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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.

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
Friday, 22 January 2021 19:16

Invicta National Academy: online lessons service

Written by
 Latest update here: 2nd February.
The following article opens with a re-print from the 22nd January Edition of Private Eye, under the heading 'T  IS   FOR TORY'
It has been expanded considerably since first publication. 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Conservative politicians and Telegraph columnists alike have been falling over themselves to praise Kent-based live online lessons service Invicta National Academy since the beginning of term.

The website's daily offering of live video is hardly unique and its reach is not that enormous - one day in January its Twitter account excitedly trilled "a whopping 1,376 users accessed @InvictaAcademy lessons today!" Education programming on Children's BBC, secondary schooling on BBC2 and the Department for Education-funded "Oak National Academy" collection of teacher-made online content are helping tens of thousands more youngsters, as are home learning packages from various subject associations. So why the fawning over a small pop-up tuition website?

Last modified on Wednesday, 10 March 2021 07:07

Update 22/01/21: In the pyramid of power above the Griffin Schools Trust, are complex commercial companies including Capital Talent, Ltd, described as 'a consultancy service with a difference'. One of its Directors, Liz Lewis holding between 25% and 50% of the company shares, and one of the founders of Griffin, has resigned as a 'person of influence' of the Trust. Capital Talent, influential and powerful in the affairs of Griffin, has just two Directors, Ms Lewis and her partner, Ange Tyler.   

Update 22/12/20: An excellent article by a local website The View from Bradwell Common builds on this and offers much more detail.

Update 23/12/20: The investigative website, Education Uncovered, run by Warwick Mansell has published three articles about Stantonbury in the least two months, two in the last two days: (1), (2)(3), (4). Amongst other matters, they look at the large sums of money passing between the Trust and its associated companies, and transactions lying outside the rules for running academies.   

Although Stantonbury International School is in Buckinghamshire, not Kent or Medway, I have followed its misfortunes for some years, as it is run by the Griffin Schools Trust which had its origins in Medway. My most recent article, posted less than a month ago, explored its continued failures since being placed in Special Measures by Ofsted earlier this year, and expressing the view that the school should be taken away from Griffin Trust because of their long term incompetence, arrogance and downright lies to parents.

Stantonbury

Earlier today, the CEO and Chairman of Trustees of Griffin Schools Trust wrote a letter to parents at the school informing them ‘that the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State wrote to us yesterday to communicate her decision to re-broker Stantonbury International School to a new sponsor’. In typical style, there is no hint of an apology for damaging the education of a generation of pupils, indeed they begin with the claim that ‘We have sent documentary evidence of the improvements we have worked so hard together to put in place since 2016’ , in spite of the multitude of contrary views, including those expressed by Ofsted, the Regional Schools Commissioner in warning letters and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State herself (see below). It continues with: ‘The RSC will determine the timing and choice of sponsor, but has given us to understand that she expects the process to be complete by July 2021’, which appears an inordinate time to leave over 1500 children in the care of an organisation that appears incapable of keeping them safe, let alone providing a proper education.

However, the real shocker comes in a breathtaking statement by the Trust to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in its attempt to head off closure. I would have previously thought the following unbelievable and it makes my previous examples of arrogance fade into insignificance: 'Leaders are not able easily to provide data and records of impact. This evidence finding takes up too much of their valuable time'. In other words, they cannot even be bothered to make an effort to save their positions. On the evidence of that statement alone, the Trustees have shown their utter uselessness and incompetence and that they should not be in charge of the education of children. They need urgently to have their valuable time for other matters freed up, provided these are not to do with the welfare of children and, faced with the evidence, the Griffin Trust should be closed down completely. 

Last modified on Monday, 25 January 2021 13:24

Updated here, 2nd Feb 21.

I have written a number of times previously about the dreadful period when Ebbsfleet Academy was led by Alison Colwell. The previous occasion was back in April, about a book she has written, to be published under the title ‘The Secret Headteacher’ early next year, although there was little secret as her name was given openly in a Publisher’s blurb at the time.

My article demonstrated clearly that most of the claims made about the book are completely false, but this did not stop The Sunday Times repeating these two weeks ago, in its second plug for the book. This begins: ‘It has the makings of a Hollywood block­buster - a story about a failing school where the unsupervised children of angry parents roam the corridors, only for a new head teacher to take the place by the scruff of its neck and mould it into a model academy’. Absolute rubbish!

Just before she left Ebbsfleet, Ms Colwell chose to make an astonishing attack on the parents of a school where she had, according to the advertising blurb, ‘spent seven wonderful years’, which I examined in another article entitled ‘Ebbsfleet Academy: Parents rubbished by departing Principal’ demolishing yet more claims. She has now moved on to run the small private Baleares International College, Sa Porrassa, on the island of Mallorca. I look at all these issues, including how she is getting on in her new school, below.

Last modified on Tuesday, 02 February 2021 20:01

Update: 18th December. One can only wonder if the government threatened MGS for planning this before it proposed all secondary schools should be closed for the first week of term and made it irrelevant!

Maidstone Grammar School leaders are delaying opening next term by two days and will provide remote learning for their pupils instead. This is because they can see potential but unpredictable problems arising from Brexit transport issues, exacerbated by Maidstone’s notorious traffic congestion, to the extent that staff and pupils may struggle to get to school in good time. This will enable the school to plan effectively for an ordered return, rather than having to manage a potentially chaotic situation.

MGS3

However, Kent County Council has strongly criticised the decision on the grounds it is unnecessary for ‘the problems are less likely to impact on Maidstone than some other areas, and staff and pupils can arrange for alternative transport arrangements, such as walking, cycling, train, bus, and car share’. Presumably, KCC is confident that all its officers who work at the Maidstone headquarters will also be able to attend punctually and without difficulty through such alternative arrangements, which would indeed undermine the school’s case.  However, today’s coronavirus news, along with the Christmas relaxation, means that a  surge in the pandemic is surely likely in January, strengthening the case for the decision.

Last modified on Friday, 18 December 2020 11:13
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