Updated: 28th June
Earlier this month, Channel Four showed a Dispatches programme entitled “Exams: cheating the system”. Whilst the programmeinvestigated how some teachers and pupils cope with the pressure of examinations by bending the rules or cheating the system, this article is concerned with the section that focused on the Early Years and KS2 issues at a Kent primary school, Kings Farm Primary in Gravesend.
It is important to stress that the programme attached no fault whatever to the current staff, the school being led between January and July 2014 by an Executive Headteacher appointed by Kent County Council, who shared her responsibilities with her home school, the neighbouring Whitehill Primary. She was subsequently removed from Kings Farm by KCC, after which she returned full-time to Whitehill.
There was a follow up in the Gravesend Messenger on 25th June, based on a frightening and convincing grievance procedure submitted by nine staff members and upheld by governors following an investigation by KCC Personnel Services. The grievance has now been circulated in the public domain, and the response by governors identifies: serious concerns about safeguarding and health and safety; concerns about treatment of children with SEN; concerns about relationships with parents; serious concerns about interactions with children and their well being; serious concerns about the curriculum and assessment; concerns about disability discrimination; serious concerns about relationships with staff, bullying and intimidation; serious concerns about the overall running of the school and serious concerns about the destruction of documents. As the executive headteacher, who has returned to Whitehill Primary and who refused to co-operate with the investigation, and a senior member of staff who is now employed full-time by Whitehill Primary were no longer employed by the school when this response was sent, no direct formal action has taken place. However, the response, sent in February 2015, notes that in view of the serious concern expressed about some of the allegations KCC intended to take the matter further.
After an investigation, the Standards & Testing Agency had “concerns over how all of the tests were administered and has doubt over the validity of the tests, including the mathematics tests. The team has therefore made the decision to annul all tests for all children”. When the Head of School at Kings Farm during the period in question was replaced, she then went to work at Whitehill.The KS2 test results were also annulled for the children at Whitehill. A separate investigation by KCC into events at Kings Farm decided that after the authority “found evidence of inappropriate behaviour during the assessments, the leadership team of the school was replaced”. KCC regards what happened as a “a serious breach of professional misconduct”. KCC has confirmed that investigations by the appropriate national bodies are still ongoing. The full statement by KCC to the programme is at the foot of this article.
Because Whitehill Primary is an academy, KCC has no authority there and I have no knowledge of what if any action has taken place as a result of maladministration at the school.
I have covered the background in previous articles and look at the issues in more detail below....
I have previously recounted the story so far here, and with previous links. To summarise:
KCC removed the headteacher of Kings Farm primary at Christmas 2013, and replaced him with the headteacher of Whitehill Primary on an Executive basis. This proved a disaster and the Executive Head was removed by KCC in September 2014, leaving a school that had degenerated into chaos. A consultant headteacher was appointed, the Headteacher of Ifield Special School appointed to oversee progress, and although an OFSTED Inspection in October placed the school in Special Measures, it both recorded the mess into which Kings Farm had been left by the previous leadership and the subsequent excellent progress in the school. A spokesman for the Government Standards and Testing Agency subsequently stated: “Following an investigation into the administration of this year's Key Stage 2 tests at King’s Farm Primary, in Gravesend, the decision was made to annul all tests results for all children. Any instances of maladministration of the tests are completely unacceptable.” A parallel investigation took place into the Whitehill results with the same result.
Kings Farm has now had its initial Monitoring Inspection following the Special Measures finding. Now free of the malign influence of Whitehill, the Report is the most positive assessment of any Kent school I have read at this stage, and my congratulations to all concerned. There can now be no doubt where the initial responsibility for the disaster lays.
