Supporting Families
  • banner3
  • banner12
  • banner2
  • banner9
  • banner6
  • banner7
  • banner13
  • banner4
  • banner8
  • banner11
Saturday, 28 July 2018 13:02

Disappearing Headteachers in North Kent

This article currently has the fastest growing number of hits of any this year, with over 5000 in less than two days, along with my 10,000 subscribers!

Three North Kent primary headteachers went missing or lost their jobs before the end of term, all having had a difficult time at their schools.

The schools are: Fairview Community Primary School, Gillingham; Tunbury Primary School, Walderslade and Copperfield Academy, in Northfleet. All three heads were fairly recent appointments, the first two introducing ‘robust’ new approaches at previously successful schools. Copperfield Academy is now suffering from poor Academy Trust management according to Ofsted, having lost seven heads in the past five years at the end of nearly two decades of mismanagement.

Although it is too easy to write off high staff turnover at each school as collateral damage, these will include careers and vocations destroyed at a period when the country has a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. I have long maintained that failure to treat professionals with respect or to support and develop new entrants are the prime reasons for the crisis rather than teacher pay. The damage to the children and their education caught up in such events, with teacher after teacher arriving in front of them, is incalculable, but seemingly ignored. 

I also have reports of a fourth school in serious difficulties, in Medway, but need more information to go ahead with confidence that may be difficult over the summer holiday. 

Fairview Community Primary, Gillingham (amended August 2018)

Medway Council under a 2015 Policy Document ‘Get Medway Learning’ proposed to ‘Encourage deputy head teachers from already high achieving schools in London to step up into head teacher roles in Medway, to drive improvement and raise standards’. All traces of this policy appear to have vanished from the Council website and the internet. Apart from an article I wrote at the time I am not sure how many such heads were lured to Medway, but the one I quoted in my article left under a cloud last year. An FOI I subsequently sent to Medway Council has come back with the following response: 'It is not possible to report individual numbers against a 2015 policy as these were incorporated into main stream activity shortly after the 2015 policy was announced. Overall the Councils recruitment initiatives were successful'.  In other words the policy was for showboating purposes and was never implemented.  

One other London appointment arrived in January at the well performing and happy Fairview Primary School. Mrs Faye Rider came with a strong record from her previous post as Head of School at an Ofsted Outstanding school in Walthamstow, determined to make a difference. Sadly there was a rapid change in culture including very tough discipline and an early decision to set by ability that went down badly, quickly leading to large and important staff resignations. It is reported that the headteacher had little understanding of how an LA school worked. Concerns were first raised with me in April and, by the second week of the new term, letters home to parents were being signed by the Deputy Head. She became Acting Head at the start of Term 6, although no explanation appears to have been forthcoming but the school confirmed to me that Mrs Rider left before the end of term, and now appears to have taken up a post in Sussex. 

Tunbury Primary School, Walderslade, Kent

 A warm welcome to Tunbury Primary School
 
Confidence in a school comes from knowing and understanding what is happening within it.
 
Lead comment on school Website 

Although this school is in Walderslade, Chatham, north of the M2, it is situated in Kent Local Authority rather than Medway. This is another school where I have received concerns from staff and parents over a period of time about the robust style of the headteacher since her appointment at the beginning of 2013. She took over from a highly respected headteacher, Mrs Heather Brown. Such an appointment is always difficult, and a high rate of staff turnover can be necessary to move a school on, but even Ofsted clearly had concerns by the end of the year, although still finding the school ‘Good’ on a short InspectionYou have an unwavering commitment to making sure that the quality of teaching and learning is good despite the many changes of staff and difficulties in recruiting permanent teachers. Senior leaders closely monitor the quality of teaching and learning and offer support and guidance if your high expectations are not met. Rapid improvement is expected and rigorous performance management targets are set for staff’. Also You are acutely aware, however, of the concerns about leadership and management expressed by a number of parents. You acknowledge that you have not yet secured the confidence of these parents. Parents also, understandably, have concerns about the number of different teachers some classes have had. Your high expectations for the quality of teaching are partly, but not exclusively, a reason for many of the changes in staffing’.

Both quotes are indicative of a style driven by pressure to deliver high performance. It is of course one of the reasons for high teacher turnover as teachers who see the profession as a vocation cease to feel valued. I do believe that such pressures, often leading to low morale in a school, play a greater factor than teacher pay in the high number of teachers walking away from the profession.

