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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.

Saturday, 16 May 2020 10:42

Schools to Defy Unions and Reopen Next Month

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Sub Heading: Academies back government despite virus fears.

Update: Kent Council issues what appears to be a non-statement on school opening. According to KentLiveKent County Council breaks silence on planned schools reopening date - Matt Dunkley, Kent County Council’s Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education, said they will still open in a safe environment. He said: “We are monitoring the national position carefully, following guidance from Government and working closely with head teachers in support of their preparations to further open schools to a wider cohort of children on Monday, June 1, at the earliest. "Our priority will be to ensure all children, young people and staff in Kent schools can learn and work in a safe environment and we will do everything necessary to support schools to achieve this.”

I rarely comment on national issues, but this utterly misleading headline above the only front page story on The Times today, has incensed me even though I am a subscriber. It draws its conclusion from just four macho academy trusts who haven't waited until details have been agreed, and ignoring many others with a contrary view. 

Harris Federation is a large and high performing chain with 49 schools, although none in Kent or Medway, and is a favourite of government so is indeed worth listening to but not to this extent. 

The next two, Oasis and REAch2 are well known in Kent for running two of the worst schools in the county for years and I have written extensively about both. One of their main features is complete failure to persuade parents they are capable of offering a decent education, so they are hardly likely to be listened to on this issue. Last year, of the 324 offers of places at Oasis Isle of Sheppey  in September, 101 were made up of Local Authority Allocations. By October the number taking up these places had fallen to 251 pupils, with many of the missing 73 pupils, or over 20% of the total offers, having gained places at other local schools, most on appeal. This is an  annual slump in numbers which last September saw the school effectively close one of its two sites. Low academic performance, frequent removal of Principals, very high exclusion rates and high turnover of staff, with a third of them being unqualified teachers last year, are features of the school. I wrote an article in 2019 which looked in some detail at the shocking failings of the Copperfield Academy in Gravesham and its sponsors REAch2, identifying the massive turnover of teachers and headteachers as the central issue during the Trust's six years in charge, never mind its being in Special Measures with amongst the worst KS2 performances in the county. For the coming September, 42 of the 71 places offered are Local Authority Allocations. I can see no way whatsoever, that the government initiative will be supported by the families of children attending these two schools. 

I had never heard of the fourth Trust, Guildford Educational Partnership until today, but it turns out to be a small academy Trust in Guildford, with just  three secondary and four primary schools. The sponsors of this article must be desperate!

Last modified on Saturday, 23 May 2020 10:35
Saturday, 25 April 2020 12:44

Coronavirus: School Appeals in Kent & Medway Part 4

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I have now written a further article looking at fresh developments: Coronavirus and School Appeals: Five 

The government has now published temporary regulations for the operation of school admission appeals during the Coronavirus emergency. Not to put too fine a point on it, my personal view is that as set out these are unworkable in Kent and Medway, whose schools held over 10% of all secondary school admission appeals in the country in 2019. The new regulations appear to have been drawn up without regard for the people who matter at this difficult time. Instead, when there was opportunity to be flexible by varying aspects of the non-statutory School Admissions Appeals Code in order to be fair to families, the regulations attempt to force the new circumstances into the existing Code.   

There are three groups of people to consider. Most importantly are the thousands of families, some of whom have spent up to eight months worrying about their children’s futures and all hoping they would get a fair hearing at an appeal which will affect their children’s life chances. Secondly, there are the army of volunteer appeal panellists  who freely give of their time to bring this about, but given no consideration here. Finally, do not forget the shrinking number of administrators whose workload and responsibilities are expanded enormously by the new regulations, but also given no consideration;whose  job is made all the more difficult because schools are closed at this time and access to documentation can be impossible.  

I look in more detail below at the implications for these new Emergency Regulations, mainly as applicable to Kent and Medway.

Last modified on Saturday, 23 May 2020 10:35

An article in Kent Online records the particular challenge faced by the new Ebbsfleet Green Primary School, due to open in September. This one form entry school (increasing to two as demand grows due to new housing) which will be admitting children into nursery, reception, year 1 and year 2 classes was going to begin with temporary classrooms on site, before moving into the permanent premises in September 2021. 

