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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.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018 11:00

Tax Avoidance by Some Academy Leaders

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I suspect that school teachers, who are employees of schools or Academy Trusts aren’t usually in the business of tax avoidance. As a result the following, relating to one of the highest paid leaders of a Kent Academy Trust in the county, caught my eye.

The leader in question has arranged his contributions to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme to be paid in blocks of five months in the scheme, then withdraw for five months, then renew, the pattern to be replicated indefinitely. I am not privy to the rationale for this, but the tax consultant who advised senior leaders of the trust, at cost to the Trust itself, clearly considers this advantageous.

Whilst he is assured this is legal, as to the moral use of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme in a way it is clearly not intended, I leave it to others to judge.

I also wonder how the teachers in the Trust view his actions. Teachers in state schools in England have been subject to a cap on annual pay increases, initially of 0% and then 1%, which has been in place since 2010. There are no tax reduction arrangements for those on the front line, as the gap between their salaries and those of their leaders gets ever wider year on year, as my previous article shows. This manipulation of tax schemes not available to the classroom teacher,  increases the gap even more.

Last modified on Wednesday, 14 March 2018 20:47
Saturday, 10 March 2018 20:43

Hartsdown: A Tough Love Academy

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 Hartsdown Academy has featured in national and local media after it placed the following job advertisement

Excerpt from Original Hartsdown Job Advert in the Guardian (rapidly replaced but still on the Internet)

What does our Science Department need?
Hartsdown Academy needs a Department Head to rebuild its Science Department.  Results are well below expectations and teaching has been poor. As a result, the attitude of students towards the subject has diminished, resulting in disappointing behaviour for learning. The Department effectively requires special measures.

The advert continues with such selling points as: ‘Margate is on the margins of English society, both culturally and economically – as well as geographically’. As one of Kent’s three ‘Tough Love Academies’, it is difficult to match ‘Hartsdown is a beautifully inclusive school and I am immensely proud of the care the school takes over every single child’ from the advert, with the robust disciplinary action on minor infringements that has attracted bad publicity ever since the headteacher was appointed. This has made the school so unpopular with families, leading to the second lowest proportion of first preferences for admission at any school in the county, and the highest number of children abandoning the school for Elective Home Education. 

Hartsdown Academy

One wonders how the headteacher would describe the remainder of the school’s teaching, which provides by some way the lowest examination performance in Kent across the board. Is science really so much worse than the other subjects? Perhaps instead of condemning his teachers as indeed he has publicly condemned many pupils and their families coming from possibly the most deprived District in Kent, he should reflect and try a different approach.

Last modified on Monday, 12 March 2018 20:42
Tuesday, 27 February 2018 20:07

Website Review of the Year 2017

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I have published 72 news items on this website in 2017, almost exclusively about education issues in Kent and Medway. This article has been somewhat delayed as other matters have intervened. The website continues to be unique in the country, offering a fully independent take on state education matters in the two Local Authorities. 

In total there have been 106,810 different browsers on the site, making up a total of 168,222 visitors. The most popular item attracted 26,823 visitors countrywide and sparked off a national news story which changed attitudes in schools across England. You will find links to the ten most popular stories below, featuring four major scandals, five articles reporting on admission and Test data, and one with a family connection. I have 958 subscribers who have linked by email and, although I find it difficult to comprehend, 10,790 subscribers by RSS, the vast majority based in England, further details below.

Since the website was reorganised into its current format in 2010, the most popular pages have been predominantly from the Information Section, accessed to the right hand side of this article, headed by Kent Grammar School Applications with 294,251 hits. It is followed by Kent Secondary School Admissions with 139,240 hits, both being updated on an annual basis. These are followed by a listing of Kent Special Schools and Units which, until a few years ago, wasthe only comprehensive source of such information but now, like too many other pages, in need of updating. 

More details on all these matters, and others, below. A number of the items covered in last year’s Review also continue to be headlined.

Last modified on Tuesday, 21 January 2020 18:00
Thursday, 22 February 2018 16:40

Barton Court Grammar: Another Bid for a coastal Annexe?

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Update: No Kent grammar schools were successful in the 2019 Round for grammar school expansions. 

A Freedom of Information Request to the Department for Education has discovered that three grammar schools have made enquiries about opening possible annexes in the past year, one of which is the mixed Barton Court Grammar in Canterbury.

Barton Court

With the new Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds signalling his ‘enthusiastic’ support for grammar and faith school expansion, this now looks very much on the agenda.

