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Sunday, 18 October 2015 18:39

Medway Council's Latest Initiative to Improve Standards in Primary Schools

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Medway Council has launched its second initiative to improve standards across its schools in three years, this one called “Get Medway Learning” , the previous initiative entitled “Effective Challenge of Underperformance in Schools” having sunk without trace or effect.

The initiative aims to raise the bar in local primary and secondary schools, ensuring children are receiving a quality education and achieving to the very best of their ability, certainly a laudable aim, as for 2013-14, the last year for which results are available, Medway Primary schools came bottom in the country in both Key Stage 2 performance and OFSTED Inspection outcomes.

However, I remain unconvinced it will fare any better than the 2012 attempt, except that perhaps Medway Council is at last realising the seriousness of its situation and the damage being done to Medway children’s education. The only bright sign on the horizon is the continued good performance of Medway secondary schools, producing GCSE results above the national average, and demonstrating they are turning round the underperformance in the primary sector.

The main themes of the initiative are:…..

Ramping up the recruitment of good and outstanding teachers and ensuring those currently in post are up to the job, delivering effective and engaging lessons.
• Encouraging deputy head teachers from already high achieving schools in London to step up into head teacher roles in Medway, to drive improvement and raise standards.
• Promoting the role of school governors and trying to encourage more members of the community to take a more active interest in their local primary school.
• Encouraging local people, universities and businesses to pledge to become a volunteer reader at their local primary school.
• Sending more reading volunteers into schools and highlighting the importance of parents taking the time to read with their children at home - support by national reading charity Beanstalk.

 What is most marked is that there is no explicit mention of any role for Medway’s discredited School Improvement Department, the emphasis shifting to bringing in external talent.

My thoughts on the actions:

Action one - “the ramping up of recruitment of good and outstanding teachers” sounds impressive and by definition such teachers would be experienced and from outside Medway. However, there are no clues how this is to be done, in a climate where there is an increasing shortage of teachers, and with Medway’s current appalling performance there will need to be strong incentives. The problem underperforming schools everywhere face is to persuade experienced teaching staff to take a big career risk. If the school subsequently fails an OFSTED, then teachers’ jobs are at risk.

“Ensuring those currently in post are up to the job” is surely a task for the Medway School Improvement Department, but their poor track record over many years suggests the first task is to get their house in order. In a number of cases, members of the team are leaving Medway Council’s employ and then being re-hired back as consultants to use their ‘expertise’ to sort out the problems. 

Action Two – “Encouraging deputy head teachers from already high achieving schools in London to step up into head teacher roles in Medway”. There is at least one current example of this, at an OFSTED failed primary that is now being turned round, but will more come? The two key barriers are that in most high performing London boroughs the successful local councils offer a powerful education department which has driven up standards and attracted good staff. The result is that boroughs such as Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham are regularly amongst the highest performers in the country because of the high quality of support for schools backed up by high funding.  Neither of these is evident in Medway.

The second is the simple one of salary, with London weighting meaning that heads would earn tens of thousands more per annum than in Medway,  a perennial problem all around the London boundary, including north West Kent.

Action Three “Promoting the role of school governors” again sounds good stuff, but here the public actions of the Cabinet Member in refusing to support the majority of governors at Hempstead Juniors over a difficult issue led to their resignation, and sent a very bad message out to governors across the Borough. There are fences that need mending first in order to build up governor morale. In the previous crisis plan in 2012, it was proposed that all Medway Councillors should put their expertise to good use as school governors. It would be interesting to know how many followed this recommendation through; perhaps we can be told. I am not sure what the second half of this action means in practice and look forward to learning the tactics to be employed.

That seems to be it for strategic thought, with Actions Four and Five merging into a campaign to encourage volunteer readers into schools and enlisting the national reading charity Beanstalk, to support this programme and encourage parents to hear children read at home. Hopefully some of the volunteers can sort out the grammatical problems in the statement of Action Four. This is the main realistic and practical action I can see in the programme, led by a national charity that appears to do good work,  but it needs to be said that good schools elsewhere, and presumably in Medway, have of course been encouraging reading volunteers for many years.

If you are interested in being a  volunteer reader, then meet a Beanstalk representative and ask questions about volunteering at the following Medway venues between 9am and 5pm: Tuesday, 3 November – Dockside Outlet Centre, Chatham; Monday, 9 November – Medway Park, Gillingham; Tuesday, 17 November – Asda, Chatham

Medway Council’s View

Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services Cllr Mike O’Brien said: “This campaign is set to be a spring board for improvement and progress for our schools here in Medway, particularly in our primary schools. While we have some excellent schools in the area, some are not performing to the expected standard and while they are working hard to improve, some are not making progress quickly enough. I am excited about this rigorous initiative to drive progress, however the campaign won’t succeed unless we have teachers, governors, parents and children fully on board – only then can we make a real difference. This is an energetic programme focussed on sustainable improvement with the aim of seeing progress over the coming years, and we need to drive up standards, give children quality education and enable them to achieve to the very best of their ability.” 

Splendid words.

Read 1716 times Last modified on Sunday, 18 October 2015 19:22

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