For Special Measures: ‘where the Head has been in place for less than a year, and in some cases slightly longer than that, we would not expect to take any formal action with the headteacher. Where the head has been in place for at least two years we would expect to take significant action. Following discussion at County Hall, the Head and Chair will have an opportunity for reflection (!). In most cases with the headteacher’s agreement, they will be placed on gardening leave whilst discussions take place with the union. If a Head does not wish this option then we go immediately to the formal target setting process' (i.e. probably leading to dismissal).
Whilst there is no excuse for children receiving a poor education, and too many heads have been on lengthy sick leave recently, preparatory to departing the school and their career, it appears that KCC has produced a knee jerk reaction to its own failure to improve standards, or alternatively is responding to government pressure in a simplistic way. In a 2012 document “Bold Steps for Kent”, KCC set as a policy aim for 2015: “No KCC schools will be in an Ofsted category of concern. There will be more good schools, with at least 85% of primary and secondary schools judged as good or outstanding”.
The OFSTED performance of Kent’s primary schools has actually declined so far this year, even from last year’s deplorable 133rd place out of 152 Local Authorities, on percentage of Good or Outstanding OFSTED’s, However whilst this is partially reflected in a national reduction in Good or Outstanding OFSTEDs over roughly the same period from 62% to 59%, Kent continues to seriously lag behind the national average. The figure of Reported OFSTED Grades from September 2013 to date is as follows
|Kent Primary School OFSTEDs - compared with last year and nationally|
A figure of 12 OFSTED failures is running at twice last year’s rate. True three of these are primary academies outside KCCs control, but two, Tree Tops Academy and Mole Hill Copse Primary, were handed over to a poorly performing Academy Group after years of failure by KCC to improve them. The third, Westlands Primary School, sponsored by the Swale Academies Trust, is the first Kent academy to fail its OFSTED having been previously ‘Satisfactory’ as a KCC school, so clearly getting rid of the poorly performing schools is no answer! Just as worrying is the tally of primary schools that have changed their rating. In Kent more schools have declined than have improved their standard – 20 down (including 5 that have fallen two grades) to 18 improved. A dramatic reversal on last year, when 79% of the changes were up one or more grades, which suggested that Bold Steps was initially having a positive effect.
This attack on headteachers is clearly the outcome of Kent’s failure to support its schools by identifying problems early enough to tackle them without creating the current climate of fear. I was initially impressed by the programme that KCC set up under Bold Steps called ‘Kent Challenge’ to tackle low performing schools. It appears its only solutions now are either to get rid of the headteachers, or get rid of the schools to become academies. When I was appointed a headteacher in 1985, I was the successful one at my school amongst 90 applicants, not an unusual figure for selective or non-selective schools in those days. Now many primary schools struggle to get into double figures or in some cases attract no applicants at all for their headship. Hardly surprising. Who would take over the headship of a low-performing school, when the cost of failing to turn it round is the sack and the end of a career? It is even reported that 'Outstanding' schools may struggle to attract good applicants as the only way forward is down!
I look at OFSTED Reports as they are published, and had already been struck by the large number of schools where the substantive headteacher was “on extended sick leave” or the school was running under a temporary headteacher, either promoted or shipped in to paper over the cracks. To me this suggests that KCC is getting ahead of its protocol, and taking pre-emptive action because it has failed to identify a problem in time to take supportive action instead. One such school is about to see an OFSTED published shortly, after a catalogue of failures by KCC over several years to provide a proper environment for the children to have a decent education and chance in life. The headteacher has been temporarily removed, so we can expect it to be critical.
The article goes on to a section headed ‘Supporting the outgoing Head’ referring to its aim to ‘provide dignity and respect’ for their departure from what is often a lifetime of good service to education and to Kent's children. This section is mainly an explanation of how Principal Advisers act to ensure proper process in dispatching them. Once upon a time Advisers were employed by KCC to support schools. I have recently seen what I can only describe as an offensive and patronising letter sent by a PA to a high performing academy over a minor blemish in otherwise excellent test results, which may underline why KCC’s schools are not improving, as the culture of blaming headteachers for its own failure to support their schools is hardly conducive to success.
The (almost) final word: Kent’s grammar schools (mainly academies) are running at 3 out of 4 Good or Outstanding OFSTED Gradings, the fourth, Dover Grammar School for Boys having dispatched its head abruptly before a ‘Requires Improvement’ OFSTED judgement was published. A previous letter from him and the Chairman of Governors to parents about the Report was very positive and contained no indication of his fate!. Kent’s non-selective secondary schools are currently running at 7 out of 8 Good or Outstanding, the odd one out being the North School Ashford (headteacher now departed, the school being taken over by Swale Academy Trust) which was placed in Special Measures (A letter from the new leader of the school does not mention the previous head who appears to have been airbrushed out of the school website). But the general point remains; why is it that Kent’s secondary schools, mainly out of the control of KCC, do so much better than the primary schools mainly run by KCC?
The only (vaguely) piece of comforting news for Kent is that Medway primary schools are doing even worse,, with just 44% of primary schools Good or Outstanding, .