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Wednesday, 19 July 2017 10:26

Tough Love Academies: Ebbsfleet; Hartsdown; Oasis Isle of Sheppey

Update: Hartsdown Academy GCSE results at 5 A-C (or new equivalent) are reported to have fallen to 15% for 2017, from 28% last year. 

I have been looking at Kent schools that have abnormally large numbers of pupils dropping out before completing their statutory education, and trying to work out some of the reasons. Three schools leap to the fore because of their exceptional disciplinary requirements, which are clearly unpopular with families, but I also look at several other schools of note below.

Each of these three Kent schools have featured in the media in the last year because of controversial and tough disciplinary policies, often on minor uniform issues, designed to raise standards of behaviour and which they claim will make them popular with families.  They also all have large parts of their hinterland which are areas of social deprivation.

However, they share two other common characteristics which raise serious questions about this approach. Families try to avoid all three when choosing secondary schools; and all three have a large number of children being removed from the school to take up Elective Home Education. I look at the relevant data below, along with a look at the approach of each school individually.

Ebbsfleet Academy
The first proponent of ‘tough love’ in the county, I have looked at Ebbsfleet Academy in a previous article, which indicates the flavour of the school.  Academically, the school performs well, but is clearly unpopular with families choosing schools. It appears regularly in news items relating to disciplinary matters, often to do with school uniform. 

From Year Seven secondary places offer day in March 2016, to the October Census the same year, the school lost 36 children, or 23% of those offered places, the highest percentage fall in the county. For this September, it has made a total of 100 offers for places, a sharp fall from the 158 of 2016, its 67 vacancies being the fourth highest percentage in the county. 13 places offered were to Local Authority Allocation Children (LAAC) who did not even apply for the school, which was the only one with vacancies in Dartford. Between September 2016 and Easter 2017, 17 children took Elective Home Education, the highest percentage in the county, with three out of every 100 pupils leaving a school education for ?. Six of these were from Year 11, schools with this pattern often having encouraged children to leave in order to boost GCSE results, which is of course unlawful. Another three had been taken off the school roll and registered with a Pupil Referral Unit, an alternative to exclusion for some pupils, although intended to be a short term solution with the pupil remaining on the home school roll (see below). The school had eight permanent exclusions, the highest number in Kent, in 2014-15, although this had fallen to under five for 2015-16. Overall the first Year 7 cohort after the current Principal was appointed, which has now reached Year 11, has lost a net 17 pupils over that time, 13% of the original figure, and one of the highest in the county. 11 of these or 9% of the roll vanished over the last year, a common factor amongst schools trying to improve their GCSE results. 

The school is proud of the GCSE results achieved from its remaining pupils, and whilst some found an alternative, at what cost to those who couldn’t cope and left or were forced out.

Hartsdown Academy
Hartsdown Academy appears regularly in news items about disciplinary issues and uniform regulations, most recently on BBC SE. Like every Thanet secondary school, it had no vacancies on allocation in March. However, 77 out of its 180 places went to LAACs and along with Royal Harbour Academy, also in Thanet at 89, these were the only two Kent schools with more than 50 LAACs. It had only 55 first choices, 31% of capacity, by some way the lowest percentage in Kent. Last year there were 19 children whose families ‘elected’ Home Education, third highest number in the county, but already up to 15 by Easter for 2016-17.

The school had previously picked up a large number of pupils after the highly unpopular takeover by Ellington and Hereson School of the disastrous Marlowe Academy now closed, so that its Year 11 cohort has increased by a remarkable 50 pupils over the five years they have been in the school, with the now renamed Royal Harbour Academy having lost 39! The school will also have picked up families moving into the area from other countries and from London replacing others who have left, so the school probably has more challenges than any other in the county.

The new headteacher, appointed September 2016, has completely and controversially changed the ethos of the school, introducing tough love; time will tell if it works in this very difficult climate, although it certainly hasn’t in the other two examples. Eleven year old children, faced with the trauma of going to a secondary school they may not have chosen, on their first day were turned away at the school gate by the Headmaster and fellow staff for minor uniform infringements. What a dreadful impression to make, which may scar that child's view of the school for ever. Will the scene be repeated next month? I hope the school has realised the damage this does to those children, or do they just see it as tough love.     

Oasis Isle Sheppey Academy
This is the most worrying example of the failure of tough love, as no one appears to care about the damage it is inflicting on the education and future of too many children on the Isle of Sheppey. I have written two previous articles ‘The scandal of Oasis Academy, Isle of Sheppey’ and ‘Kent Pupils vanishing from schools before GCSE; including Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey’ which both look at the serious issues here, driven by the new headteacher, who was appointed from within the school in September 2016. 

