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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.

Sunday, 05 April 2020 11:43

The Secret Headteacher

Written by
Revised 6th June
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 original 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".

There were 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 Wednesday, 02 December 2020 09:47
Tuesday, 17 March 2020 15:11

School Appeals and Coronavirus

Written by

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

Written by

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 Friday, 08 January 2021 07:25

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
Friday, 05 July 2019 07:12

Turner Schools: More Self Promotion

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The National Schools Commissioner (NSC), Dominic Herrington, recently paid a visit to Folkestone Academy, proudly announced on the Turner Schools Trust website, in yet another article expounding the school's brilliance, and explored below. Mr Herrington is also currently Regional Schools Commissioner for the South East so, although this is not mentioned, he may have come in that capacity. One can only speculate on the reasons for this unusual visit to a school which is part of a Trust recently described by several ex members of staff as being run like a personality cult ( You will find a profile of CEO Dr Jo Saxton with photographs from the TES back in October, centrally featured on the Trust's 'Latest' news items, displacing the NSC's visit). 

TurnerSchools

Was it that the National Commissioner wished to see at first hand the issues that Turner Schools have created at Folkestone Academy and the two primary schools of the Trust, as detailed in various articles on this website and summarised below; or was it to look at the way the largesse that has been lavishly showered on this small struggling Academy Trust has been used and why it was needed in the first place; or was it the false claims of a severe shortage of places across Folkestone and Hythe in five years’ time in this article grandly entitled 'How Turner Schools is helping Kent meet the growing secondary school population'.

Overall, the Turner Schools website appears specifically designed to impress important people rather than target the population of Folkestone with children considering secondary school places. 

Last modified on Monday, 07 October 2019 10:48

The headteacher of the Foundation Archbishop’s School, Canterbury, has stood down from his post with effect from June 14th, after several years of decline in a school that was until recently one of the most oversubscribed in the county. The number of first choices for the school has nearly halved over the past two years, falling from 125 to 64  applicants for its 140 places. The 38 spaces left unfilled were taken up by Local Authority Allocations (LAA) to the school in 2019, being children who did not apply for it but were awarded no school of their choice. This is over half of the total LAAs in Canterbury District, where not a single place was left vacant before successful grammar school appeals, which will have freed some up in non-selective schools. 

Archbishops

GCSE performance placed the school in the bottom half of Kent non-selective schools for the key measure Progress 8 for the past three years, and well below the much stronger outcomes in 2015 and previously. . This was for a cohort that was strongly selective for most children in Year Seven, in terms of Church Membership, with the remaining 10% of pupils highest performers from a test of ability.

Last modified on Sunday, 23 June 2019 19:54

Update: See follow-up article here

Ofsted has released a remarkable Monitoring Inspection Report describing a strong performance at the failed Copperfield Academy (published only by the school at the time of writing but not yet generally released). However, it raises more questions than it answers, suggesting how a Trust might manipulate the system.

First, bring in a 'Super Head' and two Acting Deputies as the senior leadership team, to carry out a short term fix, who will then then no doubt depart to another troubleshooting exercise, as the REAch2 Trust tried  previously in 2016 at the same school. Secondly, make sure there are persons in front of each class to teach.

My previous article, which looked at the shocking failings of the Copperfield Academy and REAch2 in some detail, identified the massive turnover of teachers and headteachers as the central issue during the Trust's six years in charge, spelled out in full below. This is an issue which still continues, as incidentally revealed by the Report in a throwaway comment.    

The Report reveals that half the current teaching staff are not qualified to teach and that the Monitoring Inspection found: ’the quality of teaching remains highly variable. This is further exacerbated by the high level of staff changes or staff who are absent’. So, there are still staff changes going on mid-year as the inspection was taking place. In some schools absentee teachers are not unusual feature when Ofsted is coming in, with Trusts being known to ship in experienced staff from other Trust establishments for the period to cover the gaps.

Last modified on Monday, 15 July 2019 07:41

You will find a follow up article on a book to be published describing falsely., the 'experiences' of Ms Colwell at Ebbsfleet, here

Today’s Sunday Times has a feature article on the departure of one of the most confrontational ( the ST describes her as 'visionary') heads in Kent from Ebbsfleet Academy, a school with one of the highest proportions of children leaving for Home Education in the county (top in 2016-7 with 4.1% of families removing their children from the school mid-course) and, for the whole of her time at the school, one of the highest vacancy rates of any secondary school in Kent, partially covered up by some of the highest number of Local Authority Allocations (children placed who did not apply to the school – 83 this summer!). No other Dartford school has any vacancies, or spaces for LAAs. 

Ebbsfleet Academy

She makes a damning indictment of the behaviour of parents from the ‘white working class’ who are unable to cope with the fierce discipline characteristic of the three schools who form what I call the ‘Tough Love Academies of Kent. She makes no reference to any other parents, presumably happy to tar all families with the same brush. The Tough Love academies all exhibit similar negative outcomes from their philosophy, and then appear to think that more of the same will solve the problem they have created. Home Education, which is not the solution, has been suggested by Ebbsfleet to some families in what is called ‘off-rolling’, the implication being that it is encouraged to improve examination results by removing lower performing pupils.   

In spite of its claims to high  academic performance, the school came 45th out of 68 non-selective schools in Kent,  in the government's preferred measure of performance, Progress 8. 

Last modified on Monday, 14 December 2020 17:35

Towards the end of last term, I spent a morning by invitation at King’s Farm Primary School, situated in a socially deprived part of Gravesend, where I witnessed the results of a transformation in the fortunes of the school and its pupils. The school had previously been taken to the depths following a disastrous period of management by an Academy Trust,. However, under the leadership of an inspiring and totally committed headteacher, as part of the Cedar Federation along with the neighbouring Ifield School, it worked its way back to Ofsted ‘Good’ in 2018, in just four years.

Kings Farm 3

I previously became a governor of the school when it was adopted by Ifield and so have been privileged to watch this transformation in terms of ethos, outcomes, discipline, parental support and happiness. 

Last modified on Thursday, 16 April 2020 19:21
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