The TKAT Thanet Academies
TKAT took over five low performing Thanet Academies at the end of 2012. I have already written an article about Dame Janet Primary Academy entitled: Failed School to Failed Academy in May 2013, after a Monitoring Inspection was carried out following its conversion to become an academy, the Inspection Report being very critical of the Trust’s oversight. The headteacher was then removed, two Acting Headteachers and a Consultant Headteacher were installed as an emergency repair job, and the Academy climbed to “Requires Improvement” in February this year.
Meanwhile, Newlands Primary School, which was rated Satisfactory before conversion to an Academy, was failed by OFSTED in June 2013 with “Serious Weaknesses”. “The deputy headteacher is currently absent from the academy on a long- term basis. An executive headteacher has been appointed by the sponsor to add capacity to the senior leadership team”.
Today, OFSTED has published an overall assessment of TKAT, including the outcomes of targeted inspections at three of the Thanet primary academies amongst others, together with other data gathering exercises. The three were:Drapers Mill (below); and two whose Inspection Reports have not yet been published in full – Salmestone Primary, assessed “Requires Improvement” – previously Satisfactory just before academisation, and Northdown Primary, assessed “Good” – previously Satisfactory but making good improvements according to a Monitoring Inspection just before academisation. Clearly, TKAT has actually made a poor situation inherited from KCC worse overall for the six Thanet primary schools for which it is responsible.
Drapers Mill Primary Academy
Last week, Drapers Mills Primary School, Margate, a school with a very chequered history under KCC control, but with its previous OFSTED in March 2011 being “Satisfactory” was placed in Special Measures by OFSTED, after eighteen months of TKAT control. As with both the other two academies: “The Academy Trust acknowledges that it was slow to appreciate the full extent of the challenges and issues affecting Drapers Mills Primary in 2012. Action to address these shortcomings was, therefore, delayed, and only recently have more rigorous systems and procedures designed to eradicate underperformance been established”. However, the list of failings of the academy is so extensive (a sample given below), that it begs the question of whether TKAT had any awareness of what was going on. They certainly weren’t taking the tough action KCC had assumed would happen when it handed the school over. Of course, now it is nothing to do with KCC, so they can wash their hands of the school and the children.
As is common with such academies, there is a pattern of rapid turnover of senior staff, for staff are appointed to the chain and not the individual school and so can easily be moved around, with no requirement to advertise posts as in: “Action to strengthen the leadership team has only recently been implemented. While the acting headteacher is now well supported by her successor, who takes up position officially in September 2014, the roles of the assistant headteachers and subject leaders are not developed. Consequently, these leaders are not yet held to account effectively for bringing about improvements in their areas of responsibility”.
OFSTED also records other failures of Leadership and Management in the school, as follows:
Since the opening of the academy, leaders and managers have been too slow to address a number of serious shortcomings. Achievement and standards are too low because teachers do not identify and address gaps in pupils’ learning quickly enough.Although there is evidence that the quality of your support for academies is becoming more effective. In too many of these schools, the improvements in support have come about too late to make a significant difference. For the academy judged to require ‘special measures’, the Trust failed to take effective action to improve performance.”
Poor levels of literacy are not being tackled with sufficient urgency and this is impeding pupils’ progress. Weaknesses in the quality of teaching have yet to be eradicated and, consequently, the academy is failing to give pupils an acceptable standard of education. Pupils’ progress is not routinely monitored well, including for those who most seriously underperform.
Until the appointment of the acting headteacher, the academy’s evaluation of its own performance was inaccurate and overgenerous. This has proved a barrier to change and contributed to the slow rate of improvement.
The academy’s improvement plan lists an extensive range of initiatives designed to address weaknesses in pupils’ achievement and in the quality of teaching. Its usefulness as a working document is undermined by a lack of clarity in identifying who is responsible for overseeing the effective implementation of actions. Furthermore, there is a lack of definition about the indicators of success and limited detail about how the work is to be funded.