I have followed the Barton Court proposals closely and commented on them for some years,  proposals which date back to the 1980’s when KCC planned to move the whole school to the coast. A satellite provision in Herne Bay was proposed in 2013, followed by a proposal to shift the whole school, which was dropped in the face of opposition by parents.

In the case of Faith Schools, the proposition is to remove the current requirement to remove the 50% maximum bar on faith children being removed. The Roman Catholic Church is currently refusing to sponsor new Free Schools whilst it is in place and it may be that Mr Hinds, a Catholic himself, has a different take on the consequent issues. 

Last modified on Sunday, 29 March 2020 07:53
Wednesday, 03 January 2018 07:24

Grammar School numbers increase: BBC News Item

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BBC Grammar Parent Power 

Note: This article has been revised because of updated data. 

The BBC has published an analysis of grammar school pupil numbers, that seeks to show the proportion of pupils in grammar schools rising whilst overall secondary numbers in areas with grammar schools have fallen, linking this to ‘parental power’.

This may be true nationally, but a closer analysis of Kent figures shows a different picture, with the number of Year 7 children admitted to all Kent mainstream schools rising by 12.0% between 2012 and 2017, and the number of Year 7 grammar admissions up by 11.7%. Over the same period the proportion of children of compulsory school age in Kent grammar schools has increased by 1.4% to 31.7%. The number of grammar school places officially provided increased by 6.3%, although many schools took in above their Planned Admission Number as a deliberate policy or after admission appeals. 

Whilst there were 31.7% of Year 7 children in Kent schools attending grammars in October 2017 (school census), against a target of 25% and up slightly from 30.3% in 2012, this increase over the target has little to do with the operation of the Kent selection process, that delivered 25.4% of the cohort for entry in September 2017, as explained in my analysis of Kent Test results. 

There are four specific reasons for this increase as explained below, and I am sure there are rational local circumstances behind many of the other expansions featured in the BBC article. 

Last modified on Thursday, 30 August 2018 23:42
Tuesday, 02 January 2018 18:02

Phil Karnavas: One of the Great Heads Retires

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Phil Karnavas who has been one of the great maverick characters of education in Kent for many years, a breed sadly fast declining in the drive towards playing safe, has retired as Executive Principal of Canterbury Academy after 27 years at the school. A fearsome opponent of grammar schools, Multi Academy chains, and the weaknesses of Ofsted, he was a pragmatist who took whatever steps necessary to benefit the pupils in his care. 
Phil Karnavas
Mr Karnavas' final Newsletter to parents is typical of his utterly uncompromising style, but begins with a factual description of the estate since Canterbury High School became an academy in 2010 under Phil’s leadership:The Canterbury Multi Academy Trust now has an annual turnover of nearly £14,000,000. It employs nearly 300 people (one of Canterbury’s biggest employers). It oversees City View Nurseries Ltd; The Canterbury Primary School; The Cavendish ASD primary provision; The Canterbury High School; The Speech & Language Facility; the largest non-selective sixth form in Kent/Medway and is one of the largest of all schools (attracting many grammar school transfers in). It provides exceptional programmes for post-16 performing arts and sport; The Peter Jones Enterprise Academy; The City & Coastal College with programmes of study for 14-16 years olds in the area, who otherwise would have been permanently excluded by their schools; The Canterbury Youth Commission; and works with Adult Education. It is responsible for over 2000 children.
The Academy website, the most informative and imaginative of the many I have consulted, goes into further detail about the many highly successful innovations Mr Karnavas has introduced since the school became an academy. His unique departing letter is well worth reading, expressing his views and values in words that need and deserve a much wider audience, including the following:

Academies and free schools, of themselves don’t make any difference to standards or education. They are just a different organisational, business and financial model which is nothing other than a policy of centralising power, denuding local authorities …. Academies have nothing to do with the local authority. They are under the control of the secretary of state through an organisation most people are unaware of (The Office of the Regional Commission) which is managed by individuals most people have never heard of. Parents and local communities are marginalised as academies are fundamentally unaccountable. Large academy chains may offer economies of scale but they may do nothing to serve the local community if they are not based in, or part of, it. Irrespective of what one may have thought about the efficiency and effectiveness of local education authorities they did at least have a commitment to their communities and were, however imperfectly, accountable to them”.

There is plenty more on a number of themes where this came from!

Last modified on Thursday, 04 January 2018 09:57

Patrick Leeson, Corporate Director of KCC’s Education and Children Services Directorate, retired from his post at the end of November. He has been succeeded in a revised role by Matt Dunckley CBE, who has become Corporate Director Children, Young People and Education.

