Mr Day had faced a very challenging task at a school that has seen any number of headteachers fail to turn it round but he was clearly making progress. Although the academy failed its OFSTED almost immediately after his arrival, it moved moved up a grade in March 2013.The academy had opened in September 2009, with a troubled birth, with much controversy over its nature and the abolition of the Middle Schools which were the strength of the education system on Sheppey, whilst the 13-18 Minster College had been in difficulties for many years, having been placed in Special Measures and seen a considerable turnover in headteachers and staff. It really did need a fresh start, as the people of Sheppey had lost confidence in the school, even though the Middle Schools had done a good job. The First Principal lost his job in 2010, in what has proved to be a high risk occupation..
Under Mr Day's leadership, examination results improved across the academy and he turned the academy round from the OFSTED failure it achieved in 2011 in its first two years under Dulwich College, but surely two years is hardly enough time for the changes he has made and was still making to come to fruition. It is therefore unsurprising that a monitoring OFSTED Report from earlier this month finds various management criticisms in the very unwieldy structure he inherited. It notes that “The primary sponsor, Dulwich College, rightly recognised that it does not have the capacity to drive improvements at the rate required”. Well there is a surprise!.... An exclusive school attracting and educating academically high performing children from mainly prosperous families does not have the skills to run an enormous multi-site school, heavily creamed of its ablest pupils by schools on the mainland, and coming predominantly from a socially deprived area. The Chairman of Governors, appointed by Dulwich College, must bear considerable responsibility for this calamity, although the College in handing over states that: “We have achieved a great deal educationally over the last four years, under the stewardship of Dulwich’s Deputy Master External, Ralph Mainard, who has been with the project since its inception 9 years ago and who has chaired the governors and supported the leadership of the Academy over the last three years”. No mention of Mr Day’s tremendous contribution to progress here (or indeed anywhere that I can find), nor of the fact that under Dulwich, not only was there an "inadequate" rating in a February 2011 monitoring inspection, they then took the Academy into OFSTED "Notice to Improve", in December 2011,a failed category. However, the report of this insepction already finds the ‘green shoots of recovery’ in Mr Day’s early leadership recording that: “The new principal has a clear strategic vision for streamlining the academy’s complex organisation and improving the consistency of the quality of provision across all sites and schools”. That vision clearly produced the subsequent progress that has continued until now.
I was at a meeting of educationalists in the area last week and there was an alarming sense of shock about the news filtering through. KCC and the Diocese of Canterbury are also giving up their sponsorship role and presumably their governorships in favour of Oasis, one of the rapidly growing academy groups, although Dulwich is going to continue to have a connection with the academy (to quote OFSTED) and offer advice. It will of course be up to Oasis if they accept that advice. The new Executive Principal, David Millar, apparently has the capacity to run Isle of Sheppey (current roll around 2000 students) in conjunction with his current role as principal of the small (557 students - OFSTED good) Oasis Academy Coulsdon in Croydon.
Oasis is rapidly moving into Kent, also taking over Hextable School. However, in a letter posted on the website on the last day of term, Oasis has decided not to continue with its planned take over of Chaucer Technology School in Canterbury because of the problems that school is encountering. See the Chaucer article for more details. You will find more on the Oasis background here.
Minster College was a thirteen to eighteen school up until 2009, operating in conjunction with four mainly successful middle schools in which parents had considerable confidence, but the reputation of the College was awful and it suffered from a steady turnover of senior staff and loss of potential students to both the grammar schools and non-selective schools in Sittingbourne. A few years before it became an academy I recall the whole governing body was removed because of problems with finance. Indeed, I well recall being invited to apply for the headship of Minster College by KCC in 1983. My visit to the school, along with further enquiries, convinced me that it was in such a dire state that I declined to go further. Nothing I have heard in the subsequent thirty years suggested my assessment was faulty and in recent years I have regularly supported admission appeals from parents on the basis of “anywhere but Minster College”, subsequently replaced by “anywhere but Isle of Sheppey”. With the abolition of the Middle Schools and the change to transfer at eleven, the planned admission figure became a massive 390 students annually, creating the largest school in Kent. It was decided to split the site into two separate campuses, and new buildings costing an exorbitant £54 million were planned but becausae of disagreements over the shape of the academy, the new premises only arrived two years late, this February. You will find a flavour of the controversies surrounding the concept of the new academy here, as Kent County Council and government debated the shape of the education structure on Sheppey, which also contributed to the delay in the new buildings.
The school was also supported by a £1 million endowment by the DeHaan Charitable Trust, run by Roger De Haan, a philanthropist and main sponsor of the Marlowe and Folkestone Academies.
Oasis, anticipating the running of some 40 academies by 2014, certainly has its work cut out here. If it manages to turn this goliath round within a reasonable time scale, I for one will take my hat off to the organisation, for surely we cannot allow more generations of Sheppey children to have their future life chances ruined in this way.
Sadly, and not a good start, the Isle of Sheppey Academy website makes no mention of the enormous upheaval going on in the Academy, although it does contain a welcome from Mr Day which notes that the academy’s values are based on a broad Christian ethos. Oasis is also a Christian Foundation that exists to combat social injustice in whatever form it manifests itself. I look forward to this being translated into action.