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Monday, 04 July 2016 20:32

Wayfield Primary School: Surely the worst ever performer in a crowded field in Medway

Several times on the pages of this website, I have written about “the worst ever” OFSTED Report I had read at the time with regard to Kent or Medway schools or academies failing because of incompetent management and leadership. However, the recent Report placing Wayfield Primary School in Chatham in Special Measures leaves the competition standing. In 2013, just before the school was taken over by Griffin, OFSTED had found it a GOOD school.

Wayfield                         Griffin

Whilst the school may indeed have been "Proud to Achieve" in 2013 some excerpts from the current Report describe the shocking fall from grace brought about by the Griffin Trust :

Pupils’ safety and well-being are at risk; Staff manage pupils’ behaviour poorly; Normal discipline has broken down; On occasion, staff lose control of pupils, who are then at risk of being harmed; Too often, pupils become distracted, fool about or are noisy in lessons; Over the past two years, the school’s provision has notably worsened; Pupils’ attainment and progress have fallen catastrophically; Pupils underachieve in all key stages; Pupils are inadequately taught; The leadership and management of the school are weak at all levels; The headteacher is the only senior leader; The Griffin Schools Trust oversees the school unsuccessfully; The governance arrangements, organised by the academy trust, are ineffective”.

Media commentary by Radio Kent and the Medway Messenger on this appalling betrayal of children’s life chances missed my previous story, first reported in the Guardian, that: “in just two years the Trust paid over £700,000 to a company jointly owned by its two chief executives.Three other companies in which trustees of the charity have majority interests received smaller payments that amounted to around £100,000 for “educational consultancy services’”, the trust’s accounts show”. This is a common device by some academy chains to ensure an adequate financial reward for their leaders’ noble endeavours.....

Griffin took over four Medway schools when it expanded into Medway, all placed under pressure to convert to academies, in order to improve standards(!). Governors of Wayfield Primary, in spite of its previous Good OFSTED, will also have been pressured because of low KS2 Results (reflecting the Community!) and presumably gave in, believing the false propaganda that they were acting in the interests of children, but instead plunging the school into a sharp spiral of decline. They were also let down badly by Medway Council which proposed two alternatives, Oasis and Griffin. Skinner Street Primary which took the alternative also fared badly under Oasis!

One factor in the disaster is clearly down to the financial arrangements for the school imposed by Griffin. Governors at another of the four schools were informed that their income would be top-sliced by 3.5% to pay for the Griffin Trust Services (I am told this being at the top end for such arrangements), presumably to part fund the ‘educational consultancy services’. However, shortly after their take-over, when they had lost control to Griffin, Governors were brusquely told that the top-slice would be increased to 5.5%. In spite of strong complaints to the Griffin Trust and the Regional Schools Commissioner governors concerns were completely ignored. 

Reading the Wayfield OFSTED Report, one can see some of the direct outcomes of this approach, with major staff economies needed to pay for Trust top-slicing:

The headteacher has recently taken over full-time responsibility after the departure of the previous head of school. He works very hard and is a popular figure. However, he has too much to do and spends far too much of his time ‘firefighting’ and troubleshooting relatively minor issues. During the inspection, he spent a considerable time invigilating the Year 6 national tests in English, checked on at one point by the local chair of governors. He is not able, therefore, to lead the school strategically and begin to sort out its many problems. There are no other senior leaders. The assistant headteacher’s leadership role is underdeveloped as she has been focusing on her role as Year 6 class teacher. As a result, her time to lead English is limited and has had insufficient impact. The headteacher is the subject leader for mathematics and also does not have the time to carry out this role effectively. The school’s middle leadership is very weak. Most subjects have no leader and are not well organised or managed”.

 A very poignant sentence reads: Pupils who spoke with inspectors were friendly and polite. They are normal, nice children, with hopes for their futures. They were just rather wistful at times, wishing for something better in their school". As in so many examples in this Report, I have never read anything like this elsewhere, showing precisely where the sympathies of the Inspectors lay. 

The Report goes on to state: “The Griffin Schools Trust recognises that it has not been successful in gaining the necessary support of parents and the local community. It has worked with the regional schools commissioner to agree to pass the school to another academy trust in the autumn. The two trusts have established transition arrangements. The new trust intends to add immediately to the school’s leadership capacity. It is correct in this aim”. Actually, the abject failure of the school is not primarily to do with gaining support, it is in ruining children’s futures, with the loss of support of parents following on as a consequence. The Trust's pathetic excuse is that it was unable to attract staff. I agree that finding staff in the current climate is especially difficult, but retention is equally important and when the Trust took over Wayfield Primary, staff were ready and enthusiastic to face up to the challenge. Sadly, they rapidly became disillusioned and many left. A description in the media stories above about how OFSTED Inspectors had to break up a fight amongst children in the lunch-time during the Inspection, because school staff would not intervene is almost beyond belief and shows the depths to which Griffin Trust has lowered staff morale and commitment.

One must not forget that the previous OFSTED Report from February 2013 before the school became an academy, recorded that: “This is a good school. Since the last inspection, the school has maintained its nurturing and caring strengths at the same time as improving achievement, teaching and leadership.  Behaviour is good in lessons and around the school, and pupils feel safe and secure. Their enthusiasm for learning helps them to achieve well. Good teaching makes learning interesting and fun for pupils so that they try hard. Strong links with parents and the children’s centre help children to settle into the Early Years Foundation Stage and learn to enjoy school and their learning. The headteacher and governing body give strong leadership and direction to the school’s work, and senior leaders, managers and staff work effectively as a close team to bring about improvement”. It takes a particular kind of talent to destroy such achievement so rapidly.

Of course that was all four headteachers ago, and before Griffin really got to work. I have seen correspondence between Governors of another Griffin school, the Trust and the Regional Schools Commissioner complaining bitterly about how Governors were misled by false promises into joining up with Griffin, the arrogant way that Griffin acted without consultation on strategic matters, about headteachers and staff who were moved from school to school without discussion, with inappropriate and inexperienced replacements being made to fill gaps (a not uncommon practice in some academy chains, amounting to asset stripping); able senior staff quitting in dismay; and failure to respond to any attempt at dialogue about such decisions. 

What next:
What ought to happen next is that Griffin Trust ought to be closed down completely because of its self-evident incompetence and mismanagement, and all its schools reallocated to a Trust with a known record of achievement, so that no other children suffer like this. However, I am not aware that this sanction is ever applied to a failed Trust, rather they are given extended opportunities to improve and never mind the children whose education is being ruined in the meantime. There will of course be no accountability for those who have damaged so many children’s life chances, but who themselves have been well-rewarded for running the venture.

The new chosen sponsor for Wayfield Primary is another small Trust, “Primary First”, which runs four Bexley Primary Schools and the two at Cuxton in Medway, Cuxton Juniors having previously been placed in Special Measures and then let down again and again by Medway Council. Because of the government decision not to OFSTED new academies for two years (now extended to three to avoid this type of disaster being picked up too soon!), there is no current OFSTED evidence of the success of otherwise of this second Trust, but early signs are good with much improved KS2 results over the past two years at Cuxton.

 
Last modified on Wednesday, 06 July 2016 17:15

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