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Peter's Blog

You will find the main news and comment articles on the front page of the website here. This page contains secondary or local news items and thoughts.

Kent County Council Media release: Friday, October 15, 2021

Starting a placement as a teaching assistant through a scheme that helps young people into work has already been life changing for one 20-year-old in Kent.

Fiona Cashman began a six-month paid placement at The Wyvern School – a special school in Ashford that caters for pupils aged three to 19 – at the start of the current school year as part of the Kickstart scheme. The national initiative, which creates new job placements for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit who are at risk of long-term unemployment, is being promoted widely in the county, including by the Reconnect: Kent Children and Young People programme. The KCC-led community programme aims to help children and young people reconnect with aspects of their lives that have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and one of its five aims focuses on promoting economic well-being and boosting young people’s employment potential. 

Fiona is one of 19 young people in Kent who started a teaching assistant placement at a school for pupils with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) this September; 13 more are preparing to start. There are currently 19 additional teaching assistant places available at SEND schools and a further 11 in mainstream schools, but the placements must be started before the end of March 2022. Although the Kickstart scheme is aimed at 16-24-year-olds, participants must be 18 to start a placement in a school.

Last modified on Saturday, 16 October 2021 20:23
Wednesday, 15 September 2021 21:35

Gavin Williamson

Written by

There is little left to say about this man, who has failed children, teachers and headteachers across the country.  As I don't normally comment on national education matters that are not specific to Kent or Medway I will confine myself to referring to the few articles I have written naming him. 

These included one in June last year entitled: Kent's Plan for Grammar School Selection 2020After reviewing KCC's complete  failure to come up with any strategy for supporting disadvantaged children in the Kent selection process, a failure that was underlined by the seriously flawed outcomes last year, I wrote: 

'This all makes a mockery of the statement by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, that: "We’re going to be looking at working with local authorities who have grammar school systems in their area as to how best we can ensure that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are not disadvantaged as they look at taking the 11-plus in the future."' He may have looked but he certainly didn't do anything which made a difference!

My most frequent mention of Mr Williamson was in connection with his appointment of the CEO of Turner Schools, to a post as adviser in the DfE, after her highly controversial three years of leading the Trust, then promoting her to be Chief Regulator of OfQual, in spite of her record.....

For an excellent record of Mr Williiamson's performance as Secretary of State for Education try:  'U-turns, gaffes and mixed messages: lowlights of the Williamson era' on Page Six of the latest Schools Week

Last modified on Friday, 17 September 2021 06:41

This article is a follow-up to my previous Government  At Last Takes Action against SchoolsCompany (Indirectly) on the main news page.

The above headline is based on the hypothetical assumption that the founder of the academy Trust SchoolsCompany, Elias Achilleos, along with Heinrich Zimmerman, one of the Directors, appear to have vanished after running a number of companies across the world, most of which apart from SchoolsCompany Limited have now closed down, and most never appear to have operated. I make no comment on the other founding Directors. If any of my assumptions or conclusions are incorrect, then I am of course happy to change or if necessary withdraw the article.

SchoolsCompany

One can only speculate how the track record below persuaded the government that SchoolsCompany Limited, set up in 2011, was a suitable organisation to run an Academy Trust, take responsibility for its finances, and provide its support services. Its founding CEO ran at least three Limited Companies between 2006-2011, all of which were dissolved before the appointment. One was engaged in unspecified business activities (which was wound up by application of its main creditor – HM Government!), one an entertainment company, the third offering administrative and support service activities, with no evidence of any educational background at this stage.  

Last modified on Sunday, 26 September 2021 18:58
Perverse & absurd, but KCC keep paying their offshore PFI contractors
The above headline appears at the top of a recent article by the campaigning website Shepwayvox, which had its genesis in several articles I wrote in 2013, setting out the basis for the scandal. I have returned to the issue several times, notably here, which shows that the escalating debts on the various contracts are predominantly owed to offshore companies, who only have to sit back and rake in the profits from the KCC education budget. Remarkably, company accounts show that not one of the six profiting companies has any employees!
 
