St John’s CofE Primary, Canterbury
St John’s was only opened in September 2012, and has had a difficult birth. It was formed by the amalgamation of two schools of very different character, the successful Diocesan and Payne Smith CofE Primary (last OFSTED Good with outstanding features), and the troubled Kingsmead Primary (placed in Special Measures two months before it closed). The proposal was accepted with misgivings by both schools in early 2010 under the promise of a new building. The new school opened in September 2012 with no agreed plans for the replacement buildings and operating on three sites half a mile apart. The school operated on two sites from January 2013 to January 2014 and a refurbishment programme (not a new school now) began in July 2013 which is currently unfinished.
Last year OFSTED recorded in a Monitoring Inspection: "The school operates on both sites of the predecessor schools. Delays in building work and the refurbishment of existing buildings have prevented the school from operating from a single site. This has resulted in an additional financial burden in running two sites and has been a barrier to developing the identity of the school as a single community. It also imposes additional challenges for senior leaders in monitoring the work of the school closely and impacts adversely on pupils' learning". So a new inexperienced headteacher had a tough job on her hands from the start as she set about combining two schools who were not overjoyed at the prospect, had completely different cultures and with no educational environment of any consequence, as described in the above OFSTED quote. Perhaps this was a wrong appointment of someone to their first headship. Added to that were staffing difficulties, with recruitment so difficult that in 2013 KCC recommended the head should go to Ireland to recruit teachers, OFSTED observing: "There have been many teaching staff changes since the school first opened".
The school's vulnerability is exposed in the most recent OFSTED Report, which lays the blame for the school's many failings directly on the now absent headteacher: Key findings include: "The headteacher does not provide clear direction and the management systems are ineffective; Other leaders are held back because of the absence of support to help them develop their roles and improve achievement and teaching; Some pupils behave poorly in lessons and there is too much low-level disruption. Pupils are excluded excessively because the school does not manage their behaviour well enough; The school lacks robust procedures to ensure good attendance". It goes on: "The school lacks a sense of direction because the substantive headteacher has not introduced sufficiently stringent systems for managing a larger than average school. There is no deputy headteacher and senior leaders’ roles are unclear". Other key problems include: "Pupils in Key Stages 1 and 2 make inadequate progress. They leave the school with low standards in reading, writing and mathematics which are a long way behind other pupils’ nationally”. One has to ask why, if the problems are that profound and children's education and life chances were being damaged so severely, appropriate action was not taken earlier, rather than leave it until this somewhat theatrical removal two days before OFSTED.
The headteacher joins a select but growing group of headteachers from primary schools where the head has "disappeared" before OFSTED contrary to the protocol in the KCC document. Others I have spotted include: Pilgrim's Way, Canterbury; Westlands, Sittingbourne; St Michael'sCofE, Tenterden; Charlton and Eythorne & Elvington, Dover; Kings Farm, Istead Rise and Rosherville, Gravesend; Tree Tops, Maidstone; Aylesford Primary where the replacement head has also now lost her job; Shoreham Primary, Willesborough Infants; Stansted Primary; Petham CofE Primary. Please feel free to add to this list.
It has been pointed out to me that of course other heads vanish when schools are taken over, sponsored, or federated without necessarily having failed in their responsibilities. Many of these are identified in the pages of this website, but I shall begin a new list with and I start this list with Northbourne Primary School,
My concern is that if there is indeed this long list of inadequate headteachers, all of whom will presumably have had a good previous record, what is wrong with the appointment process as appears the case at St John's, or more likely, why is there an insufficient pool to draw from?
For Kent County Council, there is the additional bitter pill that this is the 13th failed primary school, just two short of last year's record 15 over the whole school year.
Castle Community College Deal
The school website and sign still contain the strap line “High Performing Academy”, in spite of its becoming the tenth lowest secondary school in the country in last summer’s GCSE national league table, just two years after being awarded an Outstanding assessment by OFSTED. Not surprisingly these results triggered a further OFSTED Inspection in March that is reported to have found the school Inadequate, which may be the sharpest fall from grace of any school in the country.
The Chairman of Governors of the amalgamated schools has issued the following press statement about the departure of the headteacher: Mr Bunn left the College during the Easter holiday. The reasons for Mr Bunn’s departure are confidential and we will be making no further comment about them. We can confirm that there are no disciplinary or safeguarding issues involved in his departure. The Trust wishes to place on record its appreciation for all the hard-work Mr Bunn has dedicated to transforming the College by securing the funding for our new build, partnering with Warden House Primary School and integrating Walmer Science into the College. He will be missed by all of us and by staff and pupils and we know everyone will wish him well for the future. Another headteacher, who probably had too big a task to tackle, bites the dust !
This has all followed stories of serious unhappiness and friction in the school, partially created by the amalgamation of the two schools where nearly all key appointments were reportedly made from former Castle staff. I have reported previously on this issue.
The school governors have now placed responsibility for leading the college in the hands of an educational management organisation SchoolsCompany Ltd, with immediate effect. According to the Chair of Governors, SchoolsCompany is the organisation “who have successfully supported the college in bringing about a smooth transition between Walmer Science College and ourselves”. Just two things wrong with this statement. Firstly, it underlines the key underlying problem in that the Chair of Governors still sees herself as just being part of the previous Castle setup, with Walmer being something added on. Secondly, and fundamentally, this certainly was not a successful, nor a smooth transition, with enormous bitterness from many Walmer parents about the effective closure of ‘their’ school, which has followed into the new structure and no doubt contributed to the school’s problems.
Clearly, because this is an academy, governors themselves hold a considerable responsibility for the failings of the new institution and I would have thought that it would have made more sense to employ a consultant who was not tarred with the failure of the amalgamation (sic). Of course, SchoolsCompany already has a strong presence in the county, working with Kent County Council on its Schools Challenge strategy for supporting underperforming schools.