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Monday, 21 January 2013 08:17

Academies Enterprise Trust & Tree Tops Academy, Maidstone

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As Reported below, the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), which effectively ran The Marlowe Academy in the last school year, made limited progress in its attempts to improve standards at the academy, overseeing a failed OFSTED. It then made limited progress in two subsequent monitoring Inspections and paved the way for the most recent barely adequate one.  

It also took over three Maidstone primary schools in April 2012, including the previous Bell Wood Primary School which became Tree Tops Academy. OFSTED has now carried out its first monitoring Inspection eight months after AET took over the school which was previously in Special Measures. The summary conclusion of "Having considered all the evidence I am of the opinion that at this time the academy is not making enough progress in raising standards for all pupils. This visit has raised serious concerns and the timing of the academy’s next inspection may be affected" is surely an indictment of the academy chain's input to this school. 

Some excerpts from the Report:.....



 The quality of teachingAlthough some good teaching was seen during the inspection, too much requires improvement or was inadequate. Where teaching is strong, teachers make it clear to pupils what they are going to learn; they plan lessons to make sure that all pupils are given work that gets the best out of them and often make checks to deal with pupils’ misunderstandings. However, most lessons are not like this and, as a result, pupils are not making enough progress. Younger or less able pupils struggle with aspects of the work at times, while older or more able pupils have little to extend their learning. Although different independent work is set for pupils of different ages and abilities, pupils spend too long on mundane tasks that do not move learning on fast enough. In too many lessons, teachers are not always skilled in planning learning that challenges pupils in their thinking and do not readily adapt tasks if pupils do not respond as expected. Through meetings to discuss the progress of their pupils, the teachers have an improving picture of what pupils already know and are able to do.Lessons are well planned, but the success with which these plans are implemented is often hindered by shortcomings that restrict progress. For example, in some lessons teachers do not introduce clearly what is going to be learned and often instructions are couched in jargon which is difficult for pupils to understand. The quality of marking in pupils’ workbooks is variable; some marking is regular and encouraging, but generally it does not provide pupils with sufficient guidance on how to improve. Teaching in the Early Years Foundation Stage is effective, allowing children to progress at least as well as they should, and sometimes better. This is because basic skills, especially in reading and writing, develop at a good pace because teaching is sharply focused on children’s individual needs. Staff work well together as a team, monitoring and recording children's development. This ensures that they have a very good understanding of how much progress is being achieved, what level of intervention is needed and what needs to be focused on next.Behaviour and safety of pupils: Pupils generally move calmly and quietly around the large school building. The majority are respectful to adults. Pupils are usually interested in learning, however, there are instances in lessons when their attention wanders or when pupils are passive and compliant, rather than active and enthusiastic. Pupils cooperate well in lessons, for example when sharing ideas with their partners. They work productively both individually and in groups when teachers have high expectations. In other lessons, learning is less successful because activities do not match pupils’ needs and capabilities and teachers sometimes expect too little, resulting in instances of low-level disruption.There have been some improvements in attendance, which is now in line with the national average. However, significant differences in pupils’ attendance remain between classes. Punctuality is improving slowly but remains a cause for concern. The number of fixed-term exclusions has risen sharply since the academy opened in April 2012. While inspectors observed pupils interacting and chatting happily with adults, some pupils’ access to a broad and balanced curriculum, social interaction with peers and opportunities to work collaboratively are limited by their removal from their classmates.The quality of leadership in and management of the academy: Academy leaders and the Academy Enterprise Trust judge the academy to be vulnerable and fragile because of significant weaknesses in achievement, pupils’ behaviour and the quality of teaching. Academy leaders have had too little impact on the overall quality of provision and outcomes for pupils and are not, therefore, demonstrating sufficient capacity to improve. Roles and responsibilities for both senior and middle leaders are unclear. Subject leaders have not had opportunities for joint working or shadowing senior leaders. For example, they have not been given the appropriate levels of support to enable them to monitor teaching, scrutinise pupils’ books and accurately judge levels of pupils’ achievements. Academy leaders are not sufficiently self-critical and have an inaccurate and over-generous view of how well the academy is progressing.Planning to bring about improvement is not sharp enough. As a result, standards have not risen quickly enough, particularly in Key Stage 2, and overall, the quality of teaching is inadequate. The governing body ensures that statutory requirements, such as those for recruitment and vetting checks, are fully met. The governing body is supportive but it does not question performance in sufficient depth, and does not play a strong enough part in shaping and driving improvement.External support: The Academy Enterprise Trust has an accurate view of the school’s performance and what needs to improve most urgently. A range of support strategies to improve teaching have been provided through the services of a local National Leader in Education and consultants but this has not yet been successful in tackling the fundamental inadequacies of teaching in the classrooms.

We are told that: "Tree Tops is in a hard federation with a neighbouring academy. Both academies are governed by a federated governing body and both are led by an executive headteacher. A head of school for Tree Tops Academy took up her post in April 2012. There have also been changes in the middle leadership of the academy, and five new staff, including two newly qualified teachers, joined the academy in April 2012.

Major staff changes and considerable investment have therefore produced the poorest OFSTED Report I have seen since the  Special Measures Report on The Marlowe  Academy in 2011. One wonders how Michael Gove, Secretary of State for  Education, would interpret these decisions in light of his oft repeated claim that academy management inherently raises standards. Oddly the school website makes no mention of the OFSTED Inspection and the school newsletter which would have mentioned it proves impossible to open. Shades of the Marlowe website!

Having said this, the record of Bell Wood Primary School under Kent County Council control is a dismal one. It had been in trouble for years before my records began in 2009, when it was placed in Special Measures. This should have meant that KCC put in extra resources to ensure that it improved, and certainly there was a revolving door of headteachers. However, in 2011, OFSTED found there was Inadequate Progress on improving standards and in February 2012 it once again failed its OFSTED. I am sure that KCC heaved a sigh of relief when the problem was taken out of their hands but, for the poor children of the area, who have been provided with a shocking standard of education for so many years, it appears there is no relief yet. One can only speculate on how many life chances have been damaged by those responsible for these children's education. It may well be that Mr Gove was right to say that such schools should be taken away from Local Authorities incapable of providing an adequate education in them, but surely the solution was to improve the Local Authority rather than hand schools over to non-accountable bodies who, even when provided with additional resources, appear to do no better.  

Read 14569 times Last modified on Tuesday, 22 January 2013 07:24

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