Furness School in Swanley is a special school which provides for boarding and day students who have behavioural, social and emotional difficulties. It has just 77 pupils, mostly boys, including 14 in boarding accommodation (one female) on site. All students have a statement of special educational needs and most students have previously experienced significant disruption to their education due to exclusion or non-attendance. Certainly Furness is a challenging school, but one that requires the highest standards for its children, many of whom have had seriously disrupted lives so far, and desperately need the stable education that other similar schools in Kent appear to be able to provide.
Kent County Council recognised there were problems back in February, and the headteacher was removed. However, in such a serious situation the consequences of losing the school figurehead need to be carefully managed, and insufficient thought appears to have been given to handling the fallout. KCC also removed the school governing body at the time, but did not follow the rules in doing so, and they were reinstated, only to be removed a second time - this time properly. The school was closed for three days in February, reportedly as it was out of control, and partially closed again later in the month. Since then KCC has been running the school directly using an interim leadership team and support from county officials. However, three months later, on May 15th and 16th, two of Her Majesty's Inspectors carried out an OFSTED Inspection which has produced the damning report published last week.
In particular this condemns the interim management and leadership of the school installed by KCC, including the following comments:.........
I was delighted to accept an invitation to the opening of the Laural Centre, an SEN Unit for children on the Autistic Spectrum, attached to The North School in Ashford. This is the first Unit to be opened since the reversal of county policy two years ago that sought to phase out all SEN units in the county. The Centre was opened by Paul Carter, Leader of KCC, who has been a strong champion of SEN Units and Special Schools in Kent........
As they say, it has been one of those weeks! Every day more news. The week started with my article in KOS on the high number of exclusions in Kent, focusing on the disparity with Medway numbers, the alarming proportion of statemented children being permanently excluded in Kent and the high number of exclusions in new academies. This became the main news item on Radio Kent on Tuesday who focused on the statemented children issue, my interview being followed up by Paul Carter, Leader of KCC, who also expressed his concern about several of the issues I raised. The SEN aspect has now been taken up by Kentonline, and is likely to feature on BBC SE next week........
Several Freedom of Information requests I submitted to Kent and Medway Councils have produced considerable and alarming information on school exclusions, especially in Kent. You will find the full article, comment and background here. The headlines, which relate to children with SEN, academies and the startling differences between Kent and Medway are that:........
The following item served the basis for an article in KOS on 11 June 2011, and also triggered the front page news story.
A Freedom of Information request I submitted has revealed a number of alarming features in the pattern of permanent exclusions (expulsions) in Kent schools.
The first two new style academies created in Kent top the list of permanent exclusions between September and Easter, headed by Westlands School in Sittingbourne with 11. Next is Canterbury High School with nine permanent exclusions.
Both these schools previously had outstanding Ofsted reports, so it is difficult to believe they have difficult disciplinary problems.
Other schools with high numbers of permanent exclusions over this period are: Chaucer Technology School, also in Canterbury (nine); Hartsdown Technology College (converting to an academy – eight) and the Marlowe Academy both in Thanet (seven); and Astor College for the Arts in Dover (seven).
The total over this period is rising alarmingly already being almost the same as for the whole of 2009-10.
In general, an excluded child does not just go away, they are moved to another school to be given a fresh chance but, as this will usually be one of the few with vacancies in the area, it just heaps the problems on a possibly struggling school.
Of particular concern is the number of children with statements of special education needs (SEN) who continue to be permanently excluded, in spite of government policy that “schools should avoid permanently excluding pupils with statements, other than in the most exceptional circumstances”.
While I don’t yet have figures for this year, in 2009-10 out of a total of 168 secondary exclusions 22 were of statemented children, a further 68 being of other children with SEN, together over half of the total.
However, the most astonishing and alarming statistic in this whole survey is that nearly all of the 34 Kent primary school exclusions in the last school year were of children with Special Education Needs, with 13 statemented children and another 18 with SEN.
So much for Kent. Meanwhile up in Medway there is a remarkably different picture. The council reports that there were just three permanent exclusions from Medway Secondary Schools in 2009-10 (none statemented), and none from primary schools. For 2010-11 the reported figure is currently zero, although Medway Council has subsequently claimed it is unaware of at least three permanent exclusions from Bishop of Rochester Academy, even though it would have responsibility for those children, so this figure needs to be treated with some caution.