Miss McIntosh is clearly well regarded by those that matter, being a Kent Leader of Education supporting schools in difficulty, and an Ofsted Inspector. However, the summer term saw her absent from school for a considerable period, including a critical time when the school was flooded, and then returning for a short period in July before being suspended or sent on 'Gardening Leave', along with her Deputy. An email from governors to parents at the end of term has attempted to still the controversy, although apparently by being deliberately confusing. It rightly states that 'Our School continues to be lead (sic)and managed by our Headteacher Miss McIntosh and Deputy Headteacher, Miss Nuttall'  even though they were not in school or making decisions It also refers to: 'fictitious rumours circulating on social media', which I have not seen as I don't follow social media, but if this email is an attempt to cover up their absence, then it will have been most unwise, as this is not fictitious. Perhaps Governors would like to set the record straight? 
 
What is unusual in such a case is that the Deputy is involved as well as the head.  
 
Not surprisingly the other local school, Walderslade Primary is the second most oversubscribed in Medway.
 
Copperfield Academy, Gravesham
I have followed the misfortunes of Copperfield Academy, and its predecessor school Dover Road Primary for many years. My first article was from 2011 in the early days of the site, when I reported the school being placed in Special Measures again, writing that ‘it should be a matter of acute embarrassment for Kent County Council’ (it wasn’t!).

After a previous long period of stability and high standards, most recently under headteacher Llew Jones, who retired around 2001, the school was subject to repeated failure and a high turnover of headteachers, including seven in the past five years. The school rapidly fell into Serious Weaknesses (Ofsted 2003), the first of three failed Ofsteds, interspersed with several inadequate Monitoring Inspections., including one after the most recent ‘Requires Improvement’ last year. Twice there have been plans to expand this failing school to ease pressure on places in Northfleet, in spite of KCC principles that only Good or Outstanding schools should be enlarged. Both have been cancelled because of perceived but false insufficient demand, leaving Northfleet families struggling to find places, most recently this year. As a result some Northfleet families have been taxied across to East Gravesend schools as there were no vacancies locally. I have written up the problems a number of times over the past seven years, most recently here. In the meantime Ofsted has repeatedly highlighted a large turnover of teachers: 2016 ‘Each year, a large number of new teachers join the school but do not stay’; ‘Eleven new teachers took up post in September 2017’. The Ofsted Monitoring Inspection of October under most recent Head, Kevin Holmes, appointed May 2017 was critical of the leadership and oversight of Reach2, the Academy Trust which took over the school in 2013: ‘The school is not improving quickly enough. In a period of significant turbulence in staffing and leadership, standards have fallen further in all key stages since the previous inspection’; ‘’Now approaching four years since the school re-opened as an academy, by its own admission the trust has still not been successful in securing a good quality of education for pupils’.

Now Mr Holmes, who also recently had a spell running the disastrous Istead Rise Primary another school with an appalling record, and described as an experienced head by Ofsted, left suddenly without notice or explanation in June. The school is now run by Paul Voural, Associate School Leader for Reach2, whose own previous headship appears to have had its difficulties.

There were no reception class vacancies at all in Northfleet this year apart from a fruitless expansion of 30 places at Copperfield, with the school receiving 11 Local Authority Allocations to top its numbers up to 60, the only local school not full of children who had chosen it. In the meantime, nearby Cecil Road Primary, whose previous head was removed just over three years ago, has flourished to become one of the most oversubscribed schools in Kent as parents try and avoid Copperfield.

Conclusions
This is only a sample area of Kent and Medway, but I would be surprised if the schools identified are alone. I see two main conclusions, firstly that quite simply there is not a sufficient pool of good potential headteachers to go round, with other evidence showing that Medway has particular difficulties attracting good candidates. I have been accused by a past Cabinet Member of adding to the problems by highlighting Medway's deficiencies, but surely it is up to the Council to improve standards as a first step. It is notable that certain schools fall into a spiral of decline, with developing a rapid turnover of headteachers and staff, which it becomes difficult to break. However, it can be done, and I would highlight Drapers Mills Primary in Thanet which had been failing long before I first began reporting on this website, but has recently achieved its first ever Good Ofsted Report. Academisation as a solution appears to make little difference. 
 
