Indeed there is a general view that this was a very angry meeting, partly because there was no one present at which to direct the anger.
The meeting opened with a statement and outline of planned developments by Ms Denise Shepherd, the new Executive Head, who was supported by Mr Stuart Gardner, the Interim Principal, both from The Rochester Grammar (RGS). She confirmed that at least one of them would be in the school five days a week, confirming their commitment to the task ahead. She is a National Leader of Education and RGS has considerable experience of supporting less successful schools.
She explained how the problems had arisen, stemming from the Ofsted Report of 2012 that found the school satisfactory, but gave strong recommendations on how to improve standards. She summarised the current Report, which identified that these recommendations had not been followed, inevitably leading to the school failure and Special Measures being imposed. The Report identifies that this is mainly a failure of leadership, not only of the school leaders, but also of the governors (where were they on the evening, having legal responsibility for the school and the events leading up to this debacle?). She was highly critical of the governance of the school and indicated that new governors would be sought, who had the skills to manage the improvements required.
Key to those improvements is the training and retraining to be provided for staff and governors in order to ensure boys achieve their full potential; with a clear indication that inadequate staff would have to go.
Other straightforward strategies responding to criticisms in the Report are to ensure marking and assessment are properly carried out, that boys are given proper explanations when they are going wrong, proper progress records are kept for each boy to assess their current position and what needs to be done to progress most effectively. Training should also include management skills for heads of department to ensure that staff always have a good back up team behind them (Peter: nothing complicated about this strategy, which should have been in place before).
Ofsted will be back within a few months and will be monitoring the school closely, so there will need to be improvements and results within a short period. This should serve to restore much of the lost confidence.
Questions and comments went on for a long time. Some key themes:
$1· Parents were cross they had only found out the news from the media. Ms Shepherd explained that she had only arrived at the school a few days before the Report was published, when the media swarm hit the school immediately. There had been an embargo on the decision, so the school could not inform parents in advance, although she had put a letter on the school website at the earliest opportunity.
$1· There was an almost unanimous view that the school should not change and become like the Rochester grammar schools "where they only care about results, where they are all robots getting straight A's, and the children’s welfare is not considered" (Peter: to quote a popular view that I do not subscribe to). Parents knew why they had chosen Chatham over the Math, as it offered something different, a view that was repeated and loudly applauded. Ms Shepherd replied that it was clear from what she had already seen, that there was a strong community ethos at Chatham, and she wouldn’t try to change this into an RGS style.
$1· She reported a serious lack of funding in the school, with parts needing a lot of work done and not enough boys to attract more finance (Peter: the consequence of the falling rolls across Medway and discrimination against boys in the Medway Test I have been arguing for some time without success – here is the outcome). She is already tackling the issues, and appreciated offers of physical help from some parents. She has access to possible sources of funding, but there are no guarantees.
$1· Some parents complained that boys haven't been fully told about what is happening and some boys were upset, embarrassed or ashamed that this has happened to their school. She promised to address this and speak to the students as soon as possible
$1· Parents were worried about the bad press and boys not wanting to come next year. She said this was potentially a very good school and everyone needs to do everything they can to explain to prospective boys and parents about the strengths of the school and how great is that potential. Some concerns that the school could be forced to close, but Ms Shepherd did not see this as an issue (Peter: when secondary rolls in Medway rise again in a few years, and if the discrimination against boys being found selective can be resolved numbers will inevitably rise again).
$1· There was considerable criticism of the role of governors in bringing the school down. I have not had reports that Mr Marshall, the retired headteacher was directly criticised.
$1· Some parents expressed the view that their sons felt a responsibility for the failure. They bear no guilt and parents felt this needs to be stressed.
$1· There were a number of individual comments and grievances about problems in the school, but these appear to be ones that can be easily resolved, or else echoed the issues aired above.
Some parental quotes: “Before I went to the meeting I had a bad impression of her from what I had read on the internet, but she came across well and I think put many people’s minds at rest as she was very informative and seemed to know exactly what she was doing. The new interim principal didn't really say very much but seemed to know what he was talking about, as he has had a lot of experience in a boys’ grammar school before he went to Rochester Girls”.
“I came out of the meeting feeling quite positive, spoke to a member of staff outside the meeting who said they were all very sad about the Headmaster but the new management seemed to be getting on top of things already after only a week, and have given confidence about the future of the school”.
“Obviously this isn't the first school she has supported and from what she has said, has turned around other schools in a short period of time. I think they will do a good job and my main worry was that it would be turned into a clone of Rochester Grammar. I genuinely don't think that this is going to happen as the staff and boys won't allow it anyway. That's as long as she doesn't replace ALL the staff!”
“I felt that most parents were behind the school 100% last night which was a good feeling and all of us would do anything to help our children and school”.
“Let's hope she does a good job, they employ a good head and by next year this can be forgotten so that this will again be one of the best Grammar Schools in Medway, even though I know it already is!”