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Friday, 03 January 2014 08:00

Chatham Grammar School for Boys:Update

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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

RGS/AFS Thinking Schools Trust

The Trust was founded by a partnership between The Rochester Grammar School and the All Faiths Children’s Community (primary) School in Strood.  It also runs Portsmouth Academy for Girls, has interests in South East Asia, and has agreed to run the new primary Free School being built in Chatham – New Horizons Primary. It is negotiating to run the Gordon Schools primary Federation as an academy (Junior School in Serious Weaknesses), although this proposal is reported to have run into difficulties. The Federation website appears to have lost some of the information previously displayed. Part of the problem at Gordon is reported to relate to a private company, 3J School Improvement Specialists Ltd. This company comprises three Directors, all former school Improvement Officers for Medway Council, whose aim is to be ”Providers of quality support and training for schools, Local Authorities and other education Providers” and who have also carried out work for the Trust and Medway Council.

Chatham Grammar School for Boys: Governance

A letter from the school to parents on 9th December reports that the Trustees of the Chatham Grammar School for Boys Academy Trust, who alone have the authority to make such decisions, voted to ask to join the RGS/AFS Group as a Sponsored Academy, although it is not clear if this has happened yet.

The decision was described as voluntary, on the basis that "the expectation of The Department for Education is that all schools that go into Special Measures become sponsored academies". However, there are plenty of counter-examples where the pressures have been resisted. In this case, considerable pressure appears to have come from Medway Council - hardly a role model in successfully managing underperforming schools. We know that the previous head was forced to resign with the threat that, if not the Governing Body would be replaced by one who would force him out. However, this did not save them and the GB has now been replaced by an Interim Management Body of five members, led by the Chief Executive Officer and Deputy CEO of the Leigh Academy Trust in Dartford and including one member of the former Governing Body which has been disbanded.

Add in a Local Governing Body for each school in the Trust, what a complex and expensive administrative structure, not exceptional in recent years but also not education as I knew it! 

 

The school

Staffing

Mr Field, Deputy Head, has followed the headmaster’s example and left the school, departing mid-term. They have been replaced by Mr Stuart Gardner, from The Rochester Grammar School, who has since been promoted to permanent School Principal, and appears to be gaining the confidence of most parents. He is overseen by Ms Shepherd, previously HT at RGS, who remains Executive Principal of the Trust. Nine more teaching staff left at half-term or at Christmas as the school sees a rapid turnover in common with most other schools placed in Special Measures, although the school is not currently allowed to appoint Newly Qualified staff. There are concerns from parents that, before new permanent staff have been put in place, there are currently too many temporary staff in post.

Sixth Form Entrance

One important change is in the entry requirements to the Sixth Form, which have traditionally been amongst the most generous of any grammar school, but still seeing 98% of A Level candidates achieving at least two A Levels in 2012, higher than a number of Kent grammar schools. However, this is not good enough for OFSTED, which does not recognise the opportunities this provided for local young people and compared the school to its disadvantage with others who set far higher entry requirements. The school will now require A Level entrants to achieve Level Bs at GCSE in three of the four subjects they propose to study, and an A Grade if this is mathematics – similar to the other local grammar schools admitting boys. There is a wider issue here as grammar, non-selective and comprehensive schools are all being forced to increase their entry requirements in order to achieve the A Level results that league tables and OFSTED expect. Too bad for young people capable of scoring A Level passes at lower grades – few schools want them! Indeed whilst they may fit the traditional Chatham Grammar profile, this is another clear sign of the direction the school leadership is taking, to enhance the school’s academic reputation. One only hopes there are sufficient students to go round, as the school is currently in financial difficulties because of the historic falling roll numbers in Medway. Thankfully these are now on the turn at secondary transfer age, so the school should have a brighter future.

Young people part way through the Sixth Form course have entered it on certain expectations, and should not see major changes in approach that they are now unable to fulfil. In particular, sixth form students can only be required to leave if they are permanently excluded on disciplinary grounds, although if they are unable to cope with the changes taking place they may be unwise to continue, even where this results in loss of a year’s study.

Standards and Culture

It is clear that the school is setting a tighter (fiercer?) disciplinary approach, and the school letters and first Facebook page show sharply contrasting views on whether this is appropriate or necessary. The school's main aim is seen in its determination to improve standards of teaching and expectation - hence the high turnover of teachers, but this is countered by a hopefully short term loss – the high number of temporary and supply teachers in the school. Certainly, the two published versions of events highlight the battle over the culture of the school, which probably reflects contrasting views amongst parents also.

The school leadership under Mr Gardner continues to send out very positive signs of progress in a school where change is indeed needed. By contrast, many parents remain anxious that too many inappropriate changes are taking place and are fearful that “the RGS approach” is damaging or destroying morale in the school.

Next Steps

The next hurdle is a second Monitoring Inspection from OFSTED which is expected shortly. This will also use as evidence “Parent View”, an opportunity for parents to express their opinions of the school via the OFSTED website. Currently, this shows that of 125 parents who have recorded  their views, over 80% consider the school well-led and managed, 90% would recommend the school to another parent, other indicators falling mainly between these two figures. However, these figures rely almost exclusively on entries from 2012-13, i.e. before the changes, there being insufficient responses for 2013-14 so far!

After this will come secondary school allocation figures on 3rd March which will show how the furore, that broke before parents chose their child’s secondary school in October, has affected its popularity. Entry to the Sixth Form is probably a more critical factor, and one can see the number of A Level courses being severely trimmed to save money as numbers fall in this area.  

Conclusion

There is no way that Chatham Grammar School should fail to get back on track if managed appropriately; change is necessary and is taking place even if ham-fistedly - the main obstacle being the potentially  destructive battle over culture.

With secondary rolls in Medway increasing year on year in the future, numbers will inevitably increase, and so the future of the school should and must be secured.

One final thought: is the introduction of the key officers at the Leigh Academy at the highest level a sign that RGS may be finding Chatham Grammar too hot to handle and is preparing to hand it over to another Academy Group. The current action is certainly not enhancing the reputation of the Trust, but whatever the final structure, we can only hope it is for the benefit of the students of the school, not just grinding out good outcomes to please OFSTED.  

Read 18290 times Last modified on Monday, 27 January 2014 05:52

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