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Tuesday, 22 July 2014 00:00

The Debate about Disappearing Kent Primary Heads part four, and the problems of Kings Farm Primary in Gravesend

Kent County Council has responded to an article I wrote for Kent on Sunday a week ago, the response being provided in full at the foot of this article. Unfortunately, it completely ignores my two central points also set out in the article below, which are underlined by  recent developments at the National Association of Headteachers Conference and at Kings Farm Primary School in Gravesend.

Meanwhile, at the other end of Kent in Thanet, a dire warning that conversion to academy status is not a panacea, deserves a separate article, below.

The NAHT Conference, hardly a hotbed of radicalism, passed the following motion:

Conference calls upon National Executive to highlight the number of school leaders being forced from their posts through spurious and unacceptable means by the bullying actions of some local authorities who seek to remove experienced and skilled head teachers to make way for academy sponsorship or other forms of school governance”.

NAHT Conference Motion

If there is any doubt, this motion was proposed by Kent Branch of the NAHT......

I do have doubts about the full import of the motion, for there are undoubtedly headteachers who are now not up to the new challenges and need to be eased out of their posts with planning for the future in place. My point has consistently been the way this is happening in Kent and the consequent disruption in schools, accompanied by the loss of faith by headteachers in KCC, although the KCC article completely ignores these matters. When a Kent motion records: “the number of school leaders being forced from their posts through spurious and unacceptable means by the bullying actions of some local authorities”, surely my point is fully made.

Kings Farm Primary School, Gravesend

Yet another illustration of what is going on has recently occurred at Kings Farm Primary School in Gravesend. This school is situated in a disadvantantaged part of the town and has always had great problems in recruiting headteachers. I can recall some years ago, the school created waves when there were no applicants for the post of headteacher, which was indeed news in those days.

 However, both in 2009 under a capable and experienced headteacher, and again in 2012 under an Acting Headteacher, the school was found to be Satisfactory by OFSTED, in both cases with very positive comments about leadership. After the long serving headteacher had retired in 2011, and failing to recruit a replacement from just three applicants the Deputy was appointed acting headteacher in September of that year and steered the school through OFSTED. He unwisely accepted the post of substantive headteacher in September 2012 and spent much of the following autumn term planning for the school to become a sponsored academy under Gravesend Grammar School, only to be rensign from his post on the final day of the autumn term 2013, presumably under pressure from the Local Authority without priwarning to staff and governors. Of course, the KCC protocol for removing heads from failing schools does not apply in this case, as the school was not failing, so I am unsure about  the urgency of this.

KCC then installed an Executive Headteacher, who is also head of Whitehill Primary School, now Federated with Gravesend Grammar. Although Whitehill had a ‘Good’ OFSTED in 2013, it is very unpopular with potential parents, with just 42 first choice applications for its 90 places, and 30 children (second highest number in the county) being allocated to the school who had not applied to it.

The school was due to be taken over as an academy on 1st February, but has not yet made the conversion. This is partly due to a dispute over the current and future management of the joint Nursery, run with the adjacent Ifield Special School (I must declare an interest, as I am a governor there), set up and funded by Kent County Council partly to cater for children with SEN, and so the Authority is unhappy now to lose control of it.  

There has been concern and unhappiness about the direction the school is taking by many involved with it ever since the change of headeacher, that built up to a head last week with a demonstration by parents outside the school. A circular by the local NUT branch (admittedly not a disinterested group) reads in part: “Due to an appalling level and succession of abuses, parents have finally taken action into their own hands and complained about the general treatment of staff and children at this school by protesting outside it in the morning and contacting the media. You may well read more in the local press in the near future with anger directed at the Head, it would appear". The Daily Telegraph reports that 25 of the 42 teachers and Teaching Assistants are not returning to the school in September, and that the NUT has submitted a formal complaint about the headteacher's approach to KCC. 

OFSTED Standards

Perhaps just a commonplace story about what is happening in too many Kent schools, and KCC would no doubt argue necessary to improve standards, but I believe indicative of what is happening in too many places.

Then there is the issue of standards, so beloved of KCC. With regard to OFSTED Inspection outcomes, I was very careful to distinguish between the poor primary outcomes and the excellent secondary and special school results. The KCC response makes no reference to the 16 (now 17) primary schools that have failed their OFSTED since September, over three times the national average. It makes no reference to the fact that more Kent primary schools have seen a fall in OFSTED rating since September than have improved. It makes no reference to the fact that Kent, last year 133rd amongst 151 Local Authorities for primary school OFSTED outcomes, has seen a further decline in performance this year, with 53% of Kent’s primary schools being classified “Good” or “Outstanding” against a national percentage of 59%.

Instead it chooses to ignore these dreadful statistics and also my statement in the original article:Meanwhile, KCC claims that OFSTED outcomes are improving, thereby showing its strategy for school improvement is working. How to explain the contradiction? Quite simply, KCC has included secondary school and Special School OFSTEDs in the total, notably with 83% of the 18 much maligned non-selective schools inspected this year being “Good or Outstanding”, a really praiseworthy statistic which has received insufficient public acknowledgement. Special Schools have 75% of the 12 schools inspected reaching this standard”. All it can do is repeat the hollow claim about overall performance that is completely irrelevant, as it depends wholly on these same secondary and special schools.  

How on earth are we to see the situation improve if KCC flatly refuses to acknowledge the scale of the problem it has brought about?