However, the builders, Kier, are reported to be behind schedule on the temporary buildings which will not now be ready for September. As a result the school, to be run by the Maritime Academy Trust, is to open in spare classrooms at Bligh Primary School in Strood. 

One can only wonder how many other major building projects across Kent and Medway are similarly stalled. I am hearing rumours of one new school not opening at all for September.

Last modified on Friday, 17 April 2020 23:19
Wednesday, 15 April 2020 18:35

School Appeals and Coronavirus: Part 3

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Note: This article has been overtaken by School Appeals in Kent & Medway, and Coronavirus: Part 4 which explores implications of the new emergency regulations. 
Update: 23/4/20: See new article that also looks at HTAs in Grammar School appeals. 
The government has now issued further guidance to Local Authorities and Admission Authorities relating to school appeals during the Coronavirus crisis. It is broadly consistent with my previous article which has been widely read and triggered enquiries from across the country, although to clarify I have no official status and am unable to interpret government advice with inside information. That article also offers advice to families offered an appeal hearing which considers written material.
 
The guidance does differ from a view in my previous article by giving priority to appeals held in person, by telephone, video conference and playing down the written evidence option which I anticipate will be widely used in Kent an Medway (explained below). The latter should only be considered if appeals cannot be held in person due to social distancing and then only if not everyone has access to the necessary equipment or  appellants are unable to participate in a hearing by telephone or video conferenceIn practice, I consider the great majority of Kent and Medway appeal hearings will fall into the written information category, given the large number of appeals for some Kent and Medway schools, as well as the added complexity of those for grammar school places. This may well be different from many other parts of the country, where numbers of appeals for individual schools ma\y be far fewer. 
 
I have previously discussed the issues surrounding the video conferencing and telephone hearing approach, and the government advice does nothing to dispel my concerns for local families if this approach were to be adopted. 
Last modified on Wednesday, 06 May 2020 19:57
Sunday, 05 April 2020 13:00

School Appeals and Coronavirus: Part 2

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Update 16th April: I have now published a further item on this theme picking up the latest government guidance here

 I am pleased to report that government has now released an initial statement on how appeals should be organised this summer, looking at three different approaches to setting up arrangements. If there is a choice it will be the most appropriate for each school’s individual needs, but  I believe most Kent and Medway schools will opt for decisions to be made on the basis of written evidence submitted by families and the school itself. Further, it appears to me that this option can already be made legitimate with a few tweaks as explained below, according to the government’s own School Admission Appeals Code.

I look at the government statement and its implications below.

Last modified on Monday, 20 April 2020 16:58
Sunday, 05 April 2020 11:43

The Secret Headteacher

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Revised 9th April
This is the first of two articles about the Brook Learning Trust, looking at a new book entitled ‘The Secret Headteacher’, to be published in August about one of its schools.  The advertising puff claims it to be
The true story of how a no-nonsense headteacher turned around one of the country's worst schools. The Secret Headteacher has spent the last 27 years in teaching, before which she spent 4 years in the police. This is the first memoir from a UK teacher to be published. Under the leadership of TSH, the school she led had a well-reported journey in turning around its reputation as one of the country's worst-performing schools, resulting in an Ofsted report judging the school "good".

Just a few problems with this: (1) There is no secret; it’s about Alison Colwell, until last summer head of Ebbsfleet Academy, according to an advertisement for the book, reproduced below, although other advertising claims it is by ‘Anon’; (2) It was certainly not one of the worst performing schools in Kent before she took it over, let alone in the country - it was without any form of bad reputation at the time, and was in any case improving strongly before she was parachuted in as head; (3) Ofsted missed key indicators of decline during her leadership, including large numbers of families removing their children from the school, large numbers of families annually placed in the school who never applied for it, and high staff turnover - this is when the bad reputation set in; (4) ‘The first memoir of a UK headteacher’ – unbelievable; (5) ‘well reported’ refers to two puff articles in The Times and Sunday Times, the second being what, in my opinion, was a disgracefully unprofessional performance by the headteacher;  (6) I received more complaints about this school from families, than any other school in Kent during much of this time; (7) ‘confrontational’ is a better word than ‘no-nonsense’.

