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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.

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. 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 Thursday, 08 April 2021 06:34
Monday, 15 March 2021 19:34

Halling Primary Update

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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

 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 Tuesday, 06 April 2021 18:52
Thursday, 04 March 2021 23:36

Halling Primary School – What is going on?

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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
Saturday, 21 November 2020 18:37

Griffin Schools Trust in Further Trouble

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Back in August, I wrote an article entitled 'Griffin Schools Trust: A Danger for Pupils?' about the Trust and one of its schools, Stantonbury International School in Milton Keynes. The school was at one time the second-largest in the country but has lost nearly a fifth of its pupil numbers since being taken over by Griffin.  The school had been placed in Special Measures in January following an absolutely disgraceful report by Ofsted which opens with: 'Many pupils do not feel safe attending this school. They feel intimidated by others’ conduct. Pupils are right to be concerned. Leaders have not been effective in managing pupils’ behaviour. It is increasingly rowdy and sometimes dangerous' and then gets worse.

Publication of the Report was delayed until June probably because of Covid. Subsequently, in view of the Ofsted finding which found the leadership and management, behaviour and attitudes and the quality of education at the Academy all inadequate, the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC)  sent a Minded to Terminate Letter to the Trust on 15th July. This spelt out that she 'needed to be satisfied that the Academy can achieve rapid and sustained improvement'. Clearly, the Trust response to this was also inadequate to the extent that the RSC issued a Termination Warning Notice six weeks later, on 28th August. It almost beggars belief that, even when the Trust was given warning of the RSC urgent requirements in the Minded to Terminate letter it failed so abysmally to meet them, as set out explicitly in the warning notice. This even followed two responses from the Trust to the RSC, the first being obviously inadequate as set out in the Warning. The incompetences included  'There has been a failure to "address the systemic failures in leadership, accountability, governance and monitoring" or to demonstrate how trust leadership would be improved'. although the arrogance that runs through the academy website suggests one of the inherent problems, as exemplified by my previous article.

The Warning Notice also outlines in stark terms the failures of Leadership across the Trust, which includes two other seriously underperforming secondary schools and three local Medway primary schools: Kingfisher, Lordswood and Saxon Way.

Last modified on Monday, 23 November 2020 00:21
Friday, 02 October 2020 18:50

Chatham Grammar: Desperate Advertising

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Update February 2021: The forecast of 200 students in the Sixth Form for September 2020 (below) was badly adrift. The figure according to the October census was just 134. 

What is wrong with the following?

CG Tuiton

 

Last modified on Monday, 19 April 2021 18:36
Monday, 21 September 2020 20:46

Coronavirus Ramblings

Written by
Update (1) 22nd September: Aylesford School is the first to send all pupils home (for three days whilst the school is being deep cleaned)
                   (2) More on Kent Test below  (and see comment)
I have previously refrained from commenting on general education issues relating to Coronavirus on this site, as you will find plenty elsewhere, and I have preferred to stick to matters relating to Kent and Medway. None of this stops me from sounding off here and elsewhere about my two major themes. The first is what a brilliant job the overwhelming majority of schools are doing in managing the consequences of the pandemic, especially headteachers and other leaders who appear to have worked tirelessly over the summer and subsequently to deliver the best they can. The second is the obverse of this, the self-evident incompetence of the Secretary of State for Education and his team as they shower schools with reams of often ill-thought-out instructions dressed up as advice, too often at the last minute, These often come along with attempts to blame their failings on others. 

I am fortunate that I have been given plenty of media time to express my feelings and frustrations, an opportunity not available to many of my followers on this site except by social media, where I do not participate. 

I have collected some of my thoughts below, still relating where possible to Kent and Medway, covering such items as the pressures on schools, Covid testing especially for teachers, bubbles, school transport, inevitably the Kent and Medway Tests, and the future of GCSE and A-Level. No doubt by the time I publish this, the content will be overtaken by events that jostle each other leaving no time for schools to take a breather, but I will be updating.

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 September 2020 23:51
Monday, 21 September 2020 06:37

Follow-Up to Park Crescent Academy, Margate

Written by

Update: An interesting Footnote for some of my followers.

The news Website Kent Live has reproduced much of my recent article on the problems with the new planned Park Crescent Academy in Thanet, along with a statement by Kent County Council supporting the project.

Park Crescent Academy

I look below at this statement which manages to completely ignore most of the concerns I have raised.

Last modified on Thursday, 01 October 2020 06:14

Kent County Council has announced details of the new Special School to be opened on the Isle of Sheppey in 2022, catering for children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) difficulties, including Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) and social communication difficulties. It will be run by the SABDEN Multi Academy Trust from East Sussex and will be built on Council owned land at the former Darnley Road Middle School site. It has been part of KCC planning for some years, meeting a real need in the area and will complement the new Aspire Special School, catering for primary aged children with ASD or speech, language and communication needs, which is opening in Sittingbourne in September. 

KCc applied for the new school under the government’s Wave 2 (Special School and Alternative Provision) back in October 2018, and this was approved in March 2019, as confirmed here, subject to a sponsor being agreed. It is included in Sunday’s government announcement of 35 new special schools, the sponsorship news being held back to follow the announcement. This originally stated that there would be three new schools in the South East, providing over 300 places for children with SEMH and ASD, although the statement was altered shortly afterwards to read 'four schools in the South East' rather than three.

The new school is classified as a Free School, and so needed a sponsor, KCC having selected the SABDEN Multi-Academy Trust. This appears a very good move, as SABDEN brings extensive relevant expertise and high standards to the task (see below). 21 of Kent's current 22 special schools are KCC controlled and so were not eligible to act as sponsors. The only special school amongst Kent’s many Academy Trusts is the Ofsted Outstanding all age Milestone Academy, part of the large Leigh Academy Trust, which will also run the new Snowfields Academy, a new special school in Maidstone, opening in September. However, the Trust was presumably not considered suitable for whatever reason. 

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 July 2020 06:27
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