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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.

Thursday, 21 March 2019 18:44

Radio Kent: Secondary Transfer

Written by Peter Read

I spend an hour on Wednesday evening, at the Radio Kent studio in Tunbridge Wells talking on the Graham Jones show, in company with Sally Lees, Principal of the Homewood School and Sixth Form Centre. Not surprisingly, our main topic was secondary school transfer and what to do if children had not been awarded one of their preferences. Naturally we widened the discussion including what makes a good school, whether parental choice was a good thing, why there were 837 Kent children with none of their choices, and how to increase provision to cope with rising rolls. The discussion was given a spice as we two guests tended to have a different perspective on a number of issues!

Radio Kent March 2019


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Last modified on Thursday, 21 March 2019 23:12

Kent County Council has been awarded one of 39 new Special Schools to be opened across the country, following a bid to government. This will be built on the Isle of Sheppey, on land adjacent to the new Halfway Houses Primary School site,  and is planned to focus on children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs aged 11-16. Under current regulations KCC will now need to set up a tendering process to select a Sponsor from an existing academy chain to run the new school. As explained below, this can be a drawn out and uncertain process, with the opening date not yet fixed.

This follows approval in January for the Aspire School, Sittingbourne a new Free School for children with autism or speech and language difficulties to be run by Grove Park Academies Trust, currently comprising Grove Park Primary School. It will be built on council land not far from Grove Park, both schools in Bobbing. The Aspire School came into existence because of the vision of parents as long ago as 2013. The original vision was for high functioning autistic children aged 4 -16, although final details have not yet been settled, and it is now looking likely to be for primary aged children, opening at the earliest in September 2020.


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Last modified on Friday, 05 April 2019 04:09
Update:  In a critical two page article about Folkestone Academy in the Folkestone Herald and online, Turner Schools once again attempts to deflect the criticisms by answering irrelevant 'concerns'. See my analysis at the foot of this article, below
 
Turner Schools has published a bizarre advertisement in the Folkestone and Hythe Your District Today magazine published by the Local Council, purportedly to answer the question ‘What is Turner Schools’?
TurnerSchools
It begins: ‘Turner Schools blazed onto the Folkestone scene just a few years ago’, and is in the form of a pseudo interview with the CEO Jo Saxton. The second of the initial two brief paragraphs justifying the takeover of Folkestone Academy by Turner Schools also describes the high quality of food now provided for students.
The next section asks about an artificial controversy I have not seen aired before amongst all the major criticisms of Turner Schools published here and elsewhere,  about whether Turner Schools is only interested in purely academic routes.
Then follows a justification of the CEO’s very high salary for running a small low achieving Academy Trust, the article finishing with ‘We know that some people find change hard, so don’t believe all the negatives you’ve heard or read about Folkestone Academy’ . There is no mention at all of the other three schools in the Trust, and the initial question is ignored for start to finish. 
I am left bewildered why the Turner Schools remorseless publicity machine, examined in detail across previous articles on this website, most recently here, can have produced such an inept article in the official Council publication, an article which raises more questions than it answers and does nothing to promote its image.
 
Also below is the answer to a question I posed in a recent article: Turner Schools: What were they trying to hide?

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Last modified on Wednesday, 10 April 2019 07:10
Thursday, 28 February 2019 06:43

Home Education: Skipping School

Written by Peter Read

Last week, I was part of an invited audience  to a private showing and debate on the Channel Four programme, Skipping School, about Home Education issues. This featured Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England (CCE), who has now published a Report containing five important recommendations. The discussion highlighted some key concerns, although being dominated by the plight of children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) who made up an estimated 22% of children on EHE (Elective Home Education). Unforgiveably, there are no central statistics on any EHE matter, but it is clear that a high proportion of such children have not chosen this route but have been forced down it by schools being unable or unwilling to make provision for their needs. 

Considerable concerns were expressed about the practice of off-rolling and exclusion, along with evidence of the practices in too many schools. 

There is not even a required register of children on EHE, let alone any monitoring of what if any education they are provided with, although its introduction has been and would be strongly resisted by the vocal and in some cases aggressive lobby of families who may have chosen EHE for philosophical reasons.

One particular revelation (to me at least) was the statement that the Regional Schools Commissioner may only intervene with academies that are causing concern if they are inadequate, primarily because of funding issues (although there have been a couple of counter examples recently). Otherwise, they need to be dealt with directly by the Department for Education. 


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Last modified on Sunday, 10 March 2019 05:50
Wednesday, 06 February 2019 23:34

Skipping School: Invisible Children

Written by Peter Read

See Follow up Article here.

The Children’s Commissioner for England (CCE), Anne Longfield, has published a Report entitledSkipping School: Invisible Children’. Apart from its dreadful and misleading title, it provides an excellent summary of the issues surrounding Elective Home Education (EHE). The Report also looks forward to ways of reducing the numbers of those Home Educated, apart from families who freely choose to and are capable of providing a good alternative.

Sadly, a 'Dispatches' programme on Channel Four lost the plot and focused on describing in graphic terms families who were not coping with Home Education in their first weeks out of school. I made a contribution to the programme with which I was pleased and which drew on my most recent article about EHE, but I was not expecting the direction the programme took and so my piece stood isolated.