Last modified on Tuesday, 21 April 2020 08:24
Tuesday, 17 March 2020 15:11

School Appeals and Coronavirus

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This is the first of five articles (so far) exploring the effects of Coronavirus on School Admission Appeals with particular focus on Kent and Medway as the situation has clarified. The most recent, dated 5th May, is here

Update: 5th April: Government statement and further analysis here

II have recently given an interview to BBC SE on the subject of GCSE and A Level, in which I found my self saying for the first time that this is one of those rare occasions when we must put the needs of the nation against the welfare and life chances of the individual. We will need to accept (much easier when you have no personal stake) that whatever decision is reached there will be great unfairness and damage to life chances of too many young people.

There is an urgent need to resolve potential and pressing problems brought about by the Coronavirus, relating to school admission appeals .  Although this is not high up the priorities in the great scheme of things, it is of great consequence for many thousands of families across the country whose children have been offered schools they consider unsuitable and who fear their children's life chances will be seriously damaged as a consequence. Last year there were 3,153 secondary admission appeals in Kent and Medway, of which 855 were successful. Arrangements for appeals in 2020 are already being drawn up by many schools. 

I look below at five options for managing the changed circumstances, but the only piece of advice I can give for parents at present is to carry on as far as possible to prepare for an appeal happening, although I do not see how any form of appeal can take place unless there is considerable change in the regulations. There is also the additional problem caused by the likelihood of schools closing in the near future, which will deprive many families of their support and the opportunity to collect documentation and other evidence to support appeals. 

Last modified on Thursday, 07 May 2020 16:29

The children of Delce Academy in Rochester have now hopefully reached a safe haven where they can learn towards a brighter future, after a dreadful time in this school run by the inept Castle Trust. The academy has now been re-brokered with the Inspire Partnership. The latter is a thriving primary Academy Trust which has successfully turned round the Elaine Primary School, also in Rochester, itself having had a torrid life under Medway Council and the now defunct Williamson Trust.

Delce Academy

The Castle Trust CEO, Karen White, who as head of Delce Junior School had previously spoken out passionately against the merging of Junior and Infant Schools led the school to a foolish decision to go into competition with its own linked Infant School. It did this by setting up its own Infant section, which unsurprisingly has failed to attract pupils given the poor reputation of the Junior section. In a previous article on Delce as it plunged into Special Measures down from Good,  I wrote 'My previous article portrays an arrogant Academy Trust and Junior School that have decided to extend into the Infant sector without the necessary skills'. Government has now decided Castle Trust's leadership was so awful it has re-brokered Delce, although the new Trust now has a challenge to sort out the school's contribution to provision in Rochester. 

Meanwhile the Barnsole Primary Trust in Medway appears to have ditched its CEO who, as Headteacher had led Barnsole Primary to its Ofsted Outstanding Status and regular powerful Key Stage Two results. However, both its mainstream schools have now plunged in terms of performance over the past two years. According to a statement, governors are looking for a way forward, probably with the eight primary school Maritime Academy Trust based in Greenwich.  

Although the two mainstream schools in the Barnsole Trust: Barnsole and  Bligh primaries, have performed well in the past, their 2019 Key Stage Two results were both disastrous. One can only speculate if this is what caused the CEO of Barnsole Primary Trust, 'to take time away from his role as CEO of the Trust',  leaving the Board to 'appoint Mr. Nick Osborne, CEO of Greenwich Maritime Trust, as interim CEO of Barnsole Primary Trust effective immediately'.  

Last modified on Friday, 17 April 2020 20:24
Thursday, 05 March 2020 16:14

Another Secondary Headteacher Bites the Dust

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Considerably Updated 6th March

There has been a spate of headteachers in recent years losing their jobs at short notice, often 'to pursue other interests', including last year when the head of The Archbishop's School in Canterbury departed after overseeing the decline of this once popular and successful school.  An Ofsted Report published recently sets out the historic problems at Archbishop's. Passing rapidly over Holcombe Academy in Chatham, that gets through at least one head a year most recently in January, amongst its many managerial changes, and High Weald Academy and Folkestone Academy that change with equal rapidity we come to: 