My original article identified a capital cost of £100 million for six schools rebuilt with money borrowed through PFI and looked at the enormous interest rates payable over the next 30 years. According to Shepway Vox, even the Department for Education's latest estimates predict that the ten KCC schools at the centre of this scandal will cost about 70% more than if they had used non-PFI borrowing
 
I became involved when the first of the Kent PFI schools controversially became an academy in 2013. This was Swan Valley School, which became Ebbsfleet Academy, producing the anomaly that KCC is still paying for the cost of the loan to provide premises for an academy that is independent of the authority. Other academies bear no such financial cost for the Authority.
Last modified on Thursday, 26 August 2021 13:45

Although this is no longer a Medway story, those connected with Delce Academy almost destroyed by Castle Trust, led by its CEO and headteacher Karen White, will be interested in the trust’s demise as it faces a DfE Financial Notice to Improve (FNTI) issued in May. This is in consequence of this single small school Trust having ‘made decisions which carry significant financial risk and have failed to demonstrate value for money. Additionally, following a significant change which impacted its income, the trust failed to act quickly enough to make the necessary plans and implement sufficient changes to achieve a balanced budget to ensure it remained a going concern and financially sustainable.

The Trust is now being wound up, but there is no need to worry too much about Ms White. She is retiring at the end of the next school year, during which she will engage in light duties, having been remunerated in the financial year 2019-20 by £265,000 (including restructuring costs), a second Trust employee receiving an astonishing £200,000. Although Delce Academy is now in good hands, it is still struggling because of Ms White's legacy, which has left this once-successful Junior School with an Infant Section that is withering away and a junior section that still needs to improve its reputation.  

Last modified on Wednesday, 28 July 2021 02:17

There is an interesting and valuable response to an FOI via the 'What do They Know' website detailing the cut-off distances for admission to town Tunbridge Wells primary schools and some secondary schools over the past three years. I give the primary school data below, along with the results for three of the secondary schools: Bennett Memorial, Skinners and St Gregory's Catholic. Unfortunately, although the enquirer asked for the three TW non-selective schools, KCC offered Skinners instead of Skinners Kent Academy, so I hope to be able to update this in time. 

I have also included the levels of oversubscription/vacancy numbers for the primary schools this year, and further details on the secondary.

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 July 2021 16:53

 

I have been following the misfortunes of Copperfield Academy in Northfleet for more than the fourteen years this website and its predecessor have been operating. It was previously called Dover Road Primary School and its pupils were consistently let down by  Kent County Council from 2001 onwards, as outlined in my first article about the school, written in 2011.  Matters did not improve when it became an academy sponsored by REAch2 Academy Trust in 2005, with seven headteachers in five years, and a second failed Ofsted, by which time I was amongst a number in favour of the school being removed from REAch2.

Copperfield Academy  for Website

A new high-powered Executive Headteacher was brought in to sort the mess in September 2018, having previously been responsible forREAch2 schools in East Anglia. I anticipated he was there for a quick fix but matters have improved greatly, with staffing becoming stable after a high turnover in previous years,  five increasingly positive Ofsted monitoring visits, and now a ‘Good’ Ofsted Inspection outcome in May this year, one of the first full inspections since lockdown was eased.

Last modified on Monday, 28 June 2021 06:02

Delce Academy now appears to be in safe hands, being rehabilitated by the Inspire Partnership academy trust after ruination under the Castle Trust. The latter useless organisation not only took it into Special Measures but changed it from a Junior School to one that was an all-through primary, potentially threatening the viability of its two feeder infant schools. On the way, it conned Medway Council into offering a £400,000 loan for new buildings to facilitate this, until wisely blocked by the Regional Schools Commissioner.

Delce Academy

 

Delce Academy never succeeded in being a popular option for infant parents (never mind the children who were merely pawns in this political games-playing) and the Inspiration Partnership has now wisely gained approval from the RSC to return it to a Junior School. In giving approval the RSC noted: 'The board were encouraged to hear that Inspire were developing relationships with other schools locally and hoped this change would help strengthen collaboration further', presumably as relationships in recent years have been extremely frosty.  You can read a more detailed description of the debacle created by an over-ambitious headteacher of limited abilities here, backed by naïve worthies who had previously been part of the failed Medway Council ‘School  Improvement’ Department of the period.