KCC Statement in Response to my article in Kent On Sunday

“Parents across Kent would not be impressed if Kent County Council said it would take its foot off the accelerator and ease up on standards in the classroom.

Every child only gets one chance at school. And with this in mind, KCC will always seek to pursue the best standards when it comes to class­room teaching, the school environ­ment, and leadership in education.

Kent has seen really strong improvement in the performance of its schools over the last three years

Three years ago, just over half of Kent's 600 schools (54 per cent) re­ceived a good or better Ofsted rating.

As we stand today, more than three quarters of schools (76 per cent) are rated good or better.

As a result,56,000 more children are now attending a good or better school than in 2012.

This has only been possible because of the strong partnership that exists between headteachers and KCC. With each child only getting that one chance at education, it is vital everyone involved has high expecta­tions for all pupils in Kent schools.

Strong, quality leadership plays a vital role in this improvement and we have a wealth of high quality head teachers in Kent. Many of them are now effectively leading more than one school.

Having high expectations is something that brings big rewards for pupils and the schools they go to and it comes with its own set of chal­lenges and pressures.

The council has a responsibility to strike a balance between supporting headteachers to be strong leaders and holding headteachers to account when pupils are not making progress as they should.

The vast majority of headteachers have risen to the challenge for im­provement across Kent schools and the data reflects that.

Sometimes the council needs to work with governing bodies to make sure each school has the most effec­tive leadership possible.

In some cases, this has meant a change in leadership.

Headteachers have given us posi­tive feedback about the support, ad­vice, training and challenge for school improvement in Kent.

And we have worked actively with headteachers to make sure they lead the education system in Kent - and its improvement - through the Kent Association of Headteachers.

Kent is now significantly above the national average in the Early Years Foundation Stage and GCSEresults, also just above average on Key Stage 1 and for the first time in many years we are in line with the national per­formance at Key Stage 2.

This has not come about without significant support and challenge from the local authority and engage­ment bv effective headteachers in the improvement agenda. “

 I loved the comment below which is worth reproducing here: "What a delicious driving metaphor cliche from KCC: "Parents across Kent would not be impressed if Kent County Council said it would take its foot off the accelerator and ease up on standards in the classroom. When you lose control of your vehicle and start ricocheting off brick walls the passengers are generally more impressed if you do take your foot off the pedal".

I subsequently wrote a follow up letter to Kent on Sunday, which was also published: 

Roger Gough has responded in KOS to my article of two weeks ago which highlighted the appalling standard of primary school OFSTED outcomes in Kent; linking these to the sharp increase in primary headship vacancies in the County, the difficulty in filling these headships and the brutal manner in which too many heads are removed from their posts, which is creating a climate in which Kent primary heads both fear for their jobs and deputies are having second thoughts about placing themselves in the firing line, all leading to a sharp fall in morale.

He will be aware of the motion passed at the recent National Association of Headteachers’ Conference that states: “Conference calls upon National Executive to highlight the number of school leaders being forced from their posts through spurious and unacceptable means by the bullying actions of some local authorities who seek to remove experienced and skilled head teachers to make way for academy sponsorship or other forms of school governance”. This motion was proposed by the Kent branch! This hardly chimes with the support he claims is coming from headteachers for the way that Kent goes about changing school leadership for the good of the schools and is a complete vindication of my argument. Neither does he address my crucial point that, after the changes so many primary schools are left without permanent full-time leadership for too long, only contributing to the problem.

With regard to OFSTED Inspection outcomes, I was very careful to distinguish between the poor primary outcomes and the excellent secondary and special school results. Mr Gough makes no reference to the 16 (now 17) primary schools that have failed their OFSTEDs since September, over three times the national average. He makes no reference to the fact that more Kent primary schools have seen a fall in OFSTED rating since September than have improved. He makes no reference to the fact that Kent, last year 133rd amongst 151 Local Authorities for primary school OFSTED outcomes, has seen a further decline in performance this year, with 53% of Kent’s primary schools being classified “Good” or “Outstanding” against a national percentage of 59%.

Instead he chooses to ignore these dreadful statistics  and also my statement :Meanwhile, KCC claims that OFSTED outcomes are improving, thereby showing its strategy for school improvement is working. How to explain the contradiction? Quite simply, KCC has included secondary school and Special School OFSTEDs in the total, notably with 83% of the 18 much maligned non-selective schools inspected this year being “Good or Outstanding”, a really praiseworthy statistic which has received insufficient public acknowledgement. Special Schools have 75% of the 12 schools inspected reaching this standard”. All he can do is repeat the hollow claim about overall performance that is completely irrelevant, as it depends wholly on these same secondary and special schools. 

How on earth are we to see the situation improve if KCC flatly refuses to acknowledge the scale of the problem it has brought about?

 



Last modified on Friday, 18 November 2016 20:40

1 comment

  • Comment Link Thursday, 24 July 2014 05:23 posted by Arkwright

    What a delicious driving metaphor cliche from KCC: "Parents across Kent would not be impressed if Kent County Council said it would take its foot off the accelerator and ease up on standards in the classroom."
    When you lose control of your vehicle and start ricocheting off brick walls the passengers are generally more impressed if you do take your foot off the pedal.
    The metaphor falls over at the point that the cliche-ist links standards to their actions.
    Keep digging, guys.PETER: I do like this one; very apt!

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