governors resolved not to put the motion to the vote, but to postpone any decision until there had been a full consultation next term on whether to go down this path.
Many other schools have come under similar pressures and caved in, and this outcome shows that there can be another way, a precedent that may well be copied elsewhere in the country.....
Twydall Primary School; Governors to debate forced academisation on Thursday without parental consultationWritten by Peter Read
|Decision Update Published here|
I have been contacted by a number of parents since my previous article on the likelihood of Twydall Primary school becoming a fast track sponsored academy, run by the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, headed up by The Rochester Grammar School and the All Faiths Community Primary School in Strood. At a Governing Body meeting on Thursday 24th July, with just seven days notice, a binding resolution forcing the school to become a sponsored academy will be debated, three additional Local Authority Governors having been added to try and ensure the motion is carried. Parents are not being consulted although, at a meeting to discuss the OFSTED Report there was a strong majority against the idea.
Clearly, Medway Council is trying to force the takeover in a hurry, irrespective of the key 2013-14 data, which unofficially shows over 80% of the school’s pupils achieving the government floor standard of Level 4 in both English and maths, in the top quarter of all Medway primary schools. In addition, 51% of pupils passed the Medway Test against the 25% average across the Borough. This in a school that has a much higher than average number of children with special needs and with statements of SEN, and is designated as a centre for children with physical disabilities and complex medical needs. The school remains very popular and was oversubscribed with first choices for its 75 spaces.........
The Mystery of Twydall Primary School, Gillingham - and another look at Medway's appalling primary OFSTED results.Written by Peter Read
Back in March, OFSTED inspected Twydall Primary School in Gillingham, and found it Inadequate, placing the school in Special Measures. This will have been a great shock to many parents as the school had previously been found to be Good just 18 months previously in October 2012.
Unusually, but now happening more often, the Inspection was triggered by two parental complaints. Whilst we do not know the details of these complaints, OFSTED suggests that they were about the alleged failure of the school to respond to children presenting challenging behaviour, a growing issue in schools which have to balance the needs of these pupils with those of the whole cohort, including safeguarding and learning issues (I am often consulted on both sides of this argument!). There is a suggestion that this may have been partially triggered by poor behaviour management procedures relating to pupils with disabilities. The school has specialist provision for 43 children with physical disabilities or complex medical needs, along with a hearing impaired Unit, all children being taught in mainstream classes........
The story so far: In September 2010, Chaucer was still Canterbury’s most popular school, and the year before that I was handling appeals for places at the school. However, because of poor governance, mismanagement and failure to provide proper oversight of the school’s finances it had already started on a downward spiral culminating in OFSTED placing the school in Special Measures in February last year, identifying these as the key issues. By then the school had reduced its Planned Admission number from 235 to 150 with just 57 children entering the school in September 2013, filling only a quarter of the places available and taken up a few years previously. Kent County Council subsequently decided to close the school in February this year after just 26 children placed the school as their first preference, a decision that was unavoidable given all that had gone before. You will find further details here.
Following a Public Consultation, whose outcome was inevitable, given that nearly all students in Years 7-9 had been transferred to other schools by Easter, a formal decision to close the school from September 2015 was made on June 4th.
However, OFSTED in its most recent Monitoring Inspection of the school, explicitly and wrongly places the blame for the closure on the decision of The Canterbury Academy to increase its intake by two forms of intake to absorb a massive increase in first choices, soaring from 155 in 2013 to 205, rather than the failures of those responsible for the school itself, as parents sought to avoid the disaster that was now the Chaucer. This is demonstrated by the dramatic fall in first choices to 26, continuing a sharp decline over several years, finally halving from from 58 the previous year. This has nothing to do directly with Canterbury Academy, except for the latter's far more popular offering. Chaucer is currently run by the Executive Headteacher of the Swale Academies Trust, which originally took it over with the intention of turning it round, but having failed in this task is now closing it down after the current Year 10 students, the only year group left in the school, have taken their GCSEs.
OFSTED identifies the following consequences .............
Updates on previous items about: Barton Court Grammar School; Castle Community College; St John’s Primary School, Canterbury; and Furness Special SchoolWritten by Peter Read
his article looks at updates on a number of previous articles about individual schools: the proposed resiting of Barton Court Grammar School at Herne Bay (updated 20 May); Castle Community College's Special Measures Classification; St John’s Primary School, Canterbury, headteacher resurrected; and the redesignation of Furness Special School.......
