Medway Primary Schools
Cllr Mike O’Brien, Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services, in September, on seeing Medway KS2 results move up four places from 144th to the dizzy heights of 140th out of 150 Local Authorities said:
“I am very encouraged by these latest provisional results which show a marked improvement at Key Stage 2 level. It is a testament to the hard work going on in our primary schools by staff and pupils and our aim has always been to see a continued improvement each year.”
UPDATE: when trying to account for the common factor which makes Medway Primary Schools so bad when compared with every single other Local Authority in the country, I have only previously been able to come up with one answer - Medway Council. However, the article from the KM Group published online provides a second which must be taken into consideration. The 2013/14 OFSTED South East Regional Annual Report states: "Early years HMI delivered improvement seminars to almost all private, voluntary and independent early years settings in Medway. The area had been identified as a priority for the South East as children were poorly prepared for primary school and did not catch up. As a result, Key Stage 2 results (as a proportion of pupils achieving at least Level 4 in English and mathematics) were the lowest in the region in 2011/12. The quality of registered early years provision was the lowest in the region, with only 67% of settings judged to be good or outstanding at 31 August 2013". In other words, the problem in Medway starts with Early Years education, the primary schools failing to add any value, which must be left to the high quality (in general) secondary schools.
The advice to parents must therefore be that it is equally as important to choose good Early Years provision as with primary schools. Here, the only objective advice is the OFSTED Report itself.
Medway Council’s defences this year:
1) Many primary schools have become academies and the Council has no control over them - You will find a full list of Medway Primary schools OFSTED Inspection Reports for 2013/14 here. This shows that of the 28 schools inspected, just three were Primary Academies. Two of these, High Halstow and St James, both on the Hoo Peninsula, were awarded a ‘Good’ assessment, the third, Elaine Primary ‘Requires Improvement’. All three failed whilst under Medway Council control and have now been taken over as sponsored academies. Remove them from the statistics and Medway looks even worse! A lot more primaries have now become academies as Medway eliminates its difficult schools from its responsibility, this looking increasingly like their main solution to the problem, so parents can only hope this is a strategy that works. There is a full list of academies here.
2) The problems are down to leadership in the schools, nothing to do with the Council - Yes, there are poor headteachers, and some have been removed, but the reason schools are under Council control is surely primarily so that they can be provided with support and control to maximise standards. Unfortunately, a reading of Inspection Reports of poorly performing schools in Medway shows that the repeated failure of the Medway Council School Improvement Service in carrying out its basic function is central to the problem, as demonstrated here. Monitoring Inspections of schools such as Cuxton Junior, Napier Community Primary, Walderslade, Temple Mill, all confirm the schools were let down badly by the service.
3) There is also the fundamental question: if the problem is all down to the leadership of the schools, who is responsible for appointing all these people and providing them with support? Surely, Medway Council cannot abdicate its responsibility for so many poor decisions, if that is what they were.
4) KS2 results show that Medway primary schools are improving year on year, with the Cabinet member proudly releasing a press statement in September lauding the improvement in Medway’s Key Stage 2 SAT results, which although not confirmed claim to show a significant improvement in results compared to national figures - The press statement reveals that the improvement is measured by a rise of 4 places in the national league table which has to be good news, somewhat tempered by the fact that last year Medway came 144th out of 150 Local Authorities, so it has now reached the heady heights of 140th. However, this certainly does show consistent improvement, up from 150th in 2011 and 149th in 2012! However, this is well below national expectations year on year.
5) This is just a snapshot of a small number of schools; many others were not inspected - In 2010/11 Medway came last but one nationally, in 2011/12 it rose to the heights of 9th from bottom, slipping back to last but one in 2012/13. Over that period, nearly all schools will have been inspected and this set is consistent, with all that has gone before.
6) The council has been consulting with schools and the education community to create a draft school improvement strategy. It's aims would be to ensure GCSE results stay above the national average and also to lift Key Stage 2 Results at Level four to the national average by 2016. Medway secondary schools, all academies do not need Medway Council to advise them on how to achieve what they are already doing so well. Why does this come first in the list? Whatever happened to the futile Medway Council Report on Low KS2 standards in Primary Schools published in 2012 (Is every Councillor benefiting a school through their experience and expertise, by serving as a governor)? Isn't it a bit late to start consulting. Why is there no school improvement strategy in place. Surely, the desperate need has been known for a long time.