Secondly, what I refer to as 'Tough Love' doesn't work, although highly regarded in some quarters. The two examples here differ from the secondary schools quoted in my link in that their uncompromising demands are primarily upon staff rather than pupils as in the link. A school is a community and leaders should work to build up a team, rather than demoralise teachers with unreasonable demands which inevitably lead to high turnover of staff, driving much needed teachers out of the profession. 
 
As for the children, some of whom in one of these schools are reported to have faced seven teachers in the year, one can only speculate how much damage this has done to their education and development. For there is no doubt that stability and continuity with a good teacher is a vital ingredient of a good education at this young age. As schools come under pressure to fill gaps, some of the substitutes  will inevitably be less than adequate.
 
Note
The 'Disappearing Heads' of the title is a nod to a series of articles, most recently in 2014, when I profiled an unwritten Kent policy to get rid of underperforming primary headteachers by improper means, eventually bringing it to a close with the removal of a maverick senior KCC officer. There is no suggestion of the same here. 
Last modified on Tuesday, 21 August 2018 06:56

14 comments

  • Comment Link Saturday, 18 August 2018 13:24 posted by Brenda

    I can't comment on Copperfield or Tunbury but you describe Fairview as "well performing and happy". What you don't describe it as is "outstanding" which is what I want for my kids education. The school brought in a head with the experience of running an outstanding school. Setting by ability may not be seen as modern and trendy but it was the norm in my days at school. Maybe that was how they did things at the head's previous school and how it was that they came to be outstanding. PETER: You don't say if you are a parent, and if so were you happy with the number of senior staff resigning soon after Ms Rider took over, or the sharp drop in morale, and unhappiness about the the new tough disciplinary regime introduced, not normally associated with Outstanding schools.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 31 July 2018 20:15 posted by Karen Smith

    I am very angry about the sacking of Kevin Holmes at Copperfield Academy. We have put up with change after change of teacher for our daughter who is bewildered by the different teaching from each one and the rubbish teaching from some. Mr Holmes at least tried to sort it out, but his face didnt fit with the Trusts failed ideas. Help us please, our daughters future is at stake. PETER: I only wish I could. Both Labour and Conservative governments have pushed the idea of the non-accountable academy, but KCC didn't do any better when they were in charge. However, as you say it is your daughter's future at stake, and you probably don't care which political model is used. You just want her to have a good education. That shouldn't be too much to ask.

  • Comment Link Monday, 30 July 2018 20:02 posted by Angry Copperfield Parent

    Copperfield Academy - I have had four children pass through this dreadful school. It failed them under KCC. It is failing them still. Every comment here appears to be about Tunbury Primary. Does anybody out there care about us, or is Northfleet written off again. I have tried but there is no one else with room. Thank you Mr Read for trying but I don't expect any improvement. PETER: I have massive sympathy for you. You have every right to be angry. Under KCC I used to think the school was being propped up politically for no good purpose. It looks as if Reach 2 simply doesn't care after five years in charge. No, I am sadly afraid I don't know what to suggest.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 23:13 posted by Sheila B

    Parents of SEN children have complained to KCC for years about the Head and Deputy i/c SEN with nothing done whilst children's futures are blighted. What has happened to make them take us seriously?

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 19:41 posted by Anon

    Tunbury is staffed by dedicated, caring staff who have been deceived, blamed, overruled and intimidated. Credit to them for sticking it out despite the rubbish they have endured. I'm sure the Sen provision has been damaged massively by the deputy Miss nuttel but have faith that now they've gone (hopefully not to any kind of educational career) things will improve. Sadly, the 5 years damage caused to children let down can not be claimed back. They should hang their heads in shame!

    I think the fact that governors have been visible during miss Mcintosh's most recent spell of absence, says a lot. Most days they have been visible to wave off and welcome back, 6 classes of children that have had to be bussed to wouldham school since the school flooded.

    I'm guessing (and hoping) that the email from them was all they could tell us at the time. PETER: My reading is that no decisions have yet been made about the future. In either explanation for the absence, it is not clear that either member of staff is subject to disciplinary action and so there may be no obstacle to their returning.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 19:28 posted by Karen

    Fairview Parent: Peter, I know you are very critical of Medway Council but in this case they took prompt action in seeing off the head. Reading the Tunbury comments one has to ask why the head was allowed to continue so long without challenge. Presumably it is difficult to take action against an Ofsted Inspector and Kent Schools Leader. Tunbury parents need to ask why the Council did not see what was going on for so long. PETER: An excellent question

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 19:10 posted by Tunbury parent

    About time. Perhaps the Sen children will now get the help and support they need.

