Cliffe Woods Primary School shows that good results can be achieved, heading the Medway Local Authority table with 98% reaching the standard, having been around the top spot for each of the past four years. Other high performing schools with 90% or more achieving the standards are: St Benedict’s RC Primary, St Thomas More RC Primary, Chattenden Primary and Horsted Junior. What this shows is that under good school leadership, schools will thrive and be successful. However, 10 Medway primary schools are at or below the Government Floor Target of 60%, with just 42% of Saxon Way Primary children reaching the standard. There are those who argue that Medway results reflect the deprived nature of the Borough, but there are clearly many other Local Authorities with far higher levels of deprivation, every one of whom has seen their children perform better than in Medway. For some years I have been supporting families through school appeals from St Mary’s Island Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School, the school with surely the most prosperous catchment in Medway - no deprivation there! Parents have complained to me and told me of complaints to governors and Medway Council over standards through the years, without action being taken. The headteacher finally left in February, but the school was still placed in Special Measures by OFSTED in September. Just 73% of children at St Mary’s Island scored Level 4s in English and mathematics, well below the national average and in the bottom half of Medway primary schools, well behind many schools who would have scored highly on the deprivation index.
The Local Authority may argue deprivation, but the performance tables also look at the percentage of disadvantaged children in each Local Authority – Nationally 29%. In Medway it is.....29%! In any case there is another measure that is designed to eliminate deprivation by looking at how far a child is expected to progress between the ages of 7 to 11, so those with the lowest starting point do not dent the figures. Nationally in English, 89% of children achieve the expected progress, whilst in Medway it is just 87%; however in mathematics, where nationally 87% of children make the expected progress, Medway lags badly at 82%.
What is to be done? Well those schools with good leadership will no doubt carry on to succeed under their own devices, leaving Medway to raise standards in those schools lagging behind. What can one expect from Medway? Well as I was writing this, I heard the comments of Barbara Peacock, the new Director of Children’s and Adult Services In Medway, the previous Director having resigned just before the Report on Low Standards at Key Stage 2 was published. On BBC SE, repeated on Rado Kent, her response to the question about Medway’s bottom place nationally at KS2 was “I believe there is much to celebrate”. She then enthusiastically spoke about the 72% of children who have achieved the national standard, children who had worked hard, whose hard work should be recognised, whilst apparently refusing to comment on the implications of coming bottom nationally. I am very happy to recognise these successes by children, but doesn't this comment seek to deny that Medway Council has any responsibility for the continued performance of the schools for which it is responsible; so one cannot expect too much here.
I have also recently commented on the extremely poor performance of both Medway and Kent through OFSTED Inspections, which merely underlines the issues described here; see below.
Meanwhile what of Kent, which came 100th out of 147 Local Authorities? Here also, primary schools have been underachieving, but Kent has robustly attacked underachievement, and is sending out very different messages to its schools. Cabinet Member Mike Whiting spoke of this robust approach on Radio Kent, referring to headteachers who have lost their posts, but what is evident is that the Local Authority is taking action to resolve its own level of underachievement. We await signs that this tough approach will work, but at least it should be better than complacency. 18 Kent schools have achieved 100% of children reaching the national standard, sprinkled across the county, from a variety of social backgrounds: Bodsham CofE Primary, Ashford; Borden CofE Primary, Sittingbourne; Colliers Green CofE Primary, Tunbridge Wells; Elham CofE Primary, Canterbury; Goodnestone CofE Primary, Canterbury; Hartlip Endowed CofE Primary, Sittingbourne; Hoath Primary school, Thanet; Lyminge CofE Primary, Shepway; Monkton CofE Primary, Thanet; Our Lady of Hartley Catholic Primary, Dartford; Pluckley CofE Primary, Ashford; Rodmersham, Sittingbourne; St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Northfleet; St Paul’s CofE VC Primary, Swanley; St Thomas Catholic Primary, Sevenoaks; Selling CofE Primary, Faversham; Stocks Green Primary, Tonbridge; Stowting CofE Primary, Shepway. Just three from West Kent. You may have spotted the astonishing common link between 15 of these schools! At the other end of the scale a worrying 31 Kent primary schools have failed to reach the government's floor target, seven of these already on the way out of KCC control to become part of academy chains, with many of the others likely to join them - another solution to the problem of what to do with underperforming schools, remove them from Local Authority responsibility!
The picture for schools scoring Level 5 in both English and maths, often regarded as sign of a grammar school standard, is very different, with 8 of the top 11 primary schools coming from West Kent, headed by Otford Primary with 73% against a national average of 27%. The three highest in Medway are the same as for the top Level 4 results. By another measure, that of average points score, Stocks Green Primary School in Tonbridge comes top in Kent, with an average score of 32.4, 50th in the country, followed by St Thomas' Catholic Primary School, Sevenoaks. at 127th.
I might have been pleased when invited to comment on the Medway situation on both BBC SE and Radio Kent this evening, but what a tragic story; so many children's life chances blighted because they happen to live under the education 'leadership' of Medway Council, which limps from disaster to disaster, many of these chronicled on this website. With the departure of the previous Director, there is now just one figure who has presided over each of these debacles.