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Friday, 27 April 2018 12:15

Hartsdown Academy: Ofsted 'Requires Improvement'

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Hartsdown Academy’s recent OFSTED Report records that the school ‘Requires Improvement’ which, before publication I would have thought generous, because of factors I have identified in previous articles.

However, the Report focuses on the other side of the picture, with some very positive aspects, including: ‘the school’s work to promote pupils’ personal development and welfare is outstanding. It has always been a strong part of the school’s work and continues to be essential to support pupils and respond to issues within the local community’.

Hartsdown Academy


Its main praise is reserved for Matthew Tate, the headteacher, who: ‘is transforming the school, having been in post for two years. He continues to steer its future path in the right direction with resolute energy and determination’. I am delighted to learn this, although still critical of some of the methods he uses and casualties created to achieve this outcome, as explained in my article on ‘Tough Love Academies’.

The biggest anomaly comes in the fall from Ofsted ‘Good’’ in March 2014, to the current rating, the headline then being ‘As a result of good teaching, students’ standards are broadly average at the end of Year 11. This represents good achievement from low starting points’ , the school described being not far off Outstanding.

This article looks primarily at the most recent very significant Ofsted Report, as I have commented extensively on aspects of the school before, most recently here.

It is frankly  impossible to reconcile the 2018 Report with the previous one in 2014, or indeed the one for 2011 before the school became an academy which was also ‘Good’.

There is no doubt the most recent Ofsted Report appears to set out to damn the previous leadership of the school, although exceptionally it makes no reference at all to the very positive 2014 Inspection. That described a school very different from the one now painted as existing before the current headteacher was appointed just two years later.

From his first day of term in September 2016 the headteacher did not shy away from describing the school as it was. To pupils, staff and parents he laid bare its major educational weaknesses. These included well-below-average progress in all years, weak teaching, and GCSE results in the bottom 10% of all schools, along with poor attendance and behaviour. The headteacher has taken effective action to turn the school around. However, some parents and staff have found some of the changes he has made unpalatable and unsettling”. Coincidentally, this is an approach also used in the other two ‘Tough Love’ academies, which have seen a parallel sharp fall in parental choices. At Hartsdown, the number of first choices has almost exactly halved from 99 in 2014 to 51 in 2018.

There is little doubt that Hartsdown is the most socially disadvantaged school in Kent, and the Report does not mince its words about the problems.

‘In 2017, only 15% of all pupils attained a pass (grade 4) in English and mathematics. Pupils’ progress was well below the national average. There are many entwined reasons behind these very low GCSE results. The previous poor teaching, an unsuitable curriculum and other factors such as pupils’ low attendance contributed to this. Pupils’ standards on entry to Hartsdown are well below the national average. When the present Year 7 pupils arrived, the great majority of them had reading ages below those typical for their age, and poor skills in mathematics. A very high proportion of pupils are vulnerable and/or disadvantaged. An above-average number of them leave and enter the school after Year 7. All these factors inhibit progress and, in the past, have had a negative impact on the school’s GCSE results. In recent years the proportion of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds has increased to at least one-third of Year 11 in 2017. Often, these pupils do not speak English on arrival or have not experienced formal education. With very low starting points and poor attendance, these pupils’ progress is well below that of other pupils’. 

Amongst the current strengths relating primarily to academic progress, are that: ‘Pupils’ reading is improving rapidly as they now have regular, intensive practice sessions - Pupils in Years 7 and 8 are making increasingly good progress, having only experienced the school under its new good leadership. Progress overall is improving from a very low base - The headteacher has a demonstrable commitment to ensuring that all pupils, irrespective of their backgrounds, achieve as well as they can. He has the full support of the trust and its executive headteacher - Underpinning the headteacher’s drive to turn around the school is a loyal and hardworking senior leadership team whose members now know exactly what they are responsible for. Some are new to their roles but all enthusiastically promote the school’s values of ‘scholarship, teamwork, resilience, integrity, vision and excellence’; Teaching has improved. The majority of subject leaders and teachers are enthusiastic, and have welcomed training which has developed their teaching skills’. (selection of comments).

Leadership and Management are unsurprisingly found to be good. All the other four main aspects Require Improvement: Quality of Teaching, Learning and Assessment; Personal Development, Behaviour and Welfare; Outcomes for Pupils; and 16-19 Study Programmes.

With regard to the Sixth Form of just 39 pupils, all Year 12 were on a course during the Inspection, and few Year 13 lessons. The Report manages to be very positive, with no criticism at all, but the Sixth Form still Requires Improvement!

The Report reflects the enormous fund of goodwill for the school to improve, especially from the Coastal Academies Trust which sponsors the school. As for Governors: ‘Board members bring considerable wisdom and relevant experience, in finance, education and personnel, to their deliberations. They know very well how much further the school has to go to be valued and appreciated by the entire school community’.

There is still a massive task needed to win back that community with a lukewarm assessment of communications: Senior leaders take some steps to keep in touch with parents. They provide some information in the languages which some families speak at home. Parents are encouraged to attend meetings with the headteacher. Nevertheless, the very small number of responses and comments written by parents are very mixed. While some parents praise the headteacher’s good work, others have less confidence in the leadership of the school. Pupils’ responses were equally mixed.

An academic study from the University of Kent pays tribute to Hartsdown Academy's work with newly-arrived unaccompanied asylum seeking and refugee children at the school, which is to be applauded. Unfortunately, there is a downside to this in that publicly known expertise with children who have been disadvantaged in some way (a more common example is children with SEN)  can and has been accompanied by a fall in popularity amongst mainstream families and the school suffers  a cycle of decline in take up which Hartsdown is already experiencing. 

It is very easy to be critical of what is going on at Hartsdown, and I