    The School Head and Deputy both ******** to us and tried to force our child out of the school.

    Our fear is that they will be allowed to quietly move on and ruin another school.

    Check out Ofsteds report for the Poverest - Miss Mcintoshs previous school appointment. Makes interesting reading and a previously very good school had a decline during her appointment, large number of staff leaving and above average number of pupils leaving. It would be interesting to find out if she forced the Sen children out of that school too! PETER, Sorry I have edited one phrase of your comment.. Your interpretation of the Povorest Ofsteds differs from mine. At the start of Miss McIntosh's headship in 2008 the school was Inadequate and under her leadership improved to Requires Improvement in 2013. However, there was great improvement after she left in 2014, with considerable criticism on what had gone on previously.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 18:37 posted by Chris Fitz

    Tunbury Parent

    Its a shame it took the authorities so long to realise what many parents have been saying for a very long time, the head and deputy constantly displayed a level of incompetence and whenever you had a complaint or dispute they always blamed someone else. The schools Governors also have a lot to answer for in defending them and denying there were issues, when it was widely known what was happening, even before they were sent on gardening leave they were really at the school anyway !! They have destroyed the reputation of the school and driven away many many good teachers. I hope they never get positions of authority in the school sector again

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 18:35 posted by Anonymous

    SEN children have been massively let down by the HT's drive for outstanding. The deputy HT who was also the SENCo failed children with SEN, she failed to act on parents concerns, failed to give the correct support unless guided by outside professionals, failed to think ahead if things were going wrong, failed to recognise that she was wrong and failed those students that simply do not fit into 'the box'. SEN children do not and should never be forced to fit into 'the box'. Rather than support these children they and the parents were made to feel it was their failt and that they needed to adjust or move on to another school placement. It was a constant battle.

    This is not how educational professionals should behave.

    It is too late for my child with SEN at this school but I hope that no other vulnerable child is subjected to these failings. PETER: Encouraging SEN children to move elsewhere, on the grounds that another school will offer them a better deal is sadly not uncommon. It works wonders for performance targets.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 18:32 posted by Mrs almond

    I have and my son has been totally let down by the school and the sen department, I have had to pay for all my sons tests to be done privately as I was told the sen department didn’t have the funds to do this!!!! When I wrote to complain the head teacher did approach me and stated it would be better if we resolved this matter “in house” now it make sense!! But unfortunately I’m still waiting over 4 months later with no response from the school!
    The headteacher has massively let this once great school down, lots of amazing teachers left and now the school just feels very unfriendly and don’t get a good community feel, such a shame so glad my son is in his final year.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 18:14 posted by Anon

    Peter, you may wish to adjust your article slightly to clarify what is rumour and what is confirmed as factual. There is at least one point in this article which you are incorrectly implying as fact (what you've stated is the rumour, but is not actually correct). As a result, your article is being quoted/ referenced on social media as the truth and evidence that "parents have been lied to", when they haven't. By not including this clarification, I believe the reaction to your post means you are skating rather close to being guilty of defamation of character. PETER: Not a helpful comment, in that it gives no clue as to what you think is rumour or what you think needs clarification. If you could contact me by email and inform me of your concerns I can respond if they stand up. To the best of my knowledge, the article is based on reliable information.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 16:56 posted by Diane knapp

    Both headteacher and deputy should be struck off. Both my boys are Sen and both badly let down by Tunbury. One now in secondary and one starting last year at Tunbury, bit late for my boys but now hopeful for the future of the school. I have been ***** and fed rubbish by deputy who was also head of Sen. So many long standing good teachers have left in their droves due to head. Here’s hoping they never come back PETER: Sorry, I have edited out one phrase.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 15:36 posted by Anonymous

    Tunbury parent.
    The awful treatment of staff and neglectful care for SEN pupils at Tunbury has been appalling over the years, by both the Head and the Deputy HT. I’m glad their true colours are starting to come out, although too late to save many fantastic teachers. The irreparable damage on SEN children is unforgivable. They should both be struck off.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 12:28 posted by Ex-Tunbury Teacher

    Tunbury Primary: Slightly amended article spot on!!

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated.
Basic HTML code is allowed.