In summary: By October 2016, the school had lost 17% of the 322 pupils given places in Year 7 the previous March. 53 of the total offers were to LAACS, the second highest figure in the county that year. For September 2017 entry, there were 98 vacancies, a quarter of the total available, the school being the only one in Swale not oversubscribed, as many Sheppey parents struggle to get their children into Sittingbourne schools. The total number of children offered places has fallen by 33 over last year. There were 47 LAACs who had not even applied for place. Most of these will have come from the Isle of Sheppey itself, desperate but failing to avoid the school. Each year I am asked for advice from a number of these families.

An astonishing 33 families had pulled their children out of the school in the seven months to Easter 2017, ‘electing’ for Home Education, some testifying they were given no option, as this became a ‘strong recommendation’ by the school, which is unlawful. This is almost twice as many as any other school, Ebbsfleet Academy having come second (along with Cornwallis Academy, Maidstone) with 17, just ahead of Hartsdown, third with 15. What is most worrying amongst many other factors to consider, is that 18 of the Oasis EHE pupils came from Years 7 & 8, many from families who clearly care about education, some concerned about bullying, which appears less of a serious issue than uniform regulations to the school leadership according to correspondence I have seen.  These families have made a positive decision, that arranging for private tuition (which is a thriving business on the island) for the remainder of their children’s years of education is the better option. What an indictment! I doubt these arrangements offer anything like a full curriculum, for this would make them illegal schools, which would then be closed and the children forced back to Oasis! 

I am awaiting FOIs for the number of children appealing for places at the Sittingbourne schools from Sheppey, which should provide a further indicator. The school also got rid of six pupils for each of 2015-16 school year, and 2016-17 to January (see below), who were permanently moved to the Swale Pupil Referral Unit, intended to be a short term solution for pupils at risk of exclusion. 

My previous articles explain how the school uses the misnamed and humiliating ‘Reflection’ punishment applied to 39% of the whole student body since March which, instead of reflection, has the effect of alienating many pupils and families. This punishment, which sees the pupil withdrawn from lessons for the whole day, losing the day’s schooling, kept in a room allowed refreshment of just a basic lunch, but nothing else to drink, appears to be often applied for minor uniform misdemeanours. For families who think this unfair, parents allege that the school suggests their children leave the school to try and find another or take up home education (including comments below and in previous artciles), although this is denied by central academy staff not based on Sheppey.

Pupil Referral Units (PRU)
There are six PRUs in Kent, intended to provide short term respite and education for students at risk of exclusion from their school, whilst remaining on their home school roll. Four of the six, in East Kent, Maidstone, Shepway, and Tunbridge Wells operate in this way, having just 18 pupils between them who are registered solely at the PRU (January 2017 census).

However, the centres in Dartford and Sittingbourne operate very differently, with 21 and 27 pupils registered wholly with the PRU respectively in January 2017, without a home school, contrary to the prime purpose for the centres. I have had discussions with parents confirming that in some cases children are threatened with exclusion if they don’t transfer wholly to the PRU, the preferred option of dual registration not being pointed out. One advantage for the school of this is that pupils who are removed from the roll do not count in GCSE statistics.

The biggest users, according to the January 2016 and 2017 censuses were: Sittingbourne Academy (13 in 2016, 7 in 2017); Abbey School Faversham (5,7); Oasis Isle of Sheppey (6,6); and Westlands Academy, Sittingbourne (8,3).

Handily, the Chair of Governors of the Swale PRU is also  a Director of Swale Academies Trust (including Sittingbourne Academy and Westlands School), ex headteacher of Sittingbourne Academy, Chair at Westlands School, also Vice Chair of the North School, Ashford (another SWAT school), and a Consultant who carries out work for the Trust. 

Conclusion
In all three cases, there was no other school with vacancies on secondary allocation in March 2017, so those allocated to these three schools have no alternatives to choose. 137 of the 569 offered places at the schools are Local Authority Allocated Children, that is a quarter of the total, so were unwilling members from the beginning. 

Oasis Isle of Sheppey and Hartsdown both had new headteachers last September, so may argue that the new system is simply bedding down and will begin to work in time. However, there is already plenty of evidence at both that ‘tough love’ is not working, and certainly one could hardly argue that the pioneer of the approach in Kent, Ebbsfleet Academy, is a shining example of success.

What I find most alarming of the many signs of failure of tough love is the high number of families pulling their children out of the three schools, many being forced out to take up what is called Elective Home Education without the tools to do the job properly. Others are simply vanishing from the system. In areas of social deprivation, a high proportion of these will not be provided with an alternative education to prepare them for a decent future, heaping up social problems for years to come. 

I know that many of these children will have presented problems in class, and so schools wish to see the back of them, but those schools have a legal responsibility to work out ways of coping without damage to others. There are examples of other schools in areas of deprivation who do manage for the benefit of all, without going to such extreme measures. 