Last modified on Saturday, 03 July 2021 10:33

Last month I published an article about the current chaos at Pimlico Academy in London. This was created after Daniel Smith, previously a controversial Vice Principal at the notorious Ebbsfleet Academy in Kent, was appointed Principal at the school.

His Tough Love policies, featuring an uncompromising and confrontational approach to difficulties with echoes of his start at Ebbsfleet, created turmoil from the start. An overwhelming majority of teachers passed a vote of no confidence in Mr Smith in March and were in the process of ballotting for strike action, a decision almost unheard of in recent years. 32 teachers have handed in their resignation including two-thirds of the senior leadership team.

The Future Academies Trust, which runs Pimlico Academy under its founders Lord and Lady Nash (Lord Nash being a former Education Minister), has jumped both ways, initially trying to defend Mr Smith and his policies, but today in a curt statement confirming his resignation, effective 31st May after just eight tumultuous months.

Last modified on Tuesday, 18 May 2021 23:49

Update on resignation of Mr Smith here

Daniel Smith, the controversial new 'tough-love' Headteacher of Pimlico Academy appointed in September and now engaged in a battle attracting national media coverage,  was previously employed at the notorious Ebbsfleet Academy in North Kent for four years from September 2013, ending as Associate Principal. This was also a tough-love school, under its Principal Alison Colwell, who made the school’s approach crystal clear when she left the school in 2019, publicly blaming white working-class parents for her difficulties.

By coincidence, I also wrote about Mr Smith back in 2013 when he was an Assistant Principal at The Quest Academy in Croydon, on the occasion when he sent an email to a parent at Swan Valley School (subsequently Ebbsfleet Academy). The parent was politely questioning Swan Valley about the principle of a very restrictive home school agreement insisted on by the school, the email  (excerpt reproduced below) unlawfully threatening her with the possibility of applying for a court-imposed parenting order under the Academy’s Code of Conduct if she would not sign it. The school was not even an academy at that time so could not have had such a Code of Conduct. 

Mr Smith subsequently took up a post at Swan Valley, which continued the policy of threatening legal action for ‘difficult’ parents as it developed its tough-love policies. The unfortunate consequences of these are outlined in various articles, typically here, which also demonstrate that the many claims about its success were false and that confrontational leadership does not work, as is also apparent in the current drama at Pimlico. A recent letter to parents underlines the warning signs seen even before the start of the Autumn term when he took up post: 'We were suspicious when we received Daniel Smith’s new policies a week before the start of autumn term, but curious to see how they would be received. As the first isolated showers of exclusions turned into a storm, we started to get very worried….'

If Mr Smith is forced out, as seems increasingly likely, it will not be the fault of the students, but of those who mistakenly appointed him. 

Last modified on Saturday, 22 May 2021 17:58
Monday, 15 March 2021 19:34

Halling Primary Update

Written by

See my initial article here, which has attracted over 7,000 visitors in less than a fortnight. 

The situation at Halling Primary School continues to deteriorate, with the Cliffe Woods Trust failing to turn the growing dissatisfaction around. Three recent documents: Kentonline Article; Letter from the Chair of Cliffe Woods Trustees; and a Formal Complaint from a group of Early Years parents, each present different and in some cases contradictory scenarios, with the Trust continuing to deny that the genuine problems exist.

Kentonline reports that ‘several staff have departed’, the reality being that there has been a turnover in the last year of over three quarters of the teachers, four Teaching Assistants having resigned, along with other employees, some with no other post to go to. This includes seven teachers and TAs leaving at Easter, including the Deputy Head and head of Early Years. The previous long-serving and highly respected Chair of Governors resigned last summer with immediate effect after irreconcilable differences with the new headteacher. The letter of complaint, which has also been sent to Kelly Tolhurst, MP,  focuses on the sudden departure this term of the head of Early Years – ‘the reason why we chose to put our children there in the first place’.

The Chair of Trustees considers that the staff exodus is because ‘not all have felt themselves either willing or able, even with support, to rise to the challenge of improving standards’,  publicly blaming the exodus on poor staff, hardly likely to extinguish the flames.