Patrcik Leeson 2        Mat Dunckley

What follows is a brief look at Mr Leeson’s time with KCC, together with a summary of the background of Mr Dunckley.....

Last modified on Monday, 18 December 2017 20:21

Having been away on holiday for the past fortnight, I have previously been unable to comment on the sad closure of Kent on Sunday at the end of November as ‘it was no longer economically viable’.

Of particular interest to me and many browsers of this website was its focus on education as, often in conjunction with myself, it ran many educational stories in depth and conducted important campaigns.  

For KOS has surely been exceptional for a local free paper, in its willingness to provide such detail in its stories and campaigns, being prepared to devote up to three pages of news, analysis and political insight to an issue for the thoughtful reader, rather than go with the fleeting headline for those with a low attention span. Perhaps that has been its downfall but, on the way it has secured many prestigious newspaper awards, being the first free paper to win London and SE Regional Newspaper of the Year, UK Free Weekly Newspaper of the Year (six times) and, most recently in 2014, Regional Free Newspaper of the Year again.....

Last modified on Sunday, 11 March 2018 16:48
Tuesday, 14 November 2017 23:31

Financial Crisis in Schools

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I was asked by the KMTV online TV station this evening to comment on the letter written by 5000 headteachers to government asking for more funding to meet the current crisis. An article on the BBC News website sets out the background and summary of the letter here

You will find my interview here

Last modified on Wednesday, 15 November 2017 12:58

Earlier this evening I was part of an item on BBC SE criticising St John Fisher Catholic School in Chatham, which had put up charts in public view with photographs of all Year 11 pupils on Friday, along with their academic performance and illustrated by large emojis to show how they were progressing.

St John Fisher 

This was intended as a motivational scheme, but there for all to see it would inevitably be humiliating for those at the bottom of the pile (the reason so many universities have scrapped posting lists of results). For a church school it is shocking to see the disrespect it showed to those pupils.

The school had a mountain to climb after finishing as bottom school in Medway at GCSE in both Progress and Achievement league tables in 2016, being the least popular school in Medway for admissions by several criteria, and an Ofsted Report close to Special Measures in March. However there are clear signs that the new headteacher, appointed in September 2016, is turning the school round, including solid GCSE results this summer.  

This tactic is just a step too far, and the school has rightly removed the boards today.

Last modified on Thursday, 23 November 2017 00:19

The recent ‘Good’ OFSTED Report on The Canterbury Academy is one of the most astonishing I have ever read, with most findings meeting an ‘Outstanding’ criterion, and some going beyond this. There are criticisms, but the Report drips with compliments.

Canterbury Academy 

Amongst the headlines:
The executive and senior leaders and the board of directors could not be more determined to give all pupils and students the best possible education and confidence in their futures.
The curriculum, facilities and resources are outstanding, and the choice of subjects is exceptionally varied and rich.
The school offers a grammar stream for the most able pupils in Years 7 to 11, and also provides highly effective education for pupils who struggle in mainstream education or academic work.
Staff enjoy working at the school and their morale is high. The mutual respect between them, and pupils and students, contributes to the cheerful and productive atmosphere.
In the large and successful sixth form, excellence flourishes in the performing arts, sports and practical learning.
Almost all the parents who added written comments to their questionnaires praised the school in glowing terms.
It is the excellent, thoughtful care, support and kindness which many senior leaders and support staff provide which underpins pupils being happy and feeling safe.
The proportions of Year 11 pupils and sixth form students proceeding into education, employment, training or work are well above those seen nationally.....
Last modified on Tuesday, 07 November 2017 20:36

Update 3rd November: I hadn't looked in detail at the weekly Report by Patrick Leeson, Kent's Corporate Director,Children, Young People and Education, of 10th October on Permanent Exclusions  in Kent when I wrote this article. This provides some more up to date exclusion figures, but clearly identifies the major problem area as North West Kent at both primary and secondary levels. It makes no reference to the alternative methods of off-rolling covered below, and it would be good to see something on these in the future, which would also bring Swale into the picture. 

I gave an interview yesterday morning for West Midlands Radio on the recent rapid rise in permanent exclusions in their area, up by 50% over the past five years. This followed up on a previous series of interviews I gave to Local Radio Stations last year.

I was of course able to draw on data from the smaller Local Authority in our area, which saw a 50% increase in permanent exclusions in just one year, from 2014/15 – 2015/6. This was accompanied by a parallel 58% increase in families ‘electing’ to have their children Home Educated.