This all begs many questions. Firstly, why are the pictures in Kent and Medway so very different?
Medway may only have around one sixth of the children being educated in Kent, but this does not come close to explaining why some Kent schools resort to formal exclusion proceedings so often, whereas Medway can avoid a dramatic, stressful and bureaucratic process so effectively.
Medway schools have always co-operated well over what are called ‘managed moves’ to a fresh school, although whether this will continue when all are independent academies remains to be seen.
How can Kent primary schools exclude children with statements in such numbers, compared to a negligible number of children without special needs, in direct contradiction to the government imperative that this should only happen in exceptional circumstances?
Why does Kent but not Medway have so many exceptional circumstances?
Once again KCC is seeing children who surely deserve the highest standard of care, at the bottom of the pile (see last week’s Kent on Sunday).
Another factor to add to KCC’s Scrutiny Committee investigation into primary school standards.
What is special about Westlands and Canterbury High apart from the fact they are outstanding Ofsted schools, that they need to take this extreme action, effectively forcing these children to less popular and successful schools, whereas others, often in far more difficult situations, appear to be able to manage better? Are they showing the future for academies?
What happens to the schools that become ‘dumping grounds’ for children excluded by other schools better able to cope with them?
Above all, why does KCC not look at Medway’s procedures to learn how to improve these dreadful figures?
I gave an interview on Radio Kent (today) supporting a letter written by Sarah Hohler (Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Education) to Michael Gove urging him to reconsider the inclusion of many children with SEN in Government performance tables as they distorted the achievements of schools. I made three points:.........
Where there has been a recent OFSTED Report, there are more details for each School below.
ALL FAITH’S CHILDREN’S COMMUNITY SCHOOL – TOTAL COMMUNICATION Unit (Primary), Strood
ABBEY COURT COMMUNITY SCHOOL Severe and profound learning difficulties RAINHAM CAMPUS, Gillingham (4-11years) STROOD CAMPUS, Strood (11 –19 years)
(OFSTED July 2010 - Outstanding) Abbey Court is based on two sites 12 miles apart. It has a capacity for 150 pupils aged from three to 19, all funded by Medway local authority. All pupils have a statement of special educational needs including severe learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties. An increasing number of pupils joining the school have very complex medical conditions or extremely challenging behaviour. There are fewer girls than boys. The vast majority of the pupils have a White British heritage. A few pupils are from minority ethnic backgrounds and have English as a second language. A small minority of pupils are looked after in public care. Secondary pupils, including sixth-formers, are based at the Strood site. The site for primary-aged pupils is in Rainham and this has recently added a nursery to its provision. The school has specialist school status for cognition and learning. OFSTED 2012 - Outstanding; Excerpts: Information about this school - Abbey Court is based on two sites, some 12 miles apart. The Rainham site provides for Early Years Foundation Stage, infants and juniors. The Strood site provides for secondary and students aged 16 to 19. Currently, the school has more than its official capacity of 150 places; Pupils have severe learning difficulties or profound and multiple learning difficulties as their main need; Some have additional needs such as visual impairment, hearing or sensory impairment, severe autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) and physical disability; A few have life threatening medical conditions; All have statements of special educational needs; The school continues to experience a shift in the complexity of levels of need, including severe challenging behaviours; A minority of pupils require a minimum of full time one-to-one staff support to meet their needs; Currently, the large majority of pupils are boys and most are of White British heritage; The proportion known to be eligible for the pupil premium is well above the national average. Key findings - This is an outstanding school; Pupils make outstanding progress, particularly in literacy, numeracy and information and communication technology (ICT); Those with speech, language and communication needs make significant strides in developing and improving their communication skills through signing, the use of picture symbol cards and the use of a range of new technologies; Children attending the part-time sessions in the Early Years Foundation Stage make excellent progress, which prepares them for learning and enables them to proceed successfully to the next stage of their education; The outstanding sixth form provision enables older students to continue their seamless progress through the school and achieve nationally recognised qualifications - They improve their independence and social skills and this prepares them successfully for life beyond the school; As a result of a robust and sustained focus on improvement by the senior leadership team since the previous inspection, the quality of teaching across the school is now outstanding; Other strengths of the school’s work identified at the last inspection have been sustained and further improved; Pupils’ attitudes to learning and behaviour are excellent, which is a result of highly effective class management by teachers and other adults supporting in the classrooms; Pupils told the inspectors that they are safe and well looked after, which is further confirmed by the school’s own surveys, which are carried out regularly; The headteacher’s inspirational leadership of the school, together with the support of her highly effective senior leadership team, ensures the school meets fully its vision and aims and lives up to its motto, ‘We grow people’; The highly experienced governing body is outstanding in its role as a critical and supportive friend and successfully ensures the school is financially stable.BRADFIELDS SCHOOL, Chatham
