OFSTED has recently published three Reports on Monitoring Inspections: at Cuxton Junior School following its failure in October; at Silverbank Pupil Referral Unit following its failure in June; at Gordon Junior School at Temple Mill Primary School in Strood, having been found to Require Improvement in November. The outcomes make further grim reading for Medway Council which repeatedly claims its standards are improving and it is not failing its children, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including two previous Monitoring Inspections of Napier Community Primary and Walderslade Primary. These were explicitly critical of Medway Council's 'Support', suggesting yet again that whilst the Authority can identify problems, it does not know what to do about them. UPDATE: A further Monitoring Inspection of Napier Community Primary School in January 2014 has found that "Evidence indicates the school has not improved quickly enough since the last monitoring inspection in October 2013".
For Cuxton, the shocking conclusion that “The local authority’s statement of action is not fit for purpose. The school’s improvement plan is not fit for purpose” is one that rarely appears so baldly in such Reports, given that the after an OFSTED failure, a Local Authority should be focusing all its attentions on improving the school. Clearly, the school itself has been trying to improve matters, the Head of the Infant School having been appointed as Executive Head of the two schools to improve standards: “The school has accepted the inspection judgement and school leaders, staff and governors are determined to improve the school as quickly as possible. Parents and carers are supportive and appreciate the changes that have already been made”. However, there is no doubt where the key blame lies: “She is at full stretch as the leader and manager of both the infant and junior schools and does not have a strong enough leadership team in the junior school to support her. There is no deputy headteacher. The assistant headteacher teaches for three and a half days each week, is the assessment leader and also has responsibility for leading improvements in mathematics. The subject leader for English is very new to the role. Other teaching staff are relatively inexperienced and three teachers are new entrants to the profession. This means that there is too little leadership capacity in the school to achieve rapid improvement” - why has Medway Council allowed this appalling lack of support to exist and continue? Further, “The local authority’s statement of action and action plan for the school ...does not have quantifiable targets for improvements in the quality of teaching or for pupils’ progress. The targets set for pupils’ attainment by the end of the current academic year are not achievable and have not been set in consultation with the school. Some actions and priorities are not logically sequenced in the plan. It is not always clear how and by whom progress will be monitored. The interim executive headteacher has begun to rewrite the school’s development plan in response to the inspection findings, but this work is not complete. Although the priorities in the local authority’s and the school’s plans are similar, the actions do not match. There are no timescales for implementation or short-term targets on the school’s development plan. The lack of clear short-term and long-term targets in both plans will make it difficult for the local authority and the governing body to judge the progress that the school is making. Governors are increasingly knowledgeable about the school’s work, have a higher profile around the school and feel more confident to ask questions in meetings. They are kept well informed by the interim executive headteacher. Effective links have been made with the governing body at Cuxton Infants School and some meetings are now held jointly. The external review of governance that was recommended at the time of the section 5 inspection has not yet taken place and there is no specific action plan for the governing body”.
In November, there was also a Monitoring Inspection of Silverbank, the Pupil Referral Centre in Chatham, which failed its OFSTED in June as part of the OFSTED focused Inspection. Once again, this is surely a priority for the Council to improve standards. However, whilst “The local authority has provided some helpful strategic support and has brokered additional consultant support and advice for The Oaks and The Rowans. However, the overall statement of action is not suitably detailed about what needs to be done, the timescales involved and who is responsible for checking the quality of the actions taken in meeting the areas for improvement raised at the last inspection. Plans do not now adequately reflect the current position, in light of recent decisions about the future of site. Following the monitoring inspection these judgements were made: The school’s action plans are fit for purpose. The local authority’s statement of action is not fit for purpose”.
Temple Mill Primary school in Strood was found to Require Improvement by OFSTED in November, and also had a Monitoring Inspection in December, results published today. After a highly critical Report, the conclusion on External Support reads: “The impact of external support on improving achievement and strengthening leadership has been limited. Leadership and governance are not developed well enough for the school to improve without continued support. Support from the National Leader of Education (NLE) has encouraged senior leaders to begin to challenge teaching where improvements need to be made and given opportunities to share best practice. Additional support from the local authority Early Years adviser has been planned but nor yet started. The local authority has concerns about the lack of improvement and identified that continued support is needed. The governing body has agreed to fund continued support from the NLE in the spring but neither the local authority nor governing body have held leaders accountable well enough for the lack of progress”. Of course, Temple Mill suffered last year from having an employee steal £212,000 from its funds, and whilst most of the money was recovered, Medway Council decided to penalise the school, by keeping the recovered money for itself! Surely, the school is in need of these funds which were rightly its own, to improve standards. Instead of helping a school that Requires Improvement, Medway Council "stole" the money. Temple Mill now has one vacancy for a Local Authority governor. Perhaps this is the time for Medway Council to implement the second recommendation of its feeble plan to improve standards, and appoint a Local Councillor who can demonstrate and make use of the skills they possess to improve standards! The Plan itself, now nearly two years old, appears to have had no positive outcomes at all, as the Authority has slumped even further in standards at SATs and OFSTED outcomes since that date.
For completeness, there was also a sixth Monitoring Inspection, of Gordon Junior School in November. This is generally positive, but concludes with the following comment about Medway Council: "it is aware of the concerns over the future leadership of the school and given the imminent change in senior leadership it has not provided the necessary reassurance to the governing body".
I understand that Medway Council employs some staff and advisers purely for the purpose of School Improvement. It is clear that for many years these staff have been failing in their responsibilities, as have those who oversee them. Medway’s own solution now appears to be to get rid of problem schools and hope someone else can do better. Cuxton and Temple Mill are understood to be in discussion with the Rochester Grammar School/All Faith’s School Trust, and the problem part of Silverbank is to go to the Williamson Trust, these being two of the three Medway Grammar School Academy Trusts which appear to be bidding to take over problem primary schools in Medway.
I am regularly asked what Medway should do to improve the standard of education offered. One simple way forward would be to study these OFSTED Reports, see in what ways the Authority is criticised in them, and work hard to eliminate these failures in the future.
A search for “Medway” on this website reveals news items dating back years, dealing with the Council's hopeless inadequacy and failure to manage the Education Service. I have been criticised for not praising the improvements they have put into place. I would if I could see ANY positive outcomes, rather than this repeated failure whose victims are of course the children of Medway’s taxpayers. Surely, Government must take action soon and place the service in the hands of someone more competent to deliver success, or even limited progress.