I have been looking at the stories and information pages that have provoked most interest on this website. The most popular news items (those with over 20,000 visitors since publication ) naturally include six stories about Kent and Medway admissions and the Kent Test, and three about problems in Medway. What I hadn't appreciated was the popularity of stories about individual schools, the remainder being articles about Chaucer Technology School (49,820), Swan Valley School/Ebbsfleet Academy, Marlowe Academy, Dover Road Primary School (Gravesham), and two Catholic Schools - St Edmund's RC, Dover and St Philip Howard, Herne Bay, all attracting over 20,000 visitors.
Biggest draw by far is the information page article on Kent Grammar School Admissions at 85,687 visitors, the second most popular information article listing Kent Special Schools and Units (41,071). Other popular pages provide information about Kent secondary school admissions, Kent grammar school appeals, secondary school statistics on admissions and appeals, Medway grammar school applications, primary school admissions and appeals, and the thorny issue of school transport and transport appeals.
You will find the full lists below, followed by comments about some of the individual stories.........
It is with great personal pride and pleasure that I report that Ifield School in Gravesend has been awarded its second consecutive Outstanding OFSTED, so that the school has now been assessed as 'Outstanding' in three out of the past four Inspections. Ifield is a Special School serving children with Profound, Severe and Complex Difficulties and severe Communication Difficulties. I was Chairman of Governors for six years, taking over at a time of difficulty for the school but have now retired, although I continue as an Associate Governor, so am well aware of the challenges facing governors today.
The summary of the Report reads:......
This article looks at the consultation papers sent out out to parents and other interested parties regarding the proposed closure of the Chaucer Technology School, which are reproduced later in this document.
In my view the undue prominence given in the document to the expansion of the Canterbury academy as a reason for the closure, totally misses the point. The dramatic fall in numbers over five years, is purely down to the school failing to offer a quality of education attractive to families. The fact that there are just 26 first choices for Chaucer for September is nothing to do with Canterbury Academy, except that families are clearly finding it, and the other Canterbury District schools a far more attractive option.
The table in the document only gives the expected intake at Chaucer for September if the school was to remain open as 26, rather than the 40 offers made today. 26 is the number of first choices only, but is a realistic assessment, and mirrors the situation of 2013 entry, as most of the children who did not make it first choice did not take up their places having found preferred schools.
I think it is misleading, presumably unintentionally, when referring to places available in the Canterbury District. I can find no reference to the possible destinations of Year 7- 9 pupils. For the information of parents, In Years 7 to 9, the schools with vacant spaces are as follows: The Community College, Whitstable - 242; Spires Academy - 88; St Anselm's Catholic School - 27; The Archbishop's School - minus 5; Canterbury Academy - minus 33. All three grammar schools are full. It therefore follows that the overwhelming majority of the 237 children who are to be displaced from the school in September, will be destined for The Community College Whitstable, outside the city and over 8 miles by road. KCC does acknowledge that children will receive free school transport if they qualify (!) but this is hardly satisfactory. The council appears happy that there will be a 5% surplus in Canterbury District for the new Year Seven pupils, but again this is also likely to be concentrated in Whitstable!
It remains my view that the closure of Chaucer Technology School remains inevitable because of past and present mismanagement as explained in my previous articles...
The following table shows the miserable performance of Warren Wood Primary School at OFSTED Inspections over the past ten years. It includes FOUR Ofsted failures (three Special Measures, one Requires Improvement), three Inadequate Progress Inspections following Special Measures, just one Satisfactory OFSTED, one Good progress from Special Measures and two Satisfactory Progress Inspections following Special Measures or Requires Improvement.
Warren Wood Primary School
History of OFSTED Inspections
|Special Measures||June 2004|
|Good progress since SM||Nov 2005|
|Requires Improvement||May 2008|
|Satisfactory progress since RI||Jan 2009|
|Special Measures||Jul 2009|
|Inadequate progress since SM||Jan 2010|
|Inadequate progress since SM||May 2010|
Inadequate progress since SM
Satisfactory progress since
previous Monitoring Inspection
Satisfactory progress since SM
That is a decade of an appalling standard of education offered to pupils of Warren Wood Primary School. However, Medway Council continued to maintain in its most recent responses to my reporting of the disgraceful performance of the Council that: it has nothing to apologise for; it is doing alright (citing the exam performance of the secondary academies); that its School Improvement Department is excellent, and that any problem is down to the academies (which are mainly secondary schools, so its not!). OFSTED results of Medway Council controlled primary schools since September are as follows:
|Medway Primary School OFSTED Outcomes September 2013 to January 2014|
% of schools
% of schools
In 2012- 13 Medway Council was the worst but one Local Authority in the country, on the proportion of Good or Outstanding primary school OFSTED outcomes. For the current school year it appears fractionally better, but in fact is much worse, as five out of six schools that changed their classification have actually got worse, compared to one that became better.