The academy has adopted a series of targets intended to drive up achievement, the quality of teaching and rates of attendance. Some targets are, however, not closely referenced to current performance so that they are unrealistic and some deadlines have already been missed.
The management of teachers’ performance has not exerted sufficient influence over how well teachers work in practice, so that too many weaknesses persist.
The academy does not ensure equality of opportunity because there is too much variation in the performance of different groups; for example, between disabled pupils and those with special educational needs, and their peers.
While the academy provides an interesting range of subjects that cover the required areas, teachers do not plan specific opportunities for pupils to develop their skills in reading and writing while working in other subjects. For this reason, the curriculum is not fit for purpose. An exception to this is the Nursery, where there is a good balance of adult-led activity with plentiful opportunities for children to develop their own interests.
The academy has not yet developed a procedure for evaluating the impact of primary school sports funding on the health and well-being of the pupils.
The academy has formed positive relationships with the majority of parents and carers, who value what it does for their children. There remains a significant minority who express a lack of confidence in aspects of its work.
Governance at local board level has been weak. Governors had been aware of shortcomings in performance, but had not successfully challenged leaders to raise achievement. They did not know enough about the quality of teaching to make confident decisions about pay rises and promotions. As a result, there is not a clear alignment between how well teachers are paid and how well pupils achieve. Similarly, the governing body has not overseen the effective use of the pupil premium funding or the additional primary school sports funding. The Chair of the Governing Body acknowledges that governors had not always challenged the information brought to them and could have been more active in evaluating the success of key decisions and actions in the academy. The Academy Trust has recently clarified roles for the different layers of governance and, as a result, the regional level of governance is in a better position to hold the academy to account.
I have never seen such a shocking and powerful critique of the leadership and management of a school. What an indictment of the academy but more critically of TKAT, the academy trust trusted to resolve the problems of Drapers Mill!
OFSTED and The Kemnal Academies Trust
TKAT is a large academy group based in Bromley, currently with 39 academies under its control. In all OFSTED carried out six focused primary inspections, and looked at a number of the other 33 academies it runs. These include a number of previously successful schools such as Rainham School for Girls, that chose to join the Trust.
The focused inspections looked at concerns expressed by OFSTED before the investigation:
“ In summary, these concerns were that:
Three of your secondary academies were judged inadequate last year. Two of these had been part of your trust for more than a year. Too many academies remain less than good and a number of academies have remained stuck at grade 3 when re-inspected.
Less than half of your academies were good or better and there are no longer any outstanding academies in your chain.
Whilst recent inspection outcomes for your sponsored academies have been more encouraging, it remains that 66% of those which have been inspected since being sponsored remain less than good. Four out of nine were in a category of concern.
The proportion of pupils reaching the expected level in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2 remains below average”.
After the inspections, OFSTED concluded that:
“The inspections highlighted key weaknesses across many of the six academies inspected. These include:
teaching that was not good enough to enable all groups of pupils to make enough progress
insufficient challenge for more-able pupils and expectations that are not high enough
weaknesses in pupils’ writing and mathematical skills
ineffective marking and feedback to pupils which does not help them to understand how to improve their work
pupils’ poor attitudes to learning
a lack of urgency in taking effective action to close the gap between disadvantaged pupils and others
weaknesses in middle leadership
governance that has not secured effective leadership, displays a lack of urgency to bring about improvements and does not provide sufficient challenge in holding school leaders to account.
Presumably when KCC handed these schools over to TKAT it was with the expectation that the Academy Trust could make a better job of school improvement of weaker schools than the Local Authority. This is clearly not so, and given the performance of both Kent and Medway Local Authorities with their own schools, parents, staff and governors must be in despair about where to turn in order to see low performing and failing schools improve. I have been repeatedly asked in the last few days what should happen to Twydall Primary. On the basis of recent articles, published below, I must confess I share in that despair.
Postscript: In an article in the Guardian, 24th June, there is an allegation that TKAT knew of the planned OFSTED focused Inspection in advance, and so the Academy Trust was able the schools in advance, contrary to the rules.