Last modified on Thursday, 18 March 2021 20:28
Updated 12th March 2021

Whilst I do not normally cover private school matters, the closure of St Joseph's, a local school I have known for 35 years, is of special interest to me and so I have chosen to feature it here!

St Joseph's 2

A letter sent to parents yesterday explains that ‘ The school requires long term investment to secure its future.   We have explored many possible alternatives but unfortunately with no success’. Last year, the TES considered that up to 30% of private schools were at risk of closure because of the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, and St Joseph's may be still be paying the price of a controversial headteacher who almost brought the school to its knees in 2016.  

Last modified on Friday, 12 March 2021 19:22

 Updated March 2021: The Disgraceful Behaviour of the Governors of Fairview Primary School

I recently wrote an article reporting that the Regional  Schools Commissioner (RSC) had exceptionally turned down a proposal for Fairview Community Primary School to become an academy, partly because ‘the Governing Body was at odds with the school community’. Two months after the decision, governors got round to letting parents know in a letter on 24th February.

This two page letter comprises a page and a half of self-justification before a brief mention of the decision was made: ‘In December we proceeded with an application for an Academy Order, this was declined as our Local Authority, Medway and the RSC raised concerns after receiving a number of correspondences.

Fairview Community

Governors will now carry out a ‘period of reflection in which they will take this opportunity to respond to the most frequently raised themes highlighted, including Academic Standards, transparency and the question of why The Westbrook Trust with more regular communication’.  What they will not do apparently, is carry out further consultation or reconsider whether their decision was in the best interests of the school.

Last modified on Saturday, 29 May 2021 20:01
Thursday, 04 March 2021 23:36

Halling Primary School – What is going on?

Written by

Update 17th March See new article here

Update: 14th March 2021: Please read the recent comments. Whilst I have no official confirmation the data contained is true, there is no reason to believe it is not genuine. As such it paints an even more dreadful picture of what is going on in the school. The EYPS comment is especially revealing, and if true describes dishonesty on the part of the leadership.   

Now up to an astonishing number of hits for this website, over 7,000 visitors in less than a fortnight, and not even on front page!

13 out of 23 teachers have left Halling Primary School in Medway. or handed in their resignations since January 2020, including three members of the Senior Leadership Team, with seven having gone at Christmas, and another three handing in their resignations in February, along with four Teaching Assistants. The previous Chair of Governors suddenly resigned, ending a 25 year association with the school,  citing an irreconcilable difference of opinion between the headteacher and himself. Other members of staff and supporters of the school have also severed their connections. 

Halling                   Cliffe Woods Academy Trust

There are reports of a toxic atmosphere within the school staff, and the considerable concerns expressed by parents being addressed by a Social Media Policy, whose main thrust appears to be to threaten parents who speak out, including taking legal action and calling in the police. A letter from the new Chair of Governors to parents indicates that she is happy with the current situation.

The big puzzle to me is that Halling, the second school in the Cliffe Woods Academies Trust, having joined in April 2019, appears to have had no benefits from the halo surrounding Cliffe Woods Primary. The latter has an Outstanding Ofsted and reputation, with Principal Tim Muggeridge, also CEO of the Trust, being well aware of the issues at Halling, although without signs that action is being taken.

Last modified on Wednesday, 17 March 2021 00:07

Update: You will find a link to the full document below. A fascinating read. 

School closures in the face of a pandemic may appear to be a new phenomenon, but in 2006 the government published guidance to schools, local authorities and others on planning for a human flu epidemic. The guidance explained the potential impact of a pandemic, which could lead to 25-50% of the population being infected during the pandemic, and between 50,000 and 750,000 people in the UK dying as a result. It all sounds horribly familiar and equally improbable in those days. However, the guidance set out the reasons why schools might have to close for pupils for a period of up to a term, and their expectations on schools to provide an education for those pupils in a lengthy boooklet. 

This was updated the following year, the front cover introduction to the 2007 draft version being reproduced below, including advice to pupils without access to new technologies.  

It begs the question of whether such guidance was in place for 2020, or was it, as it appears, left to develop policy on the hoof? 

Last modified on Monday, 15 February 2021 20:10
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