Meanwhile, KCC had rewarded Whitehill Primary, the most unpopular primary school in Kent with parents, according to one measure, by allocating another 24 children places in the school at the last moment, raising its Reception Class numbers to 114, making it by far the largest all through Primary school in the county……
Most of the activity of conversion to academies this year has been in the primary sector, as those secondaries looking to convert have already done so. There is one batch of secondary schools that, even if they are willing to convert, are still in difficulty about doing so. These schools were built under Private Finance Initiative and would incur heavy charges for themselves and KCC if they converted, as explained in two previous articles I wrote last year and a follow up to come.
Once again, the majority of the nine conversions listed below are to join church academy groups either by federation, or under sponsorship for underperforming or failing schools.
Currently in Kent, 72% of secondary schools and 28% of primary schools have converted to academies, are in progress or are Free Schools. The corresponding figures for Medway are !00% secondary and 42% primary. These figures are based on my own records and are not official.
I also comment on three schools that have run into difficulties over possible conversions - Twydall Primary in Gillingham; Kings Farm Primary in Gravesend and The North School in Ashford; together with the proposed new Free School in Sittingbourne for children with high functioning autism.......
Kings Farm Primary School in Gravesend has been placed into Special Measures by OFSTED in what must be the unique circumstances of: missing performance data, allegations of wrongdoing, multiple investigations by the authorities, suppressed KS2 results, public protest by parents, self-reporting of safeguarding issues by the school, and a staff turnover of around two thirds shortly before the Inspection. OFSTED is required to make its judgments on the school as it is, and yet this Report is massively influenced by the dreadful period from January to July 2014 when the school had a temporary Executive Headteacher who was removed by KCC over the summer.
First the good news:
A new Consultant Headteacher was appointed in September. OFSTED reports:
"The consultant headteacher has made an excellent start. She is very clear about what needs to be done. The school is more stable and there is an air of optimism. Senior leadership is being strengthened rapidly. The school provides well for pupils’ personal and social development. The consultant headteacher has taken decisive steps to improve behaviour in lessons and around the school. As a result, there have been no exclusions this term, and most pupils show enthusiasm for learning. Relationships with parents and carers are improving rapidly. All procedures for the safeguarding of pupils have been reviewed and are now secure.".
"It is not possible to report whether the school met government floor standards in 2014, as the 2014 school data for the achievement of Year 6 pupils has been suppressed by the Standards Agency, pending investigation. Most of the school’s data on pupils’ past performance cannot be located. The local authority considers the submitted data for the Early Years Foundation Stage in 2014 to be inaccurate. Consequently, the school has little information on pupils’ achievement in reading, writing and mathematics. No evaluation of the impact of pupil premium expenditure was carried out in the last school year. The inspection team was aware during the inspection of several ongoing investigations by the appropriate authorities into allegations of wrongdoing. A review of safeguarding was carried out by the local authority, at the school’s request, in September 2014. The school community has experienced extensive disruption and instability recently. There has been considerable discontent among the staff, culminating in significant changes in staffing. Parents and carers have publicly demonstrated their lack of confidence in the school leadership. These matters, the rapid deterioration in standards, and the ongoing investigations have adversely affected morale and contributed to wholesale changes in leadership and management".......
Kent County Council has confirmed that Simon Webb, KCC’s Principal Primary School Adviser, is to retire next month, and he appears to have left his desk with immediate effect. KCC is tight-lipped about the decision and is making no other comment about the matter. Mr Webb is the principal architect of the ‘drive for school improvement’ that has produced such a large number of casualties amongst Kent primary heads, and a severe drop in morale for many others, as they have witnessed the manner of removal of their colleagues. Mr Webb has escorted a number of headteachers of underperforming schools from their schools in the middle of the school day and placed them on ‘gardening leave’, sometimes without documentation in place, as if they have committed a disciplinary offence and are not safe to leave of their own accord.
I have written several previous items on both subjects of this article, most recently here.
The recent National Conference of the National Association of Headteachers, hardly a hotbed of radicalism, approved the following motion from the Kent Branch:
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”
Rather pointed, and indicative of one reason for the sharp decline in teachers willing to take up headships in Kent......