Kim Gunn, Principal of the 1,350 pupil Strood Academy for six years, who has also left suddenly 'to pursue new career opportunities;’ according to a brief four line paragraph  in a letter to parents yesterday. The two page letter is mainly devoted to describing a review of the school carried out by external consultants, one sentence of which records that ‘The principal and senior leaders have established a school ethos in which everyone is valued’.  Not necessarily! Otherwise, we are just treated to a few positive excerpts.  A day after the letter announcing her departure, she had been airbrushed out of the school website

Strood Academy

This sudden departure followed a short absence since half term. I suppose it could be connected with the disappointing GCSE results last summer, with Strood Academy eighth of the eleven Medway secondary schools in both Progress and Attainment, but doubt this. Strood Academy is now the Medway Hub school for the robust and acquisitive Leigh Academy Trust which  took over Medway's struggling Williamson Trust in 2018, so logically the Principal has oversight of all six local Leigh academies, including the historic Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School. It will also incorporate the new Leigh Academy Rainham planned to open in 2021, so the role is becoming increasingly challenging. When Ms Gunn became Principal, after five years as Head of School, it was as head of a single Academy in a different Trust, with Leigh Academies only taking it over in 2017.  Just 15 months after the Trust took on the Williamson Trust schools she has gone.  Does the Trust want a larger figure for the new role?  

Last modified on Sunday, 05 April 2020 19:30

This astonishing story was first reported in the Gravesend Messenger last week, and featured an incident that happened three years ago in which a child was repeatedly bullied and subjected to "incidents of a sexual nature'. The school's failure to deal with the matter appropriately has led to a rare Government Report on the matter. It was only brought to light after a crass decision by the school a fortnight ago, on an unrelated matter which encouraged the family concerned to take it to the media.

Last modified on Sunday, 02 February 2020 17:42

I posed the following education question on Radio Kent this morning to the five Tunbridge Wells candidates in the General Election:

Plans for a new six form entry non-selective school in TW have collapsed as no sponsor came forward to run it as a Free School. The three TW schools have each expanded by 60 pupils since the admission number set in 2018. In spite of this, girls from TW were allocated to High Weald Academy in Cranbrook and boys to Hayesbrook School in Tonbridge this year. For 2021-22 entry the latest KCC commissioning plan shows a shortfall of 6 forms of entry in TW. The land earmarked for the new school has been lost under government rules that state such land cannot be kept indefinitely. Suggestions?

Shockingly, not one of the candidates knew there was a problem, let alone the crisis that is currently upon local families looking for non-selective schools in TW. Several could only respond about the shortage of grammar school places, which is completely irrelevant to this crisis, or the abolition of selection at 11, with grammar schools not mentioned in any party manifesto. Conservative candidate, Greg Clarke, the previous Member who was also Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government, had never heard of the issue or the collapse of the land deal, although it is explicitly described in the KCC Schools Commissioning Plan for 2018-22 (below).  He suggested I must be mistaken! Several candidates talked of long term plans for expanding school places in general without reference to Tunbridge Wells, presumably from the magic money tree on offer from all sides. In no way does this solve the local problem of short and long term need described by KCC whose solution is: ‘the strategic response to this demand is a proposed 6FE expansion of an existing school or a new school from 2021-22’. This after each of the three local non-selective schools has increased their intakes for 2019 entry by 60 places since the Planned figure for 2018, with no sign of where the additional capacity is coming from.

In other words, don’t expect any help from whoever wins tomorrow!

Last modified on Friday, 13 December 2019 01:23

The following article may not be of direct interest to families but it identifies the chaos and machinations at the top of Turner Schools and as such I consider it is an important testimony. The consequences for schools operating under this chaotic level of leadership cannot be good.   

The mystery of the resignation of the Chairman of Directors and Founder of Turner Schools, Professor Carl Lygo, along with Dame Susan John and four other Directors continues to deepen in what appears to have been a meltdown amongst the Board of Directors back in  May. Amongst other developments below, the Trust has quietly announced the appointment of Mike Buchanan as the new Board Chairman in the middle of an article about building works, although completely forgetting to mention why another Chairman is needed, or to give any mention or credit anywhere to Professor Lygo, Dame Susan John, or Jenny King amongst others for their important contributions to the Trust.

