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Thursday, 11 June 2015 23:02

Exams: Cheating the System: Kings Farm and Whitehill Primary Schools, Gravesend

Updated: 28th June

 Earlier this month, Channel Four showed a Dispatches programme entitled “Exams: cheating the system”. Whilst the programmeinvestigated how some teachers and pupils cope with the pressure of examinations by bending the rules or cheating the system, this article is concerned with the section that focused on the Early Years and KS2 issues at a Kent primary school, Kings Farm Primary in Gravesend.

It is important to stress that the programme attached no fault whatever to the current staff, the school being led between January and July 2014 by an Executive Headteacher appointed by Kent County Council, who shared her responsibilities with her home school, the neighbouring Whitehill Primary. She was subsequently removed from Kings Farm by KCC, after which she  returned full-time to Whitehill.

There was a follow up in the Gravesend Messenger on 25th June, based on a frightening and convincing grievance procedure submitted by nine staff members and upheld by governors following an investigation by KCC Personnel Services. The grievance has now been circulated in the public domain, and the response by governors identifies: serious concerns about safeguarding and health and safety; concerns about treatment of children with SEN; concerns about relationships with parents; serious concerns about interactions with children and their well being; serious concerns about the curriculum and assessment; concerns about disability discrimination; serious concerns about relationships with staff, bullying and intimidation; serious concerns about the overall running of the school and serious concerns about the destruction of documents. As the executive headteacher, who has returned to Whitehill Primary and who refused to co-operate with the investigation, and a senior member of staff who is now employed full-time by Whitehill Primary were no longer employed by the school when this response was sent, no direct formal action has taken place. However, the response, sent in February 2015, notes that in view of the serious concern expressed about some of the allegations KCC intended to take the matter further.  

After an investigation, the Standards & Testing Agency had “concerns over how all of the tests were administered and has doubt over the validity of the tests, including the mathematics tests. The team has therefore made the decision to annul all tests for all children”. When the Head of School at Kings Farm during the period in question was replaced, she then went to work at Whitehill.The KS2 test results were also annulled for the children at Whitehill. A separate investigation by KCC into events at Kings Farm decided that after the authority “found evidence of inappropriate behaviour during the assessments, the leadership team of the school was replaced”. KCC regards what happened as a “a serious breach of professional misconduct”. KCC has confirmed that investigations by the appropriate national bodies are still ongoing.  The full statement by KCC to the programme is at the foot of this article.

Because Whitehill Primary is an academy, KCC has no authority there and I have no knowledge of what if any action has taken place as a result of maladministration at the school. 

I have covered the background in previous articles and look at the issues in more detail below....

Warwick Mansell of the Guardian Newspaper has been investigating such issues for several years and has written a number of articles on the subject in the Guardian and elsewhere. I suspect that in some other schools, no concerns have been raised, as it is not in the interests of those most closely involved. As one contributor to the programme stated, “if an improvement in results looks too good to be true, then it probably is"”.

Partly as a result of the absence of KS2 results and of data having been removed at KS1, Kings Farm Primary was placed in Special Measures in October. However, the most recent OFSTED Report found the school was making reasonable progress towards the removal of SM. It also notes that “Parents and carers who spoke with the inspectors were very positive about changes made by school leaders and staff” and that “The headteacher is leading the school with determination and high levels of commitment. She shows enthusiasm in rising to the challenge of bringing about the significant improvements required and skill in managing the changes involved”.

The programme explained that some schools will deliberately downplay KS1 results to show accelerated progress between then and KS2. A teacher alleged this had happened at Kings Farm, but subsequently most of the school’s data on pupils’ Early Years past performance could not be located. OFSTED reported in October 2014 that “The absence of historic school data and other documentation, prior to the current term, has provided additional challenges for the leadership team”.

