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Monday, 11 December 2017 14:37

Retirement of Mr Patrick Leeson as head of Kent Education & Children's Services Directorate

Written by

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.....

Patrick Leeson
This is very much a personal and selective look at aspects of Mr Leeson’s time in Kent. In any case, as one who does not work for KCC, I only see a partial picture of events on which I can comment. 

Mr Leeson was appointed to Kent in 2011, from his previous role as Director, Development, Education and Care for OFSTED, bringing experience that has been central to his work here. Before that he was Director of Learning and Children's Services at the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames and from these two positions brought an outstanding skills range for his leadership of education in Kent County Council, the largest Local Authority in the country. He is I think widely acknowledged to be by some way the best of at least the four most recent Kent Chief Education Officers. 

In an interview shortly after his appointment, he said: " My main job is to ensure that standards are good and children get better outcomes. Standards are good in secondary schools and most are either good or outstanding, which is great. But there are not enough good or outstanding primary schools. That's a key issue". An article I wrote at the time, underlines the depth of the then problem with Kent primary schools achieving just 42% Good or Outstanding OFSTED outcomes in the previous 18 months, compared with a national figure of 52%. In the six years post, his personal commitment to this task and his achievement in meeting it have been outstanding, with Kent primary schools achieving 85% Good or Outstanding schools for inspections in 2016-17, compared to a national average of 78% over the same period, whilst secondary schools, both selective and non-selective, have retained their strong position, with 80% of non-selective schools assessed as ‘Good’, almost equaling the national average for all schools of 82%. Unfortunately, because of a misreading of the data, presumably by his staff, Mr Leeson reports this as: 'of the 51 schools inspected in the last school year 61% were judged to be good or outstanding, and 37% were rated as requiring improvement. This rate was lower than the previous year when 72% were judged to be good or better', with a refusal by KCC to correct the error to the correct, much better outcome I have identified.

He has had to overcome enormous obstacles, primarily the rapid expansion of academies in Kent, to a total of 84% of all secondary schools, and 33% of primaries, who have chosen or been forced to change status for a variety of reasons. These include many stronger schools who made the move because they believe they are best able to manage their own affairs, or chased the money, or because they were dissatisfied with the service offered by KCC. Others have been forced to become academies because of their poor standards whilst under KCC control, including many of the 58% who Required Improvement or were found Inadequate by OFSTED from 2011 onward. As a result KCC has lost any control of a large swathe of the education sector, and is only able to operate by influence or persuasion with those academies that are willing to co-operate.

A powerful tool in his armoury has been the setting up of the Kent Association of Headteachers bringing all heads who wished to be involved together, to inform policy amongst other roles. Apart from an initial short-term disastrous leader, he has been extremely fortunate or alternatively skilled in recruiting the next two chairs who have presided over the organisation, Christine Gilbert CBE, after retiring as Head of OFSTED, followed by Pam Jones, OBE, an outstanding Executive Headteacher of the excellent Cedar Federation of schools, with a strong personal commitment to KCC.

We have also seen much greater openness under Mr Leeson’s leadership, although some KCC officers still too often ‘know best’ when hiding unhelpful matters, not yet having come to terms with the fact that the balance of power has changed.  

It is no secret that Mr Leeson and a number of his senior officers dislike me, primarily I believe because of my record in exposing aspects of KCC mismanagement that have led to damage to children’s education and teachers’ careers; see comments below! Probably the two most public examples of this are the Lilac Sky and Furness School scandal and the disappearing heads’ scandal, both described extensively elsewhere on this site. Also see comments below. One comment records how Education 101, Lilac Sky was allowed to advertise at the recent Kent Education Expo Conference. Surely KCC knows that Education 101 is the new name for Lilac Sky, still being promoted by the County after all the damage they have caused in Kent. 

Matt Dunckley, CBE
Mr Dunckley  was awarded a CBE in the 2014 New Years Honours List for Services to Children and Families shortly after moving to Australia, having left East Sussex where he had been Director of Children’s Services for eight years, and with the Authority for 21 years in total. It was during this time that he became President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) for 2011-2012. He spent the next three  as Department of Education and Training Director for the South West Region of Victoria State, Australia, before taking up his most recent post as Interim Director of the highly controversial Norfolk County Council’s Children Services Department in February 2017. This was a Department which has been the subject of a series of Private Eye exposés dating back years, and which had been rated as Inadequate since 2013. The most recent OFSTED Monitoring Report in June this year reports considerable improvement since Mr Dunckley arrived, although scandals continue to be reported in Private Eye.
He became Corporate Director Children, Young People and Education for Kent County Council at the end of November, 2017, following through the Directorate's key priorities for 2016/17. These are to:

Continue the integration of Children Young People and Education (CYPE) Services

Implement new High Needs funding model and the National Funding Formula changes to school funding

Establish the Education Services Company in April 2018 as a new model for delivery of services

Continue to deliver the needed school places and broker sponsors for new schools

Improve access to CAMHS to provide timely support to children with mental health issues

Continue to develop proposals for LA supported local multi-academy trusts

Close the attainment gaps for disadvantaged pupils and further reduce NEETs

Address the recommendations in the ‘good’ Ofsted Inspection report of Children’s Early Help and Social Care Services

Reduce demand on social care by achieving more through Early Help.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that whilst the Directorate's education responsibilities continue to shrink with the onward march of academisation, the work of Children's Services is becoming increasingly pressing. This is of course all taking place within a shrinking budget for Local Authorities. 

