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Saturday, 08 February 2014 18:46

When schools struggle who is best placed to lead them to success: Kent on Sunday 8 February 2013

Former headteacher, Peter Read the man behind the Kent Independent Advice Service, examines a growing tension between Kent County Council and the growing number of schools opting to become Government Funded Academies

 Kent County Council (KCC) has submitted written evidence  to the Government Select Committee on Education’s inquiry into Academies and Free Schools which began on Wednesday.  It addresses concerns about both accountability and performance of academies, choosing The Marlowe Academy as an illustration. However, KCC could equally have chosen Tree Tops Academy and Molehill Copse Primary School, both run by the controversial Academies Enterprise Trust, which previously 'ran' Marlowe for a year. 

KCC's proposes that underperforming academies should revert to Local Authority accountability, but the weakness is that there is an assumption the LA is up to the job. I have written extensively on Medway Council's repeated failure to manage standards adequately, and they clearly do not have capacity to improve schools, whilst Kent is not yet a beacon of excellence. For, although it is improving, it has still too many primary schools fail OFSTED Inspections recently, all vulnerable to takeover by Academy groups (nine already on their way).  

This week’s news about the culling of sixth form courses for financial reasons whilst the Free School budget appears to have no bounds, underlines the illogical nature of current education policy, and KCC makes some very good points about the problems with Free School philosophy and implementation  .......

Much of the supplementary evidence to back up assertions in this article can be found on my website: www.kentadvice.co.uk......

KCC’s evidence leads with one of the government's most laudable education priorities, to reduce the achievement  gap for disadvantaged pupils. KCC demolishes the government claim that academies are leading the way here, citing evidence showing there is no narrowing of the achievement gap by academies. Further, it expresses concern about a fall of 12.5% of take up of Free School Meals in sponsored academies nationally compared with the schools they replaced, as some of those academies chase pupils who will improve their performance.

The document provides evidence showing there is no overall increase in GCSE grades at academies as compared to maintained schools, and looking at the recent Kent GCSE results, this is easy to believe, with nine of the twelve lowest performing schools being sponsored academies, the lowest also an academy - Castle Community College.  

As the evidence records: "In terms of overall pupil achievement, recent research has found that there is no direct correlation between being an academy and improved attainment levels, reflected in Ofsted judgements. The critical characteristic to raising attainment in a school is the individual capacity of the school leadership. Many sponsored academies are improving the quality of education and pupil outcomes, as they have often replaced very poorly performing schools". However, the end of this paragraph sadly comes close to demolishing the argument put forward by KCC, as these "very poorly performing schools" were previously run by Local Authorities such as Kent. A classic example is Wilmington Academy that, in its previous incarnation, was a KCC school in Special Measures. Four years later, under outstanding leadership, it is one of Kent's top performing non-selective schools.

The document is critical of the Department for Education's actions in improving failing or underachieving academies and rightly expresses concerns about the accountability of academies and Free Schools . It highlights the history of the Marlowe Academy, described in several articles on my own website: "It has been the subject of an OFSTED  Category (failing) twice and to date, the principal sponsor remains (Government is reported to have tried to force him out in 2011) and the Academy Trust does not appear to have been transparently held to account by the Secretary of State.  No Warning Notice has been served on this Academy Trust to date”. In fact the Academy was told in a pre-warning notice in 2012  that GCSE standards were unacceptably low. This year, after the academy finished 21st  worst school in the country, the headteacher left suddenly mid-term, and one has to wonder what further action government will now take.

Government still considers that: "Where local authorities fail to use their powers effectively (to improve maintained schools), the Secretary of State will exercise his powers with a view to ensuring that standards improve, which is likely to result in an academy solution for the school". However, there is no reverse process and KCC complains that where it has concerns about academies, the Authority has no powers to improve them, and government mechanisms appear too weak to bring about change.

KCC warns that the academy programme will bring about “the potential atomisation and fragmentation of the education system” with its serious risks to the future of vulnerable children, those with special needs and those excluded from school. Meanwhile, Government is trying to come to terms with the rapid increase in academies all controlled by central government, and is exploring what would be a new bureaucratic regional area management. This may look disturbingly like its LA predecessor but without local input.  

Whilst this article is critical, there are many examples of highly successful academies and academy trusts in Kent; all marked out by outstanding leadership, the key factor in a successful school of any type.

Turning to Free Schools, Kent County Council's evidence refers to the five now open in Kent: "All are in areas of socio-economic advantage, rather than growing diversity and choice in disadvantaged areas of need.  There appears to be ‘middle class capture’ of the Free Schools process, in order to create new capacity in areas that do not necessarily need school places". Perhaps for this reason, all the current Kent free schools are flourishing, as distinct from some other parts of the country; where too many are wacky, some corrupt, some unnecessary and failing to attract pupils, and some already failing.  The document forgets to mention the additional five new Free Schools that KCC has commissioned to meet strategic need for additional places, all in areas of socio-economic advantage, although it could have encouraged academies instead (Government no longer allows LAs  to build their own schools).

My simplistic conclusion: most good schools thrive irrespective of their status and circumstances; its the leadership that matters! 

Last modified on Saturday, 08 February 2014 22:13

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  • Kent and Medway School Transport in September

    Government Policy
    It is our plan that all pupils, in all year groups, will return to school full-time from the beginning of the autumn term.

    I wholeheartedly support the principle and the schools working incredibly hard to deliver it, but one of the many intractable Covid-19 related challenges facing some secondary schools and families when re-opening in September is that of pupil transport. Some Kent schools are vulnerable, for the county is rural in places with pupils having to travel long distances to their nearest school, whilst many faith and grammar schools also have pupils who travel considerable distance by public transport. Most readers will have seen or encountered the publicly accessible double-decker buses packed with pupils on their way to and from school in the past, but this won’t be the situation in September. For social distancing rules reduce the number of passengers on each bus by at least a half and there is not the spare capacity at this time to increase bus numbers to compensate.