I was also fortunate to be able to draw on a recent Report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), setting out some of the concerns I have spelled out in previous articles on this website. This article covers and expands on the content of my interview. 

The article concludes with a brief look at the great unknown, children who simply disappear from the records. 

Last modified on Saturday, 04 November 2017 19:39

Update 7 July: Four weeks ago Medway Council was issued with an Enforcement Notice by the Information Commissioner's Office following its failures 'to  take  appropriate  organisational measures against the unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data' such that 'the likelihood of distress to the data  controller's  data  subjects is self-evident'. This follows warnings of failure in process in 2014 and 2015. See below- what a shambles! 

For over two months I have been trying to obtain an update on the appalling 2014-15 figures for Medway school permanent exclusions, together with numbers of children on Elective Home Education. According to government figures there were 55 secondary exclusions that year, the highest rate in the South East of England, and the 14th worst in the country. Compare this with the 57 in Kent, a county six times as large.


Ten days ago I wrote an article about Medway Council’s decision to ignore my two Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for up to date figures, causing me to request an Internal Review of the situation. I have now received a superficial and implausible explanation of events from Gayle Jones, Information Governance Manager for Medway Council reporting on the ‘Internal Review’, which only manages to compound the Authority failures. This was accompanied by ‘Final’ replies to my FOIs which seek to hide the information through vague references to ‘data protection’, even when there could be no valid justification. Not one of the six questions I put is properly answered.

Hundred of Hoo

The stupidest response is to deny me information on the grounds that it has been sent to Government who now own it, and it is to government I must go to find a response! If this decision were to be upheld by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), to whom I have now complained, then Councils up and down the land could apply this exemption widely and conveniently to hide information. Presumably if the data is no longer Council property, it cannot be reported to Medway Councillors as such! However, you will also find the silliest response below.

The whole looks as if it was dashed off to provide a trite and contemptuous dismissal of my concerns and enquiries without any attempt to review or check the facts, by someone who simply did not care, except to hide embarrassing figures. Surely not the role of an Internal Reviewer.

Last modified on Sunday, 11 February 2018 20:13
Wednesday, 21 June 2017 15:01

What Can I do about Medway Council? Part Three

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As regularly browsers of this site may have seen, I have taken a particular interest in the number of children choosing. or being encouraged to leave school for. Elective Home Education (EHE) and those which have been excluded. This is in conjunction with data about children with SEN Statements, or the replacement Education Health Care Plans, who had been permanently excluded or taken up EHE.

On 25th April, I sent Freedom of Information Requests (FOI) to both Kent and Medway Councils seeking the relevant information. This enables me to produce articles picking up issues for the benefit of families.  There was no problem in Kent and as a result I have been able to highlight schools that appear to be abusing the procedures. However, the complete lack of response from Medway means I have now had to ask for an Internal Review of their failure to provide the information, in spite of three separate requests for each FOI which have all been ignored. This is the last formal step before a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which will take up an inordinate amount of Council time.  

The requests appear to be quite straightforward (reproduced below), as all the information should be on the Council’s data-base, so I can only assume they are trying to hide something in the data. This was certainly the case with the previous complaint I took to the ICO about Medway Council (and won!). There is a possible alternative that that they simply don’t care.


What a total waste of everyone’s time, but clearly the Council finds it easier to spend its time on holding Internal Reviews to keep officers occupied rather than ‘Serving You’, their trite but false slogan as confirmed by so many articles on this site.…

Last modified on Thursday, 22 June 2017 07:31

You will find numerous articles elsewhere in this website, most recently here, on the notorious Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust which had its schools removed by the Regional Schools Commissioner at Christmas, a probable multi-million pound deficit carried over from 2014/15 being absorbed by government, although the 2016 Accounts are now well overdue.

The Education Funding Agency launched an Investigation into the affairs of Lilac Sky, but efforts by myself and the Schoolsweek blog to discover its outcome have been blocked.

Lilac Sky Schools Limited took over a small private primary school in Croydon last summer, the Virgo Fidelis Preparatory School, as explained here, and changed its name and that of the company to Henriette Le Forestier. Comments at the foot of my article contain examples of the many concerns expressed to me by parents who sought out this site looking for answers. These concerns have proved to be fully justified, as the school has closed this week, and the company placed into voluntary liquidation, owing another £917,000.

Amongst other casualties of the system, is Knockhall Academy near Dartford a previous Lilac Sky Academies in Kent and its children. 

Last modified on Wednesday, 07 June 2017 19:03
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