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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.

My previous article on ‘Tough Love Academies’ sets out some of the background and there is no doubt that teaching at Hartsdown is a challenge, for the original job advert does not mince its words:

I am immensely proud of the care the school takes over every single child – many of whom come from extremely challenging backgrounds. 27% of our students are EAL, with 10% Roma. Margate has become a bridge head for eastern European immigration and Hartsdown has specialised in integrating unaccompanied asylum seeking minors. 57% of our students are disadvantaged / pupil premium – the school serves two of the most deprived wards in the UK, Margate Central and Cliftonville West’. I am not convinced it decided to 'specialise',  for many of these are children who are placed here by KCC here, as there was no other school with vacancies. 

You will find the full advert here or, if it is still online here, painting a very ‘challenging’ picture of the school and District. Unsurprisingly, and possibly when the Coastal Academy Trust CEO saw it, the advert was replaced with a much more positive picture of school and of Thanet that might attract candidates who could have missed the national and local media controversy this generated.

It is no surprise that 85 of the children offered places at the school this month are Local Authority Allocations – children who never applied for the school, but there was nowhere else to send them. This is by some way the largest figure for any school in Kent and perhaps owes something to previous controversies which will have affected the reputation of this unhappy school.

This was probably not the best time for the school to be inspected by Ofsted, at the end of last week. Ofsted's Parent View, which will influence the Inspection although it contains the views of just 47 families, is one of the worst I have seen. 72% of respondents would not recommend the school to another parent. Every single one of the responses to the 12 key questions has a majority disagreeing that the school is doing a good job in most aspects, the biggest negative being to the question 'is the school well led and managed', with 55% of respondents disagreeing with the statement.

After the adverse media publicity the advertisement was pulled, to be replaced by:

What does our Science Department need?

The Department effectively requires a committed, ambitious and talented senior leader, with the freedom to innovate and take some risks where necessary - but with a mandate to place science back at the heart of school life, where it deserves to be.

You will find the full replacement advert here or online here, presenting a much more positive view of the post but sadly, probably too late – the damage has been done.

There is no doubt that the headteacher of Hartsdown, Matthew Tate, appointed two years ago from his previous post as Headteacher of a small Christian Free School in Sevenoaks, creates a high personal profile. His ‘Welcome’ on the school website is unusually direct and sets out his vision in detail.

Everyone at Hartsdown is committed to excellence in everything we do. Particularly:

  • Academic excellence, including the launch of the International Baccalaureate in 6th form
  • Excellent Behaviour, supporting children to behave in an exemplary fashion.
  • Excellent Uniform, a commitment to perfect uniform.
  • A 'no excuses' culture where excellence is the norm.
  • High quality relationships. As a school we want to be known for our care of children and our partnership with parents.

To have a perfect uniform as the third major target in his vision is certainly unusual and, like the rest of the Welcome, appears to be about the Headmaster and his ideals, rather than the school. By contrast, the Home and Welcome Pages of the other two very successful Coastal Academies: King Ethelbert and Dane Court are all about the students and the school with the headteacher rightly taking a much lower profile.

The School
With the rising population and extreme shortage of spaces in the District, every single school in Thanet was full on allocation for September and last year. Any spaces that become empty are immediately filled by incomers to the District. Hartsdown has by some way the largest number of children in Kent leaving the school for ‘Home Education’ - and the lowest proportion of children placing the school as first choice, so it naturally ends up with such a high proportion of the challenging children described in the original advertisement.  

It is clear that as the school of last choice for families in Thanet, Hartsdown needs to change its approach and  somehow needs to build a positive reputation. ‘Tough Love’ and denigration of teachers, the humiliation of pupils and the alienation of parents is not to the way to do it. Something  needs to give!

Read 3407 times Last modified on Monday, 12 March 2018 20:42

1 comment

  • Comment Link Monday, 12 March 2018 19:59 posted by Angela P

    The mystery remains how this self important bully is kept on at a school which made the most of its difficult terrain before he came along. I understand that it was a member of staff who sent round the email, having access to parent addresses. S/he is sickened as most of us who know the school well are, at the damage he is causing to so many vulnerable children. Thank you for exposing him.

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