I will expand this section as and if further explanations are forthcoming.
Kent Primary Schools
20% of the 129 Kent Primary schools inspected were academies, with results noticeably worse than those of the maintained schools, so the academy answer (above) does have some force in Kent. The main problem in Kent is the 13 maintained schools and 5 academies failing their OFSTED, in total over three times the national average. However, the failed academies are of course all schools that previously failed under the control of KCC. You will find a full list of individual Kent primary OFSTED results for 2013/14 here. Kent of course has been bedevilled by its problems of disappearing heads documented elsewhere on this website, and the controversial Senior Primary School Improvement Officer, now departed.
As with Medway, there is too much evidence of Kent maintained primary schools in difficulties being failed by the KCC Support Service, to the extent that I recently posed the question, where do governors turn for support in such cases. Monitoring Inspections of schools such as Lydd, Cranbrook and Beaver Green, let down by KCC, and academies such as Salmestone, Drapers Mills, Dame Janet, Tree Tops and Molehill Copse let down by their Academy Sponsors all of whose stories are told elsewhere on this website, hardly provide an answer.
Kent’s traditional defence is firstly that, overall, Kent schools are performing well at OFSTED Inspections, a result achieved by merging the highly successful Kent secondary schools and special schools into the total. However, this year, there is also the much more convincing argument that unconfirmed Key Stage 2 results have improved in every measure across the county to around the national average. Not necessarily great, but certainly going in the right direction!
Three possible explanations put forward for the excellent performance of secondary schools in both Local Authorities:
1) Pupil ability is higher than in other parts of the country. It is just that only the secondary schools reflect this, primary aged children being failed by their schools
2) It is down to academy status, but this differential has been there for many years before the main academy programmes.
3) The relatively good performance in the secondary sector is down to the selective system in both Local Authorities, with both grammar and non-selective schools contributing, and overall GCSE results of both types of school coming in above average, in contrast to the Key Stage Two results. It could be, and has been, argued the corollary of this is also true, that the selective system dampens down performance in primary schools, but this would not account for the good secondary results.
What is of course remarkable, is that secondary schools do so well with the poor standards being achieved in too many primary schools,
Primary and secondary headteachers in Medway failed to find enough children whose curriculum work was up to standard, in the Review process of grammar school selection to meet their target of 64 children. Just 32 were selected, the Council noting: “The academic evidence supplied did not support a grammar assessment for the maximum 2% of the Medway cohort.”.
I come from Gravesham and on one day last week, OFSTED released four inspection reports. Meopham, St John’s Comprehensive and Thamesview schools in Gravesham were all assessed as Good, underlining the strength of most of the non-selective sector, with every one of the eight Gravesham secondary schools, either Good or Outstanding. Unfortunately, the side was let down by the disastrous and Inspection of the controversial Kings Farm Primary in Gravesend, placed in Special Measures, joining other Gravesham primaries in the worst performing District in Kent, apart from Maidstone.
OFSTED Inspections 2014/15
The table below provides OFSTED Outcomes for 2014/15. published up to the end of the Autumn Term. There have been no full secondary Inspections in Medway
|Kent & Medway OFSTED Outcomes 2014/15 to date|
Still early days, but some interesting indicators. For Kent, whilst it is interesting that the % of Good and Outstanding Primary Schools is up to 74% from the whole of last year's 54%, this may be a property of small numbers. However, more interesting are the 6 schools that have improved their gradings out of a total of 19. This is real progress and reflects the great improvement in KS2 results reported above. However, there is a very worrying factor, not in the table, in that 4 primary schools, all in Special Measures or Serious Weaknesses have failed their most recent Monitoring Inspection: Beaver Green; Lydd; St Edward's Catholic, Sheerness; Drapers Mills Academy, Margate. The three Kent controlled schools all contain significant criticism of KCC support, and Drapers Mills of its sponsors TKAT, as indicated here.
With two of the four Medway Primary schools inspected going down a grade, it would appear that what would be a spiral downwards (but when you are at the bottom, where do you go?) continues. The school in Special Measures is Temple Mill, which has been the subject of much attention by Medway Council in the past year, who were criticised in a previous monitoring Inspection, but as too often, their efforts were to no avail. Probably not helped by the bursar stealing £200,000 from the school up to 2012. Medway Council managed to recover some of this money, but the last I heard of it, they were hanging on to the cash which was much needed by the school.
As always my sympathies go out to the children of Medway!