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Friday, 13 September 2013 20:09

Medway OFSTED letter: cause for concern

Medway Council has received a letter from OFSTED reporting back on its series of focused Inspections, accompanied by a survey of schools, last June. Whilst there are many positive comments there are, as I expected and forecast, areas of major concern exacerbated once again by Medway Council's refusal to acknowledge the reality.

First, the main positive: Medway Council's support for its primary schools is highly praised by the schools themselves and the letter cites many ways in which that support is delivered. However, this is balanced by the poor performance of those same primary schools in OFSTED inspections, so one has to ask how effective it has been. This may be summarised by a sentence in the letter that reads: "Medway’s drive to raise achievement is acknowledged by schools, but many headteachers and governors cannot readily articulate the local authority’s vision or strategy for improvement". 

Unfortunately, and confusingly, the OFSTED summary figures provided combine primary and secondary, academy and Medway maintained school outcomes, enabling Medway Council to blur the conclusion. The following table spells out the reality:

Medway School & Academy
OFSTEDs Sep 2012 - July 2013
  Outstanding Good
% Outstanding
or Good
 2  11  15  5 39%
 0  1 0  0 100%
 0  1  0  0 100%
 0  3  1  1 60%
Total  2  17 17 6 45%
Total %   5%  40%  40%  14%  

Shockingly and astonishingly, both the BBC website  and Kent Online report that the main response from Medway Council is a statement from the Cabinet Member for Education in Medway, offering as an excuse that Medway is not responsible for its academies, so he is planning to seek clarification of who is responsible for standards at the academies from the Department for Education. How fortunate for the council that Chatham Grammar School for Boys, an academy, was the one school to fail its OFSTED on this occasion and so can be used as a helpful scapegoat (see below)! All this in a year when primary schools run by Medway Council achieved just 39% 'Good' or  'Outstanding' assessments, a figure which is  worse than than the lowest performing Local Authority in the country last year at 42% and well below even last year's figure of 54% when Medway was the ninth worst performing Local Authority in the country. What is crystal clear from the statistics is that in Medway, as distinct from many other Local Authorities, it is the academies which have saved it from an even worse disaster so it is bizarre to imply that the problem is with the academies just because one has failed. 

Of course the new Cabinet Member has form here, as back in July when OFSTED published the OFSTED reports of most of the 10 schools inspected in June, he appeared indignant at Medway being singled out, arguing that as results had improved he could not understand why Medway had been chosen for these focused inspections.  My one word response on Radio Kent at the time - "rubbish" - has been widely quoted. In fact, as my analysis showed, standards had in fact fallen! It is clear that Medway still has not got it as their press release shows, which can only be described as complacent about the poor standards highlighted, misleading and ignoring the heavy criticisms of outcomes and the failure to relate to secondary schools, both those under the Local Authority aegis and academies. For some reason the Local Authority criticised the methodology of selecting schools to contribute to a survey of opinions about the authority. Given that this survey is predominantly positive  (possibly because good and outstanding schools were chosen, who may well be happiest with what support they have been given), it hardly seems helpful to try and discount it. 

What is also missing is the absence of any comment on the the Silverbank Centre in Chatham, the final  school in the survey whose OFSTED report was published last week. The Centre was failed, OFSTED singling it out in its letter to Medway: "It is of particular concern that the pupil referral unit which provides for some of Medway’s most vulnerable pupils has been judged to have serious weaknesses".  The reason why it was not placed in Special Measures is because the Unit operates as two distinct schools, the problems being centred at The Oaks, which has places for statemented pupils who have severe behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. The other half, The Rowans, is for pupils who have been permanently excluded from school or who are at risk of permanent exclusion - "The Rowans meets the needs of its pupils well and the rate at which Rowan pupils make progress is accelerating".  The problems at The Oaks have been endemic for a number of years, and it was closed briefly on two occasions in December last,  because of fears over pupil safety. However, have no fear, Medway has a solution for The Oaks - the Council plans to turn it into a Fee School in September 2014, thus effectively washing its hands of the problem! I am not sure how this fits in with Medway's complaint about having no oversight over standards in academies and by extension Free Schools. Oddly, the school website link to its OFSTED Report takes one through to the previous 2011 Inspection, which details an unstable pattern of leadership that has continued through to the latest Interim Headteacher being appointed in January this year. Another four of Medway's struggling primary schools are removed from the picture this month as they becomes sponsored academies with the encouragement of the Authority. 

The comparison with Kent, which was just one place above Medway in last year's table of OFSTED performance, is stark. By the end of June (I have yet to add in the July results) the primary school picture was as follows: 

Comparison of Medway and Kent Primary School OFSTED results,
September 2012 - June 2013
  % Outstanding  % Good
% Requires
% Inadequate
Medway 6 34 46 14 35
Kent 2 54


9 150

Shortly after Kent appointed a new Director of Education in 2012, the county publicly acknowledged that the performance of its primary schools was inadequate and drew up a robust action plan to improve matters. Medway offered platitudes. Whilst Kent still recognises its performances is  not great, the direction of travel is clear with 62 of those schools having improved their OFSTED  rating, nearly twice as many of the 33 that slipped back. In Medway 7 improved and 6 declined, hardly the progress being talked up by the Council.

There is considerable speculation that these outcomes will lead to a full inspection of Medway Education services, to set alongside the failed inspections for Looked After Children and the Protection Of Children, more vulnerable Medway children being let down!  Medway Council is clearly failing its children, hopefully a thorough inspection will get to the bottom of the problems.

Footnote: Medway Council has now shed both its Director of Children's and Adults' Services, and the Cabinet Member who oversaw the problems of recent years, and replaced them. Rose Collinson, the previous Director, was subsequently appointed Interim Director of Children's Services in Walsall where she has been for a year. She is described as a 'troubleshooter'  on a reported salary of some £170,000 a year, taking over another failing service - not uncommon swings and roundabouts amongst senior officers. A brief read of the Walsall documentation suggests she is adopting a robust approach to improving standards there and has just seen an OFSTED Inspection of Protection of Children improve from failure to 'adequate'. 





Last modified on Saturday, 26 October 2013 07:11

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