A letter to parents reports that the controversial Headteacher of Whitehill Primary School, an Academy and part of the Gravesend Grammar School Academy Trust has been given leave of absence and the Associate Head of Gravesend Grammar has been put into the school as Acting Head.
This follows a particularly turbulent year in the life of this troubled school. Much of the background to this sorry story is reported elsewhere in this website.
Allegations of cheating in SATs last year, which saw the school’s Key Stage 2 results annulled, and in Early Years Assessments in 2014 and 2015 have bedevilled the school, and the Department for Education carried out a visit last week which may have triggered the leave of absence.
Turnover of staff is very high, staff morale is rock bottom, and by one measure the school is the most unpopular in the county, with 30 children allocated to Reception classes by KCC in April who had not even applied for the school. I am regularly contacted by parents seeking advice on how to avoid sending their children to Whitehill Primary.
One of the many questions being asked by so many people in the local community and by many past and present staff is why this scandal has been allowed to continue for so long, especially after the Headteacher was removed by KCC from the neighbouring Kings Farm Primary School in July 2014 where she had been installed as Executive Head in January 2014........
This was after the school had nose-dived to the situation where 15 out of 24 staff resigned that summer, and teachers had submitted a damning grievance about the leadership of the school that had been investigated and the complaints upheld by KCC. The problems were underlined by an OFSTED Report that October, which heavily criticised the departed leadership, but reported that the school was now on the mend. Sadly for Whitehill staff, a grievance submitted by them as long ago as 2010, but containing many similar features, was firmly rejected by governors. Action then might have avoided the current situation.
The current staffing situation is as follows: the school, which has 22 teachers, is employing 6 newly qualified teachers (NQTs), two of whom were engaged over the summer holidays, together with three NQT plus one years. Of the three teachers with two years’ qualified teaching experience, one is the English co-ordinator the other having seen extremely rapid promotion to Assistant Headteacher, whose responsibilities include being Assessment Manager and Phase Leader for Years 5 and 6. Three years’ experience is sufficient to qualify another teacher to become NQT mentor, promoted from English co-ordinator. Another new teacher appointed over the summer holidays has experience. The second Assistant Headteacher is on long term sick leave. There are also two instructors. The school also provides cover with student teachers teaching lessons for absent staff which is not appropriate. Two NQTS left in July 2015, because of lack of support, with seven other teachers leaving recently mostly, if not all, for similar reasons, and others on the way. Surely questions should have been asked before about how such an unbalanced staffing profile, which cannot be providing effective teaching and learning across the school, was allowed to develop.
Like it or not, Governors have a role to challenge the headteacher and the school if there are issues and to take action where necessary. In the case of Whitehill, there are just too many matters that appear to have been ignored. Have governors of the school and the Academy Trust not expressed concern about the high turnover of staff; were they not aware of the unhappiness of those who have left and those who remained? Various staff have tried to express their concerns about aspects of the school management to members of the Trust Board - why have they not been listened to - instead, several appear to have paid a price? Did governors ask questions about the illegality of the KS2 results in 2014, that led to them being annulled? Are they not members of the local community when they should be aware of the shocking reputation the school carries with it, and the resulting large numbers of children allocated who had no wish to be there (25% for September 2015)? Are they not aware of the problems with the early years assessments that have been reported to the Education Authorities - was an investigation carried out to find who was responsible? The evidence is there! Unfortunately, there appears to be no accountability for governors, so even if this specific issue gets resolved, they will presumably continue being governors and in the same blinkered way until another crisis emerges. I understand the Chairman of Whitehill Governors is standing down next month. Is he simply going to slip away or is he speaking out first on behalf of the children of the school whose welfare he is there to protect? This is of course an academy, so the Local Authority has no power to intervene.