TurnerSchools

Since I wrote my previous article, Folkestone Academy has had another set of poor GCSE results. Although it has improved on its record of awarding more than one in seven fixed term exclusions for the whole of Kent in 2017-18, the 2018-19 performance of being the third highest percentage in Kent is nothing to be proud of, nor are the high exclusion rates at Martello Primary and the Turner Free School. 2017-2018 had seen a mass exodus of staff, another large swathe going in July this year. Folkestone Academy has got through five headteachers since Turner Schools took over. Sixth form numbers have slumped, as has intake. The Trust has made multiple false claims about its ‘successes’ over the past two years to cover this record up. There is more to come before Christmas.

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 March 2020 22:04
Thursday, 22 August 2019 07:36

Delce Academy and the Strange Medway Commercial Loan

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The Delce Academy story continues to unfold, one of my correspondents having sent me a Medway Council Cabinet Meeting Minute from last year. This contains the astonishing information that the Council Cabinet appeared to approve a commercial loan to the Academy of £400,000 to fund capital expenditure on the installation of a four classroom block of modular buildings at the Academy for its new Infant provision which was never going to be financially  viable.

The provision would have seriously damaged the two Council run infant schools which feed into the Junior section of the school, if it were not for the appalling standards to which the academy has sunk under the leadership of the Castle Trust. It will still damage them if the school recovers under its new management, having been removed from the Castle Trust by the Regional Schools Commissioner, because of its poor performance.  Currently the arrangements have cast a cloud over the whole of the area with a decline of nearly 20% in the number of children joining these three local schools since before the new provision arrived.

Last modified on Saturday, 05 October 2019 19:17

Updated 21 August

Back in December, parents of Paddock Wood and Horsmonden Primaries were told that governors of the two schools were considering options for their future, including academisation, although the DFE website showed that applications to become  academies with the Leigh Academies Trust had already been submitted, and approved on 14th March this year.

There then followed five months of confusion and misinformation, with a Consultation ending on 3rd May nearly two months after the application had been approved, and culminating in the Chair of Governors and the CEO of the LAT launching factually incorrect attacks on KCC and Roger Gough, the Cabinet Member for Education at KCC. To date the only indication on the LAT website that either school is going to join the Trust is a brief comment by the Chief Executive in the Trust summer Newsletter, welcoming the two schools for September, although they do not even appear in the list of 'Forthcoming Academies'.  The primary schools are both too shy to mention it, possibly knowing the decision is not universally popular. 

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 September 2019 10:36

Following my two previous articles about the failings of those running Copperfield Academy and its predecessor school to provide an adequate education for the children of the school over too many years, I explored further the alarming position described in the most recent Ofsted Monitoring Report. This revealed that half the class teachers in the school were not qualified to teach, out of a total of 18 classes listed on the website and that: ‘the quality of teaching remains highly variable. This is further exacerbated by the high level of staff changes or staff who are absent’. The recent pattern of appointments is (presumably matched by an equivalent rate of resignations): 

Copperfield Academy, Gravesham
New Staff Appointed for 18 classes in September
Teachers
Appointed
Source Notes
2016 13 Ofsted 2016
5 NQT*, 6 teachers new
to English system
2017 11 Ofsted 2017
2018 5 School data
Ofsted 2019 describes staffing
changes as 'turbulent'
2019 10  Ofsted June 2019 planned, so likely to be more

 Note: * = Newly  Qualified Teacher

The whole amounts to a shocking rate of attrition of teachers, with the added tragedy that many of those leaving each year are no doubt being disillusioned by the experience and so have become a loss to a profession already suffering from the severe shortage of new entrants who stay the course.     

Accordingly, I submitted a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) to the REach 2 Academy Trust which runs Copperfield to find out the detail and received back a report of a different pattern of events as explained below, which put the school in a much better light. So, I followed it up and was told there was no discrepancy with the Ofsted comments in my first paragraph, which is untrue. One key admission  was that Higher Level Teaching Assistants or Learning Support Assistants who have been 'covering classes' during the year will return to their substantive roles in September (presuming of course that all the ten new appointments turn up). Sadly, I regularly get reports of other schools engaging in such practices with the result that children are not being provided with an adequate education. 

Last modified on Sunday, 14 July 2019 06:50
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