Last modified on Monday, 16 October 2017 12:01

11 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 22 September 2017 06:51 posted by A Parent

    This treatment of children is shocking. I wonder if NSPCC has any power here? Do keep going public, or maybe some petitions would help. Good luck to all the affected children and their families.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 10 August 2017 21:58 posted by Zen Master

    "Tough love" just a fancy term for institutional bullying. Using fear to instil obedience and mistakenly calling it respect. This is not leadership - it is the worst sort of cod-psychology and should not be used by any serious educationist.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 09 August 2017 06:33 posted by Parent of Year 7 at Hartsdown

    My daughter was turned away from Hartsdown on her first day last year because her new shoes that she was very proud of, were slightly the wrong style. By the time I was able to find some new ones, the day was mainly gone, she was interrogated on her late arrival. I was not allowed into the school to accompany her, she had missed all the beginning arrangements and came out of school crying that she was never going back again! This year has been terrible. Hopefully, we shall have a better start next month.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 09 August 2017 06:10 posted by Donald H

    My son went to Ebbsfleet Academy until last summer. He was bullied by children and teachers, who found him an easy target as he was SEN. We tried to complain, but after three occasions found ourselves banned from the site. Bullying appears less a crime than uniform regulation on a boy who didn't understand the obsession. We were lucky to find him a new school in Bexley, where he is now a different boy. Don't leave it and expect it to get better. PETER: Sadly, some schools see children with SEN a drag on their GCSE results, and are happy to see them go. I am so sorry your son has had to endure this.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 09 August 2017 00:42 posted by K. Collier

    My children are currently HE (not by choice) they attended Oasis Academy they were in Reflection all too often and this went on for months. I contacted Ofsted and others nothing happened yet just 6 wks into HE KCC want to visit to see what education I am providing if more was done to sort the issues at the school I would not be HE and the reason I am HE is so my children are getting an education as opposed to sitting in Reflection where NO learning takes place. PETER: Whilst I am so sorry to hear your story, I am pleased that KCC are visiting to make sure you have made alternative provision. Tell them your story, but if you are providing your son with something they will be satisfied. They cannot inspect it, although they have a right to be told what you are doing. If you wouldn't mind, let me know the outcome by email.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 09 August 2017 00:02 posted by Oasis Parent

    My child goes to Oasis Academy he will be year ten in September his summer report was poor and not because he doesn't want to learn but down to many different teacher or no teachers. His grade in maths was a 1C which I am told is poor so I have found an ex teacher who he will go to twice a week. I can't really afford it but feel I will let my son down if I don't do something. He has been on waiting lists for schools in Sittingbourne for over a year. PETER: I am so sorry to hear you have been let down by Oasis. If you have applied to Sittingbourne schools, you are unlikely to get in off a waiting list. Even though chances may be small, you can appeal to all three schools after your application is turned down.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 08 August 2017 23:23 posted by M. Marshall

    With regards to Ofsted Parent View (previous comment below) Peter there is no onus to prove you are a parent many of us parents who read it during and after the last inspection were shocked some even suggested that Academy staff were completing the survey. It's not accurate if you don't have to provide any information to confirm you are indeed a parent it needs changing also. PETER: I think that is what I was questioning! However, if you don;t use it, the balance can be even worse, and OFSTED appears naive in its use..

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 08 August 2017 21:07 posted by M. Marshall

    My child is currently EHE although it was far from Elective! We were encouraged to Home Educate by the Head at Oasis Academy. We tried on numerous occasions to work with the school but the regime the new Head brought in last September ie changes to Reflection meant my child's education was suffering badly. She would be sent there for whole days (trivial reasons)and miss vital lessons her grades were falling. In addition to the Education provided by myself she is also privately tutored which costs quite a lot a month which fortunately is affordable. Tutoring on the Island has grown massively but not just with parents like myself as there are many children who attend the Academy that also are privately tutored due to the poor standard of education that is being provided. I am aware that many parents have contacted Ofsted on many occasions the local MP and Dept for Education but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears as nothing has been done. I am at a loss as to why this is allowed to continue it is negatively impacting children's well being and education surely it needs investigation. PETER: Thanks for this, and for confirmation of the number of complaints to those who should care. You don't mention the Regional Schools Commissioner who has direct authority over academies. It all just makes me very angry and determined to help bring something about, for there are just too many examples of such abuse of children at this school, for that is what such ritual humiliation is. I have to say that OFSTED Parent View looks suspiciously good. Many more parents need to complete this before OFSTED will become interested.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 08 August 2017 08:28 posted by Jenny Gray

    I'm taking two more out of Hartsdown before the new term. (Yr 8 and 9). The harder the head and the head of behaviour demand the children respect them the less respect my children have for them, it's a vicious circle. I've given it a year but it's clearly getting worse not better. PETER: I am so sorry to hear this, and hope you have found a satisfactory alternative. Sadly, the education service has let you down. I can only hope that this publicity will achieve something, or perhaps even more sadly, no one cares.

  • Comment Link Monday, 07 August 2017 09:51 posted by David

    Peter, you record The Times as visiting Ebbsfleet and Isle of Sheppey on separate occasions, preparing glowing profiles, allowing the headteachers to rubbish their predecessors and praising the new philosophy as a vision for the future Nirvana. When will The Times visit Hartsdown to spread the word?

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