Also this week has come the news that Napier Primary School, referred to previously, has had a second Monitoring Inspection, the conclusion being: "Evidence indicates the school has not improved quickly enough since the last monitoring inspection in October 2013. You have started to act on the recommendations made at that visit but too little is securely in place" ......
My own view, scarcely original, is that a school succeeds through the quality of its leadership, rather than its status as an academy, free school or maintained school. My current nomination for best performing school in Kent is the John Wallis CofE Academy in Ashford (my hometown, so I am one of the few that know who John Wallis was!). Yes, its OFSTED published last week was only ‘Good’, not ‘Outstanding’ but the school replaced the previous Christ Church School and Linden Grove Primary both in Special Measures under KCC control just over three years ago and has travelled a great distance in that time. It is only Kent's second all through, children ages 3-19, academy. OFSTED sets the scene by describing the school population's characteristics: “The proportion of students known to be eligible for the pupil premium (additional funding provided by the government to help nationally underperforming groups such as students eligible for free school meals and children who are looked after) is considerably above the national average; close to 80% of students are of a White British heritage. While the proportion of students from minority ethnic groups is below average, the proportion who speaks English as an additional language is well above average; The proportion of disabled students and those with special educational needs supported through school action is well above average. The proportion of students supported at school action plus or with a statement of special educational needs is also well above average”.
In other words, this is a school flourishing in an area that includes much deprivation, and where many would dismiss the school and its students as bound to fail, because of the very high proportion of disadvantaged and SEN pupils. Other schools with a similar intake do fail because of low expectations and poor leadership. John Wallis shows what can be done to overcome disadvantage.......
Since my previous article on the fate of Chatham Grammar following its failed OFSTED back in June, only the second grammar school in England to be placed in Special Measures, there have been dramatic and controversial changes at the school. A monitoring Inspection by OFSTED in October clearly approved of developments, one Facebook page run by parents tells a very different story, but a second one apparently run by responsible students tells another. Newsletters published by the school describe some of the factual changes, and I have also been kept informed by worried parents and prospective parents providing me with information and seeking advice.
The OFSTED Report and school information show that the governance of the school has passed to the RGS/AFS Thinking Schools Trust.
The latest OFSTED Report on Shoreham Village School, which was published earlier this week placing the school in Special Measures, is possibly the most scathing I have ever read. The school is found inadequate in every category: achievement of pupils; quality of teaching; behaviour and safety of pupils, and leadership & management. This is a dramatic turnaround from the previous inspection of 2010 when the school was judged to be good. Shoreham is just north of Sevenoaks with an annual intake of just 15 and fills each year, in spite of the problems.
Typically of failing schools, there are staffing problems: “At the time of the inspection the substantive headteacher was on long-term sick leave. Four members of staff began working in the school in September 2013, including an acting headteacher who is providing support to the school for three days a week temporarily”. This is in spite of “Arrangements to lead it temporarily have gained the confidence of parents, staff, governors and pupils”, confirming that the problems are not primarily related to the new staff appointed.
It is clear from the Leadership & Management section where the problems are located.......
When is an academy not an academy? The mystery of Ebbsfleet Academy (aka Swan Valley Community School)Written by Peter Read
Ebbsfleet Academy in Swanscombe had its official opening on Thursday 19th September, also attended by local dignitaries. However, there is no Ebbsfleet Academy, rather there is Swan Valley School, which hopes to become an academy on 1st November 2013, after extensive delays, partly brought about by the complexities of converting a school built under the Private Finance Initiative. I understand that unravelling the PFI issues is now the main hold up, but given this is a problem nationally for such schools wishing to convert, it was surely premature to assume that at Swan Valley all would run more smoothly. The Department for Education's school data base now shows Ebbsfleet Academy as a sponsor led academy, proposed start date 1st November, with Swan Valley being billed to close on 31st October.
Interestingly, in media interviews and comments two weeks ago, when I broke the story of how PFI academies would still continue to cost Local Authorities unfair costs after conversion, focused around Swan Valley, no one thought to correct the false information that the school had actually become Ebbsfleet Academy. Hardly surprising as everything about the running of the school gives the same impression.
Why is this of interest, apart from the misleading information? Ever since November when the previous headteacher was deposed, there has been controversy about the running of Swan Valley, and I have had a succession of messages from parents and staff expressing their concerns. Not an enormous number, but more than I have received for any other school in difficulties, and dwelling on the punitive nature of the school ethos or, for its supporters, the strict discipline. A recent example of this is the controversy over the home school agreement, where the school falsely maintained there ws a parental obligation to agree to it. This is accompanied by concerns about poor communication which are obvious even to me, an outsider.
As a result I have monitored developments at the school from a distance......