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Last modified on Tuesday, 12 March 2019 07:26
Monday, 21 January 2019 05:51

Brexit Guidance for Kent Schools

Written by Peter Read

Update: It has been pleasing to receive thanks from several Medway schools for this information. I think they are trying to tell me something!

You will find here KCC's Advice to Schools on possible initial effects for them in the event of a No Deal Brexit arriving on March 29th.

As one new to this aspect of the Brexit debate, I found the three diagrams at the foot of the table especially illuminating. These deal with the proposals to funnel, park, and stack lorries through Kent in the event of a No Deal Brexit. 


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Last modified on Monday, 21 January 2019 22:52

INDEX, A Lifestyle Magazine which publishes two editions in East and West Kent, has drawn up its own Alternative New Year’s Honours List  for ‘Outstanding Men and Women of Kent - unsung heroes who go mostly unrecognised, who excel in their diverse fields and give unconditionally’.

Index Magazine

 

I feel honoured to be included in both editions along with: Tammy Beaumont, the Kent and England cricket star; and John Warnett, the Radio Kent presenter. The East Kent list also includes: Victoria Pomerey, Director, Turner Contemporary; Razia Shariff, CEO of Kent Refugee Action Network; Peter Taylor Gooby, Trustee of Canterbury Food Bank; Rosie Turner, Director, Canterbury Festival; Rt Revd Trevor Wilmott, Bishop of Dover; and posthumously, Peter Firmin, Artist and Puppet Maker. For West Kent there are: Rt Rev Simon Burton-Jones, newly appointed Bishop of Tunbridge, previously Archdeacon of Rochester Diocese; Deborah Gjeloshaj, Founder of Kitchen Opera, bringing youth opera to West Kent; Alex Green, Executive Director at the Tunbridge Wells Trinity Theatre, together with Arts community work; Richard Hughes, a drummer with pop group Keane and now human rights activist with Amnesty; and Olga Johnson, Co-Founder of Nourish Community Food Bank.


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Last modified on Friday, 04 January 2019 12:13
Wednesday, 21 November 2018 10:18

Folkestone Academy - Further Troubles

Written by Peter Read

Update: In spite of using the Turner School headhunters, Saxton Bampfylde, the Trust has been unable to appoint an Executive Principal for the Academy. See below

I make no apologies for yet another table topping statistic for Folkestone Academy after it ran up a debt of £708,707 in 2017-18 for overestimating its pupil roll for last year, the highest figure in the country, as confirmed by SchoolsWeek. A spokesperson for Turner Schools trust, which runs four schools including Folkestone Academy, pointed out the calculation was made in November 2016 before the school transferred to the trust. 

Turner Schools Logo

However, it is clear that the reason the school saw a fall of 50 Sixth Form students (or 21%) leading into the year 2017-18  is because of decisions made by Turner Schools  after it took responsibility for the school in April 2017, as it chased higher academic performance. This will have been exacerbated for 2018-19 by the sharp fall in GCSE provisional performance, with Progress 8 diving to -0.78 from -0.22, sixth worst in the county, and Performance 8 falling to 31.0 from 36.4, fifth worst in Kent after over a year of Turner Schools' control. 

The academic ambitions of the Trust are clear from a quotation by Dr Jo Saxton, CEO of Turner Schools, and from many other quotations: ‘This past summer, 101 students went on to university but only one per cent went to a Russell Group university. Some are dropping out of university before finishing their degree’These ambitions may be laudable but surely the Trust has to secure its base instead of collapsing it along with young people’s education and aspirations, before driving ahead without foundations. These would include a lawful admissions policy for Sixth Form admissions (see below). 

My previous article recorded that the school had by far the highest number and rate of Fixed Term Exclusions of any school in Kent.


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Last modified on Friday, 23 November 2018 21:04

Parents of pupils at schools in the Leigh Academies Trust and The Williamson Trust have now been sent a letter outlining details of the agreed 'merger' between the two Trusts. I have written previously about the proposal, and the letter offers no further information about how the new arrangements will work.

However, the letter is very revealing in one sentence:  'Directors of both trusts and the Regional Schools’ Commissioner have agreed that Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School, The Hundred of Hoo Academy, High Halstow Primary Academy, Allhallows Primary Academy and Stoke Primary Academy can join LAT from January 2019'. This explicitly confirms my previous view that this is a takeover, with the Williamson Trust schools about to 'join LAT from January 2019' .


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Last modified on Monday, 19 November 2018 05:25

 I was invited to comment on Meridian news yesterday (Wednesday)  about the most sensible proposal for a Multi Academy Trust I have come across for a long time. Unfortunately, it may fail through being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Seven primary schools all local to Deal, who form part of the Deal Learning Alliance, a community of local schools already working together, are proposing to come together to form Deal Education Alliance for Learning Trust ( DEALT). Most of the schools provide a large amount of information on their websites, for example here, which leaves one in little doubt about the reasons for the proposals. The schools have also held a number of meetings for parents, all focused on the proposed Trust being there to support the local community.