(11-19 years) – Moderate learning difficulties
BROMPTON ACADEMY, Gillingham
(11-16 years) SPLD & Speech & Language @ COMMUNICATION CENTRECHALKLANDS CENTRE, Elaine Primary School, Strood
(5-11 years) Emotional & Behaviour difficulties.DANECOURT COMMUNITY SCHOOL, Gillingham
(4-11 years) Moderate learning difficulties, changing to severe learning difficulties and more complex needs, including speech, language and communication needs. It also has a designated unit for pupils with severe autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). OFSTED 2012 - Outstanding. Excerpts from Report: Information about this school - Originally designated as a school for pupils with moderate learning difficulties, Danecourt is now increasingly catering for pupils with severe learning difficulties and more complex needs, including speech, language and communication needs. It also has a designated unit for pupils with severe autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) with two classes in Key Stage 2 and one class in Key Stage 1. In addition, it has a commissioned ‘hub’ class, based in a mainstream primary school for pupils who do not need full time specialist provision. The school also operates an outreach service, through which its staff provides advice and support for pupils identified as having special educational needs in mainstream schools within the local authority. Currently, the large majority of pupils are boys and most pupils are of White British background. All have a statement of special educational needs. A few pupils are looked after by a range of local authorities and the proportion known to be eligible for the pupil premium is well above the national average. Key findings: This is an outstanding school; Pupils make outstanding progress, particularly in the key skills of literacy, numeracy and information and communication technology (ICT); Those with speech, language and communication needs make significant progress in developing their communication skills, both through the use of picture symbol cards and use of new technologies; Children in the Early Years Foundation Stage make excellent progress, which enables them to proceed successfully to the next stage of their education and, in some instances, reintegrate into mainstream education; As a result of a rigorous and sustained focus on improvement by the headteacher and his deputy, the quality of teaching is now outstanding; this is a significant improvement since the previous inspection; Because of highly effective class management by staff, pupils’ attitudes to learning and behaviour are excellent. Learning is rarely affected by disruptive behaviour;The headteacher provides highly effective leadership of the school, ensuring it meets fully its core aim of providing a safe and caring environment in which to develop pupils as individuals and maximise their learning; The governing body is outstanding in its role as a supportive and critical friend of the school.MARLBOROUGH CENTRE, Hoo St Werburgh Primary School
(5-11 years) AutismRIVERMEAD COMMUNITY SPECIAL SCHOOL, Gillingham (11-19 years) complex emotional and behavioural needs including Autism: OFSTED 2012 - Good School. Excerpt from Report: Information about the school - Provides for students aged 11–19 with complex emotional and behavioural needs. It is smaller than average in size and the overwhelming majority of students have a statement of special educational needs mainly related to autistic spectrum disorders. Most students have additional communication and language needs and/or medical/mental health needs. The length of placement at the school depends on individual needs, and many students have spent a considerable amount of time away from mainstream education before admission. The provision in the sixth form is still under development. It will be implemented fully in September 2012 and until that time there are no students of this age in the school. Key findings - Rivermead is a good school. The development of the sixth form is progressing well in preparation for September 2012 when new students will start. Students of different ages, backgrounds and abilities make good progress and achieve well. They achieve particularly well in the development of their skills in communication and in mathematics. In the vast majority of lessons, teachers provide students with activities that engage their interest and they use information and ICT well to enhance learning. They assess students’ work regularly and accurately and ensure that students know what they need to do to improve. The overwhelming majority of students make significant improvements in learning to manage their own behaviours, and bullying of any kind is almost non-existent. Students feel extremely safe and secure in school at all times. They enjoy school, support each other well and attendance levels are above average. The school is very well led and teachers’ performance is generally managed effectively. The strong leadership team ensure there is a sustained focus on improving classroom practice and outcomes for students. The very effective way in which the school promotes students’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is a key factor in its success.
