Most larger private schools have different inspection arrangements, being assessed by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), which many regard as a much more cosy arrangement, with other private school teachers carrying out the task. An article in the Guardian perhaps catches the climate. To qualify for an ISI Inspection, a school needs to belong to an association of private schools which is a member of the Independent Schools Council.
Many, if not most, parents send their children to the school (annual fees up to £7,755 for the 141 children) to try and secure a grammar school place, but 3 successes out of 9 for Kent will not please them (one out of two in Medway), and will certainly have increased the reported dissatisfaction with the school.
However, three months later in an Emergency Inspection, Leadership was found to be weak, with serious and significant divisions between staff, a ‘family’ ethos blurring professional boundaries (the mind boggles), a culture of mistrust meaning there was too little focus on the welfare of pupils. The headteacher, the only senior member of staff, and the owner of the school, did not always demonstrate appropriate professional conduct, staff not held to account for the quality of their work, the governing body was not effective, etc., etc. This was certainly another clear warning the school was under scrutiny. Nevertheless, an Action Plan submitted by the school to the DfE showing how it would tackle issues was rejected in September!
Unsurprisingly, and as a direct result of this, a progress monitoring inspection was carried out in January this year to monitor the action the school was taking to implement the action plan. Yet again the school failed this inspection with “Independent School Standards still not being met!”. The report notes “The headteacher has reflected on his leadership and recognised the need to set high expectations for the behaviour of staff” although there is no indication the need has been fulfilled. Amongst the requirements still to be met, the school is required to: “Ensure that persons with leadership and management responsibilities at the school demonstrate the skills and attitudes appropriate to their roles; Ensure that leaders demonstrate high standards of professionalism; Establish appropriately professional relationships between all staff at the school Effectively ensure that safeguarding policies and practices are consistently applied by all staff Establish effective governance at the school; Ensure that leaders at all levels actively promote the well-being of pupils in all of their actions, policies and procedures.” I believe that any state school which consistently and flagrantly ignored OFSTED requirements in this way, would have been closed down long ago.
Amazingly, the school is now in trouble from a different direction, having been instructed by the Advertising Standards Authority to remove false advertising from local buses, which publicly proclaimed that the school was achieving a percentage of grammar school passes higher than the reality, betraying what I believe is the fundamental reason why parents send their children to this dreadful school. The school claimed on the buses that 94% of its pupils passed to grammar school for 2016 when in fact it was 82%, or 14 of the 17 who sat the Test this year, including five Headteacher Assessment passes, so just over half passing automatically. Another child was successful on appeal. I have several times in recent years been approached by parents to support their children at appeal, but have only once taken a family on, for I found the too frequent attitude of “my child has been to St Christopher’s; I am entitled to a grammar school place”, intolerable. One St Christopher’s family still sticks in my mind, telling me as part of their case for appeal, that their son had been unfairly treated as he had missed going over the Kent Test the day before it was taken, as he was ill! They may have been mistaken, but naturally I reported this possible maladministration to KCC.
Some private cramming schools specially prepare work in September in an attempt to improve chances at Headteacher Assessment (or Review in Medway) in case the child is put forward for this. This would give their pupils an unfair advantage, possibly regarded as part of the service for which they are paying. The fees at St Christopher’s for the 101 children are £8,595 per annum. You will find the impressive figures for admission to grammar school here, the reason why many parents will choose to ignore all the above. Indeed, the school is quite explicit about this and boasts on its website: "If parents care enough about their children’s future that they are going to fork out £8,500 from taxed income, then they probably care enough to help their children by reading with them, and giving them support along the way. Many see it as an investment. We can’t afford to send our child to a secondary private school where the fees might be three of four times those of St Christopher’s, so we’ll do our best to make sure that their child has a place at a very good grammar school". What an arrogant statement, but sadly this article may produce even more applications for the school from such parents.
A few years ago, Shernold School had its Kent Test results annulled, because of allegations of improper preparation by the school, but this decision was subsequently reversed. Last year 8 out of the 15 pupils taking the Kent Test were successful, another 4 being allocated places by Headteacher assessment. School fees for the 143 pupils are up to £7,425 for the oldest children.
14 out of 17 pupils who sat the Kent Test were found of grammar school ability, including 5 from Headteacher Assessment. 18 out of 23 were assessed grammar by the Medway Test (most will be the same children taking both tests) including one from Medway Review. Fees for the 181 children are up to £6,103.