There is one strong negative influence which should not play a part in the debate but inevitably is doing so and will continue. This is the debacle of the Goodwin Academy, the secondary school in Deal which was brought to its knees whilst still a KCC school, aided by advisers from SchoolsCompany. This organisation, run by an entrepreneur, then took over the school as an academy and helped it even further down leaving it with massive debts. Much of these were incurred by large fees paid out to the Company, others by gross financial mismanagement, The current proposal has no similarity with this scandal, although campaigners against the proposal try and make a link. 


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Last modified on Friday, 02 November 2018 11:58
Tuesday, 30 October 2018 19:32

Medway UTC put out of its misery

Written by Peter Read

The name Medway UTC will disappear on 1st November to no one's regret as it morphs into a new Waterfront University Technical College sponsored by The Howard Academy Trust, which has supported it for some time. This comes with the added bonus that it won't be inspected for another three years, although as an Ofsted failed institution it would otherwise have been closely monitored for several years to come. This follows one of the worst Ofsted failures in Kent and Medway for some years, dreadful GCSE results for 2018, and large numbers of students and staff bailing out of what appears to be a sinking ship. 

I have still not seen a hint of apology or sense of proper shame by the Trustees and Governors of the UTC for their failure to provide young people of Medway with an adequate education, although the Ofsted Report castigates their performance. How many students futures ruined? We shall never know and they will soon be conveniently forgotten. 


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Last modified on Friday, 02 November 2018 14:26

Update: See recent development at foot of article

I don’t normally comment on private schools, but the closure of St Christopher’s in Canterbury over the summer surely deserves a mention at a time when scrutiny of the Kent Test taken in private schools is in the news.

The school has now been found Inadequate in two consecutive full Ofsted Inspections, most recently in April this year, the first of which I covered in a previous article entitled ‘Buyer Beware: Four Private Schools failed OFSTED Inspection’. The other three have since improved their standards under new leaderships.

St Christopher's

The first of the two key issues in both Inspections was poor leadership, the headteacher, known as ‘The Master’ also being one of the proprietors of the school, ‘A substantial number of staff have lost confidence in the school’s proprietors and leaders’ in 2018, echoing concerns in 2014. Secondly, both inspections describe a culture of poor management of complaints and allegations which, along with inappropriate behaviour, saw the school fail on Safeguarding twice, the second time apparently oblivious of previous criticisms. There is also a range of other serious criticisms, although teaching is described as Good, pinpointing where the problems lie. 

The school claimed very high success rates at the Kent Test which fell below the genuine figures and in 2017 it was instructed by the Advertising Standards Authority to remove false claims of a 92% pass rate from the sides of local buses. For entry this September, the success rate for grammar school admission had fallen to 57%. Ofsted is quite clear about the purpose of the school: ‘many are able to achieve a place at local grammar schools, in line with the school’s aims’.

Pupil numbers were falling sharply before the closure, presumably because of the poor reputation of the school.


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Last modified on Saturday, 08 September 2018 13:31
Thursday, 23 August 2018 06:43

Kent Test: Cost of Out of County Applications

Written by Peter Read

Data provided by Kent County Council shows that direct expenditure to provide facilities for out of county candidates for the Kent Test was approximately £100,000 for admission in September 2018. This works out at approximately £200 for each pupil offered a place.

In addition, there was a large but unquantifiable sum for KCC officer time at an extremely busy time as they oversee the Kent Test process across the county. The additional demands include managing the process of organising the 4832 out of county applicants across the 38 additional centres set up for testing these candidates, and responding to the issues and queries many of these applicants inevitably incur.

All this to produce 465 offers of places, less than one in ten of those who applied. Some of these would not in any case have been taken up as some families received more favourable offers, perhaps closer to their homes.


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Last modified on Thursday, 30 August 2018 19:50

Update: See recent article on agreed merger between LAT and the Williamson Trust. 

An item in Private Eye recently (reproduced below) about a property deal between Leigh Academies Trust and Greenwich Council caught my attention.  It relates to a re-brokering of the old Kidbrooke School, the first purpose built comprehensive school in the country, which became a stand alone Academy Trust called Corelli College in 2011. This school ran into difficulties and was re-brokered to Leigh Academy Trust for March 2018, where it has been re-named Halley Academy. According to the article 'It seems baffling that Greenwich is paying a trust a £500,000 grant and a £lm settlement over land it wasn't supposed to give away in the first place. I certainly remain baffled about what appears to be a complicated legal issue but can see it is very good business for LAT, although far away from real education. 


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Last modified on Monday, 19 November 2018 05:30

I was interviewed this afternoon by BBC SE with regard to expansion of grammar schools and the new £50m growth fund, for which applications are due in tomorrow, to be broadcast this evening.

A previous article I wrote in January sets out clearly the expansion in numbers of grammar school places since 2012, without the use of any such incentive. It is expected that some half dozen Kent grammar schools out of the total of 162 will have applied, and I considered these in a subsequent article in May following the announcement of the growth fund. Time will tell how these fare. 

I was also on KMTV, the online TV station earlier this month talking about two other subjects,


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Last modified on Tuesday, 15 January 2019 18:16
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