Controversial Ebbsfleet Academy Principal Alison Colwell has been asked, according to KentOnline, to attend another meeting with Schools Minister Nick Gibb, as one of ten "behaviour experts" nationally to discuss the school's "zero tolerance" behaviour policy and how this approach can be used to drive up standards in schools. This follows an article in the Sunday Times Magazine in July 2014, which explained "how it had turned around its reputation as one of the country’s worst performing schools". Puzzlingly, the predecessor Swan Valley School had no such reputation and this statement is completely untrue. The Ofsted Report of January 2011 recorded that "Students’ attainment has risen significantly at Swan Valley over the last few years as a result of improvements in the quality of teaching and learning and careful tracking and intervention, particularly in Key Stage 4. Challenging targets have been set and exceeded. The proportion of students achieving 5A* to C grades at GCSE last year was the school’s best ever result at 63%. When mathematics and English are included, the number gaining 5A* to C grades was 34% in 2010, also a record for Swan Valley ". For 2011 GCSE performance, this figure rose further to 35%. Strangely, in spite of this significant progress the then headteacher (OFSTED: "The headteacher, passionate about obtaining the best for his students") was suddenly removed later in the year and replaced by Ms Colwell who had been seconded to the school to assist him a few months earlier. Further controversy followed, as explained here, and here.
For 2012 and 2013, under the new management, GCSE performance had slumped to second worst in the county in both years, at 24% and 28% respectively. Overall over the past three years there has been a fractional improvement in GCSE results as the 2014 GCSE pass rate has inched up from the 35% of 2011, just before the putsch, to 36%, hardly endorsing the claim in the Sunday Times article of turning around its reputation. However, what is more notable is that the popularity of the school has fallen sharply in the same period, the most recent figures for admission in September 2015 showing that there were just 47 first choices for the 150 places, with 52 places, or over a third of those available, being taken up by Local Authority allocations of children who hadn't even applied for Ebbsfleet Academy. This is the third highest proportion in the county, the Marlowe Academy being first having now been closed through lack of demand.
Oddly, although I was also interviewed by the Sunday Times reporter, none of these factual statements were mentioned in the article!......
I have been looking at the stories and information pages that have provoked most interest on this website. The most popular news items (those with over 20,000 visitors since publication ) naturally include six stories about Kent and Medway admissions and the Kent Test, and three about problems in Medway. What I hadn't appreciated was the popularity of stories about individual schools, the remainder being articles about Chaucer Technology School (49,820), Swan Valley School/Ebbsfleet Academy, Marlowe Academy, Dover Road Primary School (Gravesham), and two Catholic Schools - St Edmund's RC, Dover and St Philip Howard, Herne Bay, all attracting over 20,000 visitors.
Biggest draw by far is the information page article on Kent Grammar School Admissions at 85,687 visitors, the second most popular information article listing Kent Special Schools and Units (41,071). Other popular pages provide information about Kent secondary school admissions, Kent grammar school appeals, secondary school statistics on admissions and appeals, Medway grammar school applications, primary school admissions and appeals, and the thorny issue of school transport and transport appeals.
You will find the full lists below, followed by comments about some of the individual stories.........
I have identified a financial scandal relating to academies, with Kent County Council being forced to pay more than £100 million to Private Finance Initiative (PFI) companies who are running schools that have become academies, over the length of their contracts. This is a figure that is likely to rise even further, and perhaps double as more schools convert. Academies are run independently of KCC and fully financed by government, many would say over generously, so it is bizarre that KCC still has to financially support their arrangements. I was interviewed on both Radio Kent and BBC SE about the issues.
None of what follows is a criticism of the schools themselves, who are the innocent parties in this mess.
The PFI money comes out of the pot available to KCC maintained schools, so every school that is not an academy contributes to this totally unjust payment. The size of the pot depends on the number of schools that are not academies and so shrinks every time one converts. However, the sum payable to the PFI companies remains constant (and is index linked) so each school remaining with KCC receives a smaller budget. To take it to the extreme, if all but a few schools became academies, as the government would like, those few would have no budget at all - the total school fund going to meet the PFI bill. This injustice can only increase the pressure on schools to change status, supporting a vicious circle that already operates because of other fixed costs faced by the county.
Swan Valley School has had a very bumpy ride since it disposed of its previous Principal in November, when he left with immediate effect. A previous article covers some of the issues surrounding this, and has attracted a mixed batch of comments about the school and its actions. I have now had complaints from several parents about Swan Valley, shortly to become Ebbsfleet Academy under the sponsorship of the Hayesbrook School in Tonbridge, about its heavy handed approach to forcing parents to sign the Home School Agreement agreement which appear to be completely counter-productive, and contravene government regulations. This latest controversy appears to be a prime example of unnecessarily heavy handed behaviour by the school in its attempts to introduce new disciplinary standards....