(UPDATED: 12 September)
Kent on Sunday published an abbreviated version of a prepared article last Sunday, on KCC's handing over of low performing primary schools to academy trusts; the full article being reproduced here.
What follows is an update and amplification of that article, carried out as time permits.
Kent County Council is quietly resolving the problem of low performing primary schools by handing them over to sponsors, mainly large academy trusts, in a dramatic change to the face of Kent education. Interestingly, in Kent on Sunday this week, in a comment on this article, a spokeswoman for KCC is reported as saying "school governors, through discussion with the Department for Education and KCC, make their own decisions to become an academy". Rubbish, as many governing bodies can testify. Government has made clear that low performing schools are required to become academies (no freedom for governor choice there, as made public by the case of Downhills Primary in London and many others); governors report that KCC has put pressure on them to convert; some headteachers who have resisted conversion have "left" their schools; some governing bodies have been removed - in any case conversion sees new governors appointed, sometimes with members who have nothing to do with the local community, usually with a reduction in the number of parent governors, sometimes to as few as one. All this too often without the knowledge of parents who have no right of consultation over the change.
A classic example is Dame Janet Community Infant School in Ramsgate, placed in Special Measures by OFSTED in January. A recent follow up OFSTED inspection is highly critical describing progress as inadequate. KCC ought to have.....
I gave an interview on Radio Kent (today) supporting a letter written by Sarah Hohler (Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Education) to Michael Gove urging him to reconsider the inclusion of many children with SEN in Government performance tables as they distorted the achievements of schools. I made three points:.........
Poor leadership has been blamed after league tables revealed a “devastating” 10 per cent of the country’s lowest performing primary schools are in Kent and Medway. Of 200 underachieving schools highlighted in this year’s SATs league tables, 22 – including two from Medway – were in the county.
The Department for Education findings show the number of children who have reached the Level Four benchmark by the time they move on to secondary school. Although standards were up from last year by two per cent – with 70 per cent of children in Kent County Council run
schools and 67 per cent in Medway Council-run schools meeting standards in maths and English – results were still below the 73 per cent national average. And despite some schools excelling, such as the Pilgrim School near Rochester, which was named as the most improved in England, and 10 others which gained a clean sweep in the core subjects, others fell short.
About 190 schools in Kent and some 39 in Medway failed to reach the national average in the number of pupils achieving the Level Four target.
Gravesend-based education expert Peter Read called the statistics “devastating”. He said:“Ten per cent of the 200 bottom schools are in this county. Kent has a large infrastructure of officers supposed to be supporting these schools, but why is support not turning into action? “If you look at Ofsted reports there are concerns about leadership. What is clear is in a number of schools when good senior staff leave, standards fall. There is an issue with leadership here. There are
examples of where a school is failing and advertising for a new head. “Instead they need to bring in outside help to get the school back up to standard before advertising.” Mr Read said from his own personal experience, leadership is key. “My grandson goes to school in deprived Peckham, overlooked by Milwall FC, yet 98 per cent of children got Level Four in English and maths.“KCC may say some of its schools are in deprived areas, but I’m willing to bet that none of them is as deprived as Peckham. If a school there can deliver those standards, so can schools in Kent. It is down to outstanding leadership from the head.”
Education chiefs at KCC said they were pleased with improvements – including 42 of the 78 schools that achieved less than 55 per cent in English and maths in 2009 but had reached or exceeded the target in 2010 – but admitted the figures needed to get better in coming years.
Schools throughout the country took part in a boycott of the Key Stage 2 SATs last May after teaching unions claimed pupils suffer as a result of too much emphasis being placed on them during lessons. Cllr Sarah Hohler, KCC cabinet member for children, families and education, said: “There will continue to be intensive support for those schools below the target and partnerships between schools to help raise attainment.
“It is difficult to compare Kent with the national average this year. Only six per cent of Kent primary schools boycotted the tests, compared with 26 per cent nationally. “The results are what they are, but can we be absolutely confident that the national average is a true reflection?”
Schemes have been put in place by KCC to ensure children’s key learning skills are developed at school and home. The council also revealed that for a fifth year running children’s achievements at the end of reception year had improved, with 61 per cent reaching the expected level. Education bosses at Medway Council said they were pleased to see improvements in results, but said that the authority was committed to driving up standards.
Rose Collinson, the director of children’s and adult services, said: “It’s worth noting that, unlike many authorities, the vast majority of our pupils sat the tests this year.
“It’s not really possible to make comparisons between different councils as in some authorities more than 50 per cent of children did not take part. However, I know all of Medway’s primary headteachers will join with me in wanting to accelerate the improvements we have already made.”