The most recent OFSTED Monitoring Inspection in November, after the school struggled out of Special Measures in July 2013, shows it falling back to previous levels, with two failed Inspections in 2010 and 2011. However, its first OFSTED Monitoring Inspection in June 2007 had promised much, although setting out the challenges the academy faced: “The academy draws its students from some of the most socially and economically deprived wards in Kent”.
Although this Monitoring Report was published on 26th November 2014, it is not yet published on the Marlowe Academy website, as required under the rules, a more encouraging one from 2013 being the latest to be found. I have written several previous articles, the most recent in January 2013 posing the question: “Does the Marlowe Have a Future?”. This looked at falling rolls even then with only 62 students in Year 7 in September 2012, in a building designed for an intake of 180, and high turnover in staff and the leadership team. Both of these issues have worsened further as explained below, with just 32 children in the current Year 7. The academy suffered considerable disruption when another Principal left suddenly in October 2013 having worked hard to raise standards, the current OFSTED Report recording that: “Examination outcomes in 2014 declined dramatically (from an already very low GCSE base of 28%). This is associated with the disruption to the leadership of the academy following the sudden departure of the previous Principal”.
However, arguably, the biggest problem of all for the Academy is recruitment, both of good staff and students. OFSTED observes: “Recruitment is a problem. There are a number of inexperienced, and some unqualified, teachers in several departments. They are given good quality mentoring support but they also require expert subject-based guidance about how to develop their skills; it is not clear how this will be provided in some instances”. Even more worryingly: “The number of students at the academy is declining rapidly. For example, 142 students completed Year 11 in 2014 and there are currently only 32 in Year 7….Falling student numbers are generating very significant financial problems for the academy and the sponsor and trustees are working with the Department for Education and the Education Funding Agency to provide stability for the resourcing of the academy in the medium and long term”.
The Academy Trustees have responded robustly to the most recent issues: “An Executive Principal, who was Principal of the other academy sponsored by Sir Roger De Haan, in Folkestone, was appointed to oversee both academies and to enable them to work more closely together. You (the latest Headteacher, Mrs Newman) were appointed as headteacher of the academy in January 2014, having been Vice Principal at Folkestone Academy. There has been significant turn-over of other senior team members; of the current team, one is seconded from Folkestone Academy. There have also been changes in the leadership of several key subject areas over this time, and a high turn-over of staff in September 2014……You and the Executive Principal have a clear grasp of the challenges the academy faces. You are both addressing all of the right priorities on the basis of a clear understanding of what needs doing. You, however, are having to personally deliver some key aspects of academy improvement because of general lack of leadership capacity.
Perhaps most worryingly: “Falling student numbers are generating very significant financial problems for the academy and the sponsor and trustees are working with the Department for Education and the Education Funding Agency to provide stability for the resourcing of the academy in the medium and long term. A likely increase in student numbers from 2018 onwards suggests that the academy is viable in the medium and long term, but more students are required in lower year groups as soon as possible”. There is no doubt that the academy suffers from its reputation with, for example, of the 51 offers made for Year 7 places back in March 2014, 18 being to children who had not applied. Current numbers suggest that none of these ended up in the school, for it is seen by many as a school of last resort, in a District where nearly every other non-selective school is full. The OFSTED comment suggests that in three years time, as there will be nowhere else for potential students to go to, numbers will rise - hardly a recommendation! There is also an implication that the school will need to be financially subsidised for its failure, a solution which would surely be against the rules. In a parallel situation, KCC was forced to close the Chaucer Technology College in Canterbury last year, when only 42 Year 7 students were allocated to the school, because it would no longer be financially viable.
The school website still only records provisional data for GCSE performance in 2013 although it is required to publish the official figures, with nothing for sixth form studies. The official DfE statistics for 2013 placed the school bottom but one in Kent for five A-Cs including maths and English with just 28% (although its best for four years!). Now OFSTED has described the 2014 performance as “Examination outcomes in 2014 declined dramatically “, we can expect further bad news when GCSE results are published shortly. It may be that the reason no Sixth Form results have been published is that there were just 3.3 full-time equivalent A Level students in 2013, surely not enough to run viable A Level courses, although there was a total of 41 vocational students, so I am not sure this is an explanation.
I have had email exchanges with a representative of the Academy who refused to accept the data I have published previously and either misunderstood the facts, or else had been misinformed by those responsible. Such failure to acknowledge reality, as exemplified elsewhere in my previous articles has been a problem from the beginning, with the academy making too many misleading public statements about important factual matters. The Trustees do now need to acknowledge the reality which may be, in answer to my question posed above, that there is no future for the Marlowe Academy in its present form unless it is heavily and unfairly subsidised by government.
A subsequent comment on behalf of Roger de Haan, who chairs the Board of Trustees, reported by Kent Online on 9th January, states: A statement issued on behalf of Roger De Haan, who chairs the board of trustees, said: “It is the case the Marlowe Academy faces challenges, and as Ofsted’s letter states, governors are in discussion with the DfE about ways to address the issues that have been highlighted. It is not appropriate or helpful at this stage to speculate about what measures may be taken.” It is good to know that six weeks after the Report was published, Governors are discussing what action to take about its concerns.
Kent County Council is one of the sponsors of the Marlowe Academy, able to appoint two Trustees, but at present appears to have only one on the Board. This is Graham Badman, who was KCC Director of Education, but left some years ago and now has no connection with KCC. OFSTED is quite explicit about the current ‘relationship’: “The local authority is a co-sponsor but has provided no support for the work of the academy recently”. I detect no love lost between the two organisations.
The tragedy is that with this being a school of last resort, it is also grappling with and failing some real challenges for children who are in greatest need of a basic education, including a significant number placed In Care in Thanet by London Boroughs. Many of these will enter and leave the school at different stages of their education producing further disruption.
Note: My previous article on "Marlowe Academy -Does it have a Future?" has now been read an astonishing 59735 times to date, although topped by several others led by "Is Chaucer Technology School in Canterbury to be closed by KCC" way out in front at 139032. Can anyone explain why these and similar articles are attracting such a high number of hits?