RIVERSIDE VI UNIT, Riverside Primary School, Rainham
(5-11 years) Visual Impairment
RIVERSIDE HUB, Riverside Primary School,Rainham
(5-11 Years) Autism
SILVERBANK PARK, Chatham
(11-16 years) Emotional & behaviour difficulties.ST WERBURGH CENTRE FOR AUTISM, Hundred of Hoo Comprehensive, Hoo
(11-16yrs) AutismTHE ROBERT NAPIER SCHOOL – VI UNIT, Gillingham
(11-16 years) Visual Impairment
TWYDALL INFANT PD Unit, Twydall Infant School, Gillingham
(4-7 years) Physical DisabilityTWYDALL JUNIOR PD Unit, Twydall Junior School, Gillingham
(7-11 years) Physical Disability & Complex Medical Conditions
WARREN WOOD COMMUNITY PRIMARY SCHOOL Speech & Lang UNIT,Rochester
(4-11 years) Speech and Language difficultiesWILL ADAMS CENTRE, Gillingham
(11-16 yrs) Emotional & behaviour difficultiesWOODLANDS HUB, Gillingham
(5-11 years) Moderate learning difficulties
Last updated: 26 Jan 2011
Please note that there are discrepancies between some of these tables, as some area cross calender years, some academic years and some decisions run from one year to the next.
Pattern of application for statements in Kent: 2005/6-2009/10
|Requests for a statutory assessment of SEN||1029||1017||10910||1131||1097|
|Statutory assessments carried out||564||649||721||763||739|
|New Statements of SEN issued||493||613||646||784||744|
|% of primary School pupils with statement||1.25||1.15||1.09||1.11||1.12|
|% of secondary school pupils with statement||2.17||2.00||1.82||1.74||
Pattern of application for statements in Medway: 2006/7-2010/11
|Requests for a statutory assessment of SEN||265||197||240||252||212|
|Statutory assessments carried out||176||171||161||177||127|
|New Statements of SEN issued||158||187||193||180||124|
|% of primary School pupils with statement||Information not available|
|% of secondary school pupils with statement||Information not available|
Children with Statements of SEN in Kent and Medway, based on where child attends school
Assessments & Statements during Calendar Year 2009 (Government data)
Total children assessed
for SEN during 2009
Children assessed for
whom no statement was issued
Children with new statements
|% of children with new statements in 2009 in each type of provision|
& Pupil Referral Units
In the above tables, Kent appears to have a higher proportion of children in Special provision than the norm, reflecting its commitment to such provision. Medway appears to have a lower proportion than the norm who successfully follow an assessment through to a statement, it appears to identify potential children for statements much earlier than the norm, and has a very high proportion in hospital Schools (unlikely) or Pupil Referral Units for children who are likely to have been permanently excluded from mainstream education, raising concerns about its support for such children.
TribunalsThe average time in 2008-9 between Registration of an Appeal to Tribunal and a decision being made was 6.4 months.
There was a total of 2925 appeals concluded in 2009-10. Of these, 940 were conceded by Local Authorities without a hearing. A decision was reached on 661 (postive or negative), 11 were struck out before a hearing as inappropriate, and 1313 were withdrawn. For Kent, out of 139 appeals, 58 were conceded, 52 withdrawn, 0 were struck out, 23 were decided, and 6 were left pending to the next year.
|Types of Appeal 2009-10||National||Kent||Medway|
|Number||% of total||Number||% of Total||Number||% of total|
|Against refusal to assess||1159||35||62||45||24||45|
|Against refusal to make a statement||216||7||8||6||6||11|
|Against refusal to re-assess||430||1||0||0||0||0|
|Against refusal to change name of school||14||0||0||0||0||0|
|Against decision to cease to maintain statement||57||
|Against school named in statement||0||0||0||0||4||8|
|Against failure to name a school||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Against contents of the statement - parts 2 & or 3 (sometimes with 4)
|Against contents of the statement - part 4||390||12||15||11||0||0|
|Total Appeals Registered||3280||139||53|
Where decisions were reached by Tribunals in 2009-10, these were as follows.