Read 5086 times Last modified on Monday, 18 December 2017 20:21


  • Comment Link Thursday, 12 July 2018 11:04 posted by Terry

    Leeson is now Chairman of The Education People. More of which here PETER: What a pity. There is a logic to the proposition, but this damages it with 'jobs for the boys'.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 20 December 2017 22:58 posted by Ex-Chaucer parent

    And don't forget Chaucer closed under Leeson's term of office after KCC allowed poor governance, poor finance and poor leadership to drive it into the ground. However, to be fair, it took Swale Academy Trust to close it. PETER: I think that is the last of the great disasters for KCC that have occurred under Mr Leeson's leadership. There may of course be others I have overlooked or did not know about, but let us not lose sight of the good things accomplished during his leadership, identified above.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 20 December 2017 00:04 posted by Disillusioned Kent Teacher

    What is the difference between a good education administrator and a good teacher? Answer: the first is keen to meet his financial and numerical targets if possible without meeting children who would get in the way, and to run a cost efficient system. The second is committed to offering the best education possible for every child who he seeks to know well, within an effective system if possible.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 19 December 2017 23:53 posted by Carer

    I could wish Mr Leeson a happy and carefree retirement. However, I will have no time as I am now a full time carer for my disabled son whose education ground to a halt after KCC and Lilac Sky finished off the troubled Furness School. I doubt if I shall have a carefree time in the rest of my life, caring for him full-time. PETER: They may not apologise or care for the deceit and incompetence that finished off the school, but I am so sorry for this.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 16 December 2017 23:19 posted by Alan

    Still trying to understand the purpose of Patrick Leeson deliberately giving Ofsted figures below the truth, as stated in your article. Is it to give his successor a leg up? PETER: I wrote to him personally twice and pointed this out. The first time, I received the explanation that Short Inspections had been omitted from the calculations. When I pointed out that OFSTED include them, I had no further response. I would have thought they would want to correct the mistake which shows KCC schools in a bad light.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 16 December 2017 19:50 posted by Richard Martin

    It is clear from the comments below and other teachers' experience that you, Peter, have let Patrick Leeson off lightly. Normally you write without fear or favour. Why? PETER: You may be right. I initially prepared a more balanced article, but then decided to focus on Mr Leeson's achievements, on his retirement.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 16 December 2017 19:43 posted by Bitter Ex-teacher at Whitehill - Driven Out.

    Certainly the bullying culture of Kent Education has eased since KCC sacrificed its key hit man - see 'Disappearing Heads', above. He went off as a consultant to Whitehill Primary School, a victim along with Kings Farm Primary of Gravesend Grammar School's Academy Trust. See numerous articles on this site. However, KCC failed to act, advised by the hit man, who was especially close to Whitehill School. As with previous comments, no one, least of all Mr Leeson, has apologized for the many staff driven out, careers and in some cases lives, in ruins, nor for the numerous children at Kings Farm, nor for allowing matters to get to this stage, under the management of KCC led by Mr Leeson. PETER: Difficult to know what if anything, to add.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 16 December 2017 11:08 posted by Simon Langton Girls parents

    Peter; it is our belief that Mr Leeson's personal intervention in the Simon Langton Girls scandal, only deepened the difficulties. This was exemplified by his being able to spare the time to run a training session for governors on a Conference at the height of the controversy, making clear his position whilst other officers were still investigating. PETER: I can't argue with this, as I found it difficult at the time to understand why he showed such public support for a headteacher who subsequently had to be forced out when her position became untenable. As an investigator, he should have stayed neutral.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 16 December 2017 10:46 posted by John Ridgeway

    Why have we never seen an apology form Kent County Council or its Director of Education for their totally misguided support for Lilac Sky This was agaisnt convincing evidence not least on this website they should have looked for if using due diligence? PETER: I think its a matter of principle that KCC never apologises when it has screwed up children's education.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 13 December 2017 20:05 posted by Knockhall Parent

    Knockhall Primary destroyed under the care of Lilac Sky - Leeson's favourite MAT. It still hasn't recovered. Does he have a message for all the children whose life chances were damaged on his watch? PETER: I agree, but these were not alone. You may wish to try:

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 13 December 2017 19:35 posted by Broken headteacher

    Peter, how could you let him off so lightly after he allowed or 'encouraged' a rogue officer to destroy headteachers' careers and lives after many years of good service to Kent children. I was one of those humiliated and marched out of my school publicly although KCC acknowledged he had no right to behave like that. It broke me - perhaps I should have been stronger - I still suffer from depression, am on medication and have not worked since. Those who want to know the damage that KCC caused should follow the link above. Thanks Mr Leeson i don't think. PETER: I apologise unreservedly; I know several similar cases personally, but was trying to go for balance. I may well have failed.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 13 December 2017 16:54 posted by Trevor Pavement

    The same Mr Leeson who has criticised Lilac Sky Schools but failed to stop them canvassing at his department's own EduKent conference in November under their new guise of Education 101. Great oversight as ever. PETER: It is only occasionally that words fail me. This is one of those.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 12 December 2017 23:26 posted by KCC Education Officer

    You say that: "It is no secret that Mr Leeson and a number of his senior officers dislike me". That is putting it mildly. They hate your independent take on school analysis, wanting to control information to the public. I am one of your many grateful subscribers in order to find out what is really happening around me.

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