    Most secondary schools will have worked out plans to manage a full pupil attendance if there are no further spikes in Covid-19, taking into account staggered starts and finishes to the school day, setting up year group bubbles, year group zones, staggered lunches and break times, year group entrances and exits, crowded corridor behaviour, cancelling assemblies and other large gatherings, strategies to deal with children or staff exhibiting coronavirus symptoms, PPE policy, cleaning, more cleaning, deep cleaning, etc, etc. All this on the twin assumptions that all pupils will turn up and there will be no spike in Kent cases.

    However, we are just four weeks away from the start of term and there is no sign of a solution to the transport difficulties, although I am not sure what it would be. KCC considers that: ‘the financial impact on bus services and operators has been significant so it could be that more services than usual are subject to change or cancellation. In addition, at the moment, operators are only able to let about half of the usual numbers of passengers on their buses and if this remains the case, then providing enough space for all passengers could be a problem, and so students that can travel in a different way should do so at the moment’. This will inevitably have major knock-on effects with a sharp increase in private traffic on the roads at key times.

    Written on Friday, 07 August 2020 19:47 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Comprehensive Future Knowingly Re-Publishes False Data about Grammar Schools and Pupil Premium

    Two years ago, Comprehensive Future published as a fact that: When asked how many pupils were admitted through these priority policies 80 schools responded, revealing that just 574 disadvantaged pupils were offered admission out of their 12,431 available places... there were 22 selective schools who responded to say they had failed to admit a single disadvantaged pupil through their policies’.  This claim was picked up by the media including the BBC. Unfortunately, this is twice completely false, as I demonstrated in an article last month after the organisation publicly attacked me for querying the data, repeating it in the process. False firstly, because the organisation had quoted completely the wrong data column from their own database, and secondly because the whole database is self-evidently rubbish, see below. As I wrote then, a prime example of the ICT mantra Garbage in, garbage out.  

    I have now been informed by CF’s Chairman, Nuala Burgess, that CF is not prepared to discuss the matter further, the bogus claims remain on their website and that of the BBC and so this must cast doubt on any other claims made by CF on data they have harvested to forward their aims.

    Written on Thursday, 06 August 2020 15:25 2 comments Read more...
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    I had an extended interview on Radio Kent last week about the unfairness created towards ‘children of ordinary families’ in the Kent Test for this extraordinary year. At the conclusion, Julia George who was interviewing asked me to ‘throw down the gauntlet’ with KCC over my deep concerns, repeated several times over recent months. I did this by simply challenging the Council to respond to the recently published Government Guidance to Admission Authorities, Kent County Council being one of the largest in the country. KCC’s response to the BBC over the challenge wrongly dismisses the guidance because it ‘will cover individual schools and consortia which test far fewer children’. More importantly, it completely ignores the main part of the guidance and my concern, which focused on the unfairness created for lower-income families in Kent, as explained below.

    At about the same time, Matt Dunkley, Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education at KCC replied to a letter from Adam Holloway, MP for Gravesham, which echoed my concerns. This response covers somewhat different territory, but again completely ignores any strategy for promoting fairness for disadvantaged families as laid down by the government advice. Moreover, he dismissed my idea for creating flexibility in these increasingly uncertain times and of supporting ordinary families, or any alternative, having set up a false description of it to dismantle!

    Written on Wednesday, 05 August 2020 10:35 Be the first to comment! Read more...
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    Oasis Sheppey

    Ian Simpson, currently Principal of Oasis Academy Lister Park in Bradford, makes the eighth leader since the school became an academy in 2009. Most of his predecessors have been moved on after failing to turn the school round. Both of the previous two post holders were appointed from within the school only after the Trust failed to attract anyone from outside, despite extensive advertising. Both have been a disappointment. It is not clear if the role of Executive Head is permanent or just a short term firefighting job.

    All this is taking place in the context of a forecast crisis in the provision of non-selective places in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, which will come to a head in 2021, if it has not already arrived. 

    Written on Friday, 31 July 2020 06:45 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Government 'Expectation' on Managing Selection Test Arrangements in Kent and Medway

    Hot on the heels of Kent County Council's confirmed arrangements for the Kent Test, as reported in my previous article, the government has now released its formal advice on assessment processes for selective school admissions. This is quoted extensively below in blue and italics. It greatly expands the frameworks set out by KCC and Medway Councils, urging admission authorities to look closely at minimising disadvantage for protected groups, socially and economically disadvantaged children and children who are unable to attend the test centre, as I had hoped KCC itself would. The current KCC proposal heavily discriminates against lower-income families who can't afford private education or extensive private tutoring.  It remains my conviction that, if KCC were to adopt a model such as the one I have proposed before, it would go a considerable way towards meeting the requirement to minimise this acknowledged disadvantage in the current circumstances which has not yet been addressed. However, there is still the flexibility to do so. Medway Council has a more structured procedure for assessing children, but no apparent will to change it as this document advises, so I have little hope that greater fairness will emerge there.  

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    The immense logistical problems faced by KCC and, to a lesser extent by Medway Council, in providing facilities to test some 5,000 out of county candidates are also explored further below.

    Written on Saturday, 25 July 2020 11:59 3 comments Read more...
  • Education, Health and Care Plans in Kent

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    Further Update: KCC and government have announced the opening of a new secondary special school on the Isle of Sheppey for September 2022. 

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    Written on Friday, 24 July 2020 15:54 1 comment Read more...