|Outcome||Number of Decisions|
|Order LA to make and Maintain a Statement||26||2|
|Remit Case to LA to Consider||1||0|
|Order LA to continue to Maintain a Statement||14||0|
|Order LA to cease to maintain a Statement||1||0|
|Order LA to name parent's preferred school||0||0|
|Order LA to make a reassessment||67||0|
|Order LA to change School named||5||0|
|Uphold Part of Complaint
|Upheld Parts 2,3 & 4||304||0|
|Upheld Part 4||46||0|
|Appeal Struck Out||11||0|
Source: Annual Report of Tribunal 2009-10. There are slight discrepancies in some of the tables, as decision taking often overlaps a year end.
For 2009-10, 141 Appeals to Tribunal were registered by Kent parents, the second highest number for any Local Authority in the country (the highest was Surrey with 147). I should be able to publish data on the outcomes of Kent and Medway appeals to Tribunal, by the end of January.
In 2004 Kent County Council decided to carry out a Review of Special Education Units contained within mainstream schools that support children with Autism, Speech, language & communication difficulties, Specific learning difficulties, Hearing impairment, Visual impairment, or Physical disability. In 2009 they told families that Units would be phased out and there would be no new admissions in the Pilot areas of Gravesham, Dartford, Swanley, Ashford and Shepway for September 2010. Many parents gave up seeking places in Units as a result. This month KCC quietly reversed its policy and if parents know there are now places in Units they can apply for them – although at this late stage some have given up and settled for less satisfactory arrangements.
However, in reply to several questions I put to KCC, they have today said they don’t know of any parents who have been told there are no places this September. This is simply not true. Some SEN Units have been telling parents for months of the KCC policy that there were to be no admissions to Units this year. KCC on its own website makes clear that this was the situation until the reversal of policy was quietly announced on an inner page last week. I have today spoken with parents who are angry that they have been misled by KCC and are now having to reapply for places in Units. Adam Holloway, MP for Gravesham, has been campaigning for months to secure places in Units for children of constituents who had been turned down, but was told in writing in February by Peter Gilroy, KCC Chief Executive, and again in April by the Kent SEN Manager that there would be no places in Pilot area Units for September.
At a meeting of parents at the York Road, Dartford, Unit in February, parents were told by a senior officer of KCC that there were to be no places in Units for September. The Unit at the Langafel School in Longfield has been giving the same message to parents.
I could go on with further examples, but KCC have told me today that there has been NO change of policy, which as you can see from the above is simply untrue. I have to say that the way this information was written appears designed to mislead me. Indeed, the letter to headteachers last week informing them of the new policy some time after parents knew, is so muddled and confusing that neither I nor two headteachers I consulted were clear as to what it was saying. Sadly, this confusion is typical of most communications on this subject in recent months.
How has this chaos come about? In 2006 KCC decided that the concept of Units was “dated” and looked for a more inclusive provision within mainstream schools. In 2008 (just four years from the start of the Review!), KCC decided to phase out all Units, in two phases, the first (the Pilot) to begin in 2009. No new admissions would be allowed from September 2010, so that the Units would wither away. Instead those children who would previously have been admitted to Units would now go to mainstream school classes, increasing still further the wide range of skills already required by teachers as they came to terms with these conditions. Lead schools would be set up for each disability providing outreach support, duplicating some of the provision currently being developed by Special Schools for this very purpose.
Consequences are that children have been turned away from Units although some who have persevered in spite of obstacles put up by KCC have broken through the net, staff at Units have been demoralised and are looking for other posts because of lack of a secure future, recruitment is down and Units will inevitably have been damaged which may make them easier to close in the future.
What do I think of the whole situation? Frankly I think it is an utter disgrace, putting unreasonable pressure on vulnerable families and damaging Units which have enjoyed an excellent reputation over many years. And for what? It has taken six years, considerable expenditure of money, time and energy to discover that what is in place is best, and the main victims of this chaos are of course Kent children with Special Educational Needs whose needs are best met in Units; surely those who deserve the best possible care from the Authority.