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.
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!
Many non-selective schools boast a grammar stream, but Mr Karnavas has forged a unique and close relationship with the local Simon Langton Boys’ Grammar, putting any reservations behind him in the interests of his children to create a real comprehensive opportunity, led by a seconded SLGSB Deputy Head,and which now extends into the Sixth Form of over 600 pupils. This is a remarkable story in itself, as explained here, with around 50 grammar school pupils joining the Sixth Form each year, along with large numbers from other schools. At the other end of the spectrum, the City and Coastal College offers an astonishing Alternative Curriculum Provision across the whole District, which attracts nothing like the attention its innovative and extensive range of qualifications and engagement programmes deserves, in sharp contrast to the poor offerings in some other parts of the county. It also offers a home for the Local Youth Service.
In his time as headteacher, Phil Karnavas has trodden on many toes in his determination to do everything in his power for ALL children. In his mind the oft repeated words ‘comprehensive education’ means so much more than the conventional term. In all my years of reporting on schools for parents I have seen nothing like the recent amazingly powerful Ofsted Report, which I describe here. This is surely Outstanding to all but the bean-counters back at Ofsted who require rigid criteria to accommodate their limited understanding of what a great school truly delivers.
For some in authority, including Ofsted in a bizarre attack two years ago, he is still falsely blamed for the demise of the Chaucer Academy in 2015, badly run, badly governed, badly overseen by KCC and badly failing its students, as explained in a number of articles on this website, including what has been by far the most read news item I have ever published. The truth of the matter is that Mr Karnavas expanded his school at the time and at short notice to provide a home for many children who would otherwise have been exposed to the appalling standards then on offer at Chaucer.
Mr Karnavas’ final letter (almost) concludes with :
|‘Je ne regrette rien’ except that I wish I could have done more. The Academy is based upon some simple ideas. Education is about opportunity, ‘as much as possible, as often as possible, for as many as possible’, which is provided on a university style campus for children offering ‘cradle to grave’ learning based upon academic excellence, excellence in sport, excellence in the performing arts and excellence in practical learning. The campus is a magnificent educational provision. All children are good at something. Academic achievement is important but there are also other important forms of achievement. Education should be inclusive and every child should matter. The Academy belongs to its children and its community.
The Canterbury Academy could be seen as a monument to an outstanding character and educationist, except that it is a living and thriving entity, now as I am sure it will be in the future. Sadly, Mr Karnavas is unlikely to be given full credit for these and his many other achievements, because this uncompromising belief in what is best for all students appears to have little place in modern education (sic).