I am well aware of the issues as, through my previous roles as Chairman of Governors of Ifield School, the neighbouring Special School, and as previous vice-chairman of Whitehill Infant School before it amalgamated with the Juniors to form Whitehill Primary, I know or have been contacted by a number of staff or ex-staff in all the schools concerned, including some directly affected by the maladministration. I have been approached by a number of ex-staff of Whitehill Primary, concerned about what is going on in their school and heard a number of comments in a similar vein from others in education. The Dispatches programme rightly drew attention to the number of teachers only willing to comment anonymously for fear of their careers, and indeed I have received anonymous letters expressing deep concerns about what is going on at Whitehill, purportedly from current members of staff, whose deep knowledge of events there gives credibility to their testimony.

One staff appointment to Whitehill that clearly rankles is the engagement on a one day a week consultancy basis, of Kent’s previous Principal Primary Adviser, who was retired by KCC following a series of controversial events, chronicled here, but who would have played a prime role in the appointment of the Whitehill Executive Headteacher to Kings Farm in January 2014. Other comments attached at the foot of a previous article give another flavour of how the school is viewed by some.

Currently, Kings Farm Primary is looking to federate with Ifield School, a twice Outstanding OFSTED Special School with a national reputation, which would enable it to put these troubles behind it and give the school a good chance to succeed. Certainly, this storm is nothing to do with the pupils and staff of Kings Farm Primary School who surely deserve better than they were served up with between January and July 2014, finishing with a demonstration by parents after 25 of the 42 staff handed in their resignations.

Statement by KCC to the Dispatches Programme
Patrick Leeson, Corporate Director of Education and Young People's Services, at Kent County Council, said: 
Once concerns had been raised to the governors at Kings Farm Primary School and Kent County Council about possible maladministration of Key Stage 2 SAT tests and the altering of early years assessments, we took swift action. Following an investigation which found evidence of inappropriate behaviour during the assessments, the leadership team of the school was replaced. The case was reported to the appropriate national bodies and as their investigations are still ongoing we are unable to comment further at this stage.
We regard this as a serious breach of professional conduct. Making sure children at Kings Farm are receiving a good education is our main concern and we acted quickly to ensure the year group of pupils could move on to Secondary School in September 2014 without disruption to their future progress. The outcome of the SATS investigation and subsequent annulment of the pupils’ results was completed by December 2014. The pupils were able to transfer to their Secondary Schools of choice and a range of other information about their progress was made available to their new schools. The children in the early years were reassessed and adjustments made where necessary. 
“A new leadership team has been in place at Kings Farm since September 2014. Ofsted inspected the school in October and agrees the school is making good progress. Kent County Council is pleased with the progress the school is making and are working closely with it to make sure standards remain high.”
 

 OFSTED 

Below are some excerpts from the latest Ofsted report:     
The OFSTED Report for Kings Farm, of 22nd October 2014 makes clear that “The inspection team was aware during the inspection of several ongoing investigations by the appropriate authorities into allegations of wrongdoing; these were not related to either child protection or safeguarding arrangements. While Ofsted does not have the power to investigate incidents of this kind, actions taken by the setting in response to the incidents were considered, where appropriate, alongside the other evidence available at the time of the inspection, to inform the inspectors’ judgements."  
 
    The OFSTED Report also records that: The consultant headteacher has made an excellent start. She is very clear about what needs to be done. The school is more stable and there is an air of optimism. Senior leadership is being strengthened rapidly.
n The school provides well for pupils’ personal and social development.
n The consultant headteacher has taken decisive steps to improve behaviour in lessons and around the school. As a result, there have been no exclusions this term, and most pupils show enthusiasm for learning.
n Relationships with parents and carers are improving rapidly.
n Systems for the management of teachers’ performance are now in place.
n All procedures for the safeguarding of pupils have been reviewed and are now secure. Pupils say they feel safe in school.
n With greater access to information, governors are now more knowledgeable about pupils’ achievement and the quality of teaching. 
Last modified on Monday, 19 October 2015 21:33

1 comment

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 16 June 2015 12:09 posted by Jo

    So when is something going to be done about Whitehill Primary, and the staff there, who forced the annulment of Key Stage 2 results there and at Kings Farm in what is described by KCC as a serious breach of professional conduct?

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