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Monday, 16 June 2014 00:00

Disappearing Kent Headteachers: Part Two

The Kent Messenger has discovered, via a Freedom of Information request, that 21 headteachers of Kent schools were removed from their posts since September 2012. Of these, 15 were told to go due to performance reasons, five on grounds of conduct and one for an issue not disclosed. These will be mainly primary school heads, but would include secondary heads like the head of the North School, Ashford, a KCC run school, who resigned after the school was placed in Special Measures in December. It will not include the additional ones removed from academies, such as Castle Community College in Deal and Molehill Copse Primary in Maidstone. Neither does it include those who “voluntarily” gave up their posts, rather than face the stigma of removal. I hear that in total some 40 heads have given up or “lost” their posts since September 2013. I covered some of these issues in a previous article in April, which may well have sparked the Kent Messenger FOI request.

Please make no mistake; Kent County Council is forced to take action in maintained schools about 'Schools Causing Concern' through Government Statutory Guidance. This government policy is unforgiving and leaves limited room for manoeuvre,  but the evidence presented below suggests that KCC's interpretation of this is not achieving the aims of the document, to 'drive up standards'.  

KCC’s response to the KM article is that this is part of the School Improvement agenda and that every Kent school currently has a Headteacher or Acting Headteacher.

Cranbrook CofE

This may well be true, but how many cases are there like Cranbrook CofE Primary school, which brought in a new head in 2012, to support the school which was considered at risk, then got rid of her after the school was placed in Special Measures by OFSTED in November 2013. Since then it has had four  temporary, mainly part-time “Executive Heads” round to Easter, one of whom was brought out of retirement, then appointed another Executive Head on two and a half days and a Head of School, previously Deputy Head at another school which had been placed in Special Measures? The Executive Head leaves in July, and the latest Head of School, now titled Headteacher, is to become substantive head in September, without apparently going through normal process of appointment. I understand that KCC is in discussions with the Diocese of Canterbury and an academy chain to take over the school as a Sponsored Academy, thus neatly removing the problem for them. Of course, as is common in such cases, the headteacher is then replaced (not included in the statistics)! 

I have too many other examples of schools losing staff and then going through a rapid cycle of temporary appointments, some of which are detailed elsewhere on this website. Yes, every school may have a headteacher in post, but when the removal of a permanent head leads to a series of short term replacements who come in and attempt to make quick fixes, in no way can this lead to long term school improvement. Lansdowne Primary in Sittingbourne, failed its OFSTED in October, with just two teachers remaining from the previous ‘Good’ Inspection two years earlier, then saw its  headteacher removed, and replaced by a part time Executive Head.  The chairman of governors was also removed and replaced by one appointed by KCC in January (although not mentioned on school website – but nor are the two Monitoring Inspection Reports). The latest Monitoring Inspection Report, published last week is highly critical of the school and its new leadership, a pattern too often repeated. Plans to convert to an academy are ongoing.

All this activity begs a number of questions.

  • First and foremost, how did all these ‘inadequate’ headteachers get appointed? Whilst governors may have the formal responsibility, KCC plays a key role. How many of these headships has it tried to veto? Many of them may have been in post a long time; I know of one who was in post for over 20 years, and the world has changed about them. What support were they given to adapt to change? Before being removed, was an analysis carried out to determine if the change would see improvement (clearly not in many cases)? Who is going to replace them in the long term? Many governing bodies are already finding enormous difficulty in attracting suitable candidates for appointment, in what is probably their most important responsibility in office. They then get blamed for making an uninspiring appointment.
  • How many headteachers have jumped before they were pushed?  Very difficult to get an answer, as some will have signed confidentiality agreements as part of an agreed resignation package. How much is this costing KCC?
  • A particularly worrying development is the public humiliation of some headteachers, who may have given a lifetime of service to education, when they are marched out of the school during the school day, by a senior education officer, to go on suspension or “gardening leave”. Two of these have been reported in the media: the head of St John’s CofE Primary in Canterbury, and the head of St Katharine’s in Snodland, and I have heard reports of others. What sort of example does this disgraceful behaviour give to the staff of that school or the education profession in general? Is it surprising that there is a reported climate of fear amongst some of headteachers of the 48 % of Kent primary schools classified as inadequate or requiring improvement, concerned about their own futures and those of the children under their care. 
  • A number of those who lost their jobs were accused of bullying their teachers. If staff won’t or can’t deliver the changes required by KCC it is often a thin line between trying to make them change and perceived bullying. How many teaching staff have resigned or been forced out by the pressures? I am regularly seeing OFSTED Reports recording high rates of teacher turnover.  Where are the replacements to come from?
  • Most important of all, what about the children? We know these actions are designed to improve their standard of education, but one thing small children surely need is stability. I have just finished another secondary school appeal season and in too many cases I hear of primary children who have endured a revolving door of class teachers, of temporary heads in post who know nothing about the individual children in their care, and parents embittered or saddened about the poor quality of education provided as a consequence. In such cases, some of those who can afford it have jumped ship to private schools, a massive indictment of what is on offer for those who have no way out. 
  • In the meantime, what progress is being made by the pressure of “School Improvement” by KCC? A previous article provides details of recent OFSTED outcomes, showing that in spite of KCC policy to have no failing schools by 2015, Inspection results are on course to be even worse than last year, when KCC came 133rd out of 152 Local Authorities in terms of ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ Inspection Outcomes, and well below national norms. In other words, there is no School Improvement, so will heads roll in the KCC department responsible, to follow the many headteachers who have lost their jobs?
  • How much of all this is the fault of KCC, as it tries to respond to pressure from the Department for Education to raise standards? Yes, that pressure is there and is enormous, but there surely has to be another way given that the current approach is clearly failing?

A high proportion of Kent headteachers are doing a good (and in many cases a great) job and have given a lifetime of service to the children they serve. Kent County Council claims in a controversial protocol revealed by the Guardian newspaper, that it provides support for headteachers of schools in trouble, that it does not remove headteachers before OFSTED Inspections, and that it treats outgoing headteachers  with “dignity and respect”. Sadly, there are examples disproving each of these three claims. Amongst the many consequences are that it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract applicants to Kent primary headships, exacerbating the number of temporary heads in post. It is not sufficient for Kent to repeatedly claim as an answer that there is a Head or Acting Head in every post in the county. Of course there is. In the absence of a permanent leader, someone temporary, whatever their qualifications or however few days per week they are physically in the school, has to be in charge! 

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 18:44

2 comments

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 02 July 2014 18:19 posted by Patrick

    And me. Still suffering from serious medical depression. Have considered suicide. Directed to this excellent article has brought back too many bad memories. But there is still much more to tell.Keep telling it.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 02 July 2014 16:39 posted by Simon Wells

    I was one of the "disappeared" last year. My school and parents still don't know why I went, so false rumours abound of professional misconduct. The school did not go into category (although we had too much change of staff for OFSTED), so they have not looked that way, but I was given no real choice after a new chairman of governors and friends arrived. Be hounded out of office or come to an agreement, with a pay off of three months salary, an agreed good reference (who on earth would trust KCC's recommendation), and a gagging order, forbidding me to refer to the circumstances to anyone at pain of ...... KCC supporting departing headteachers. No way, but beware! You will understand if I don't give any clues about my identity; I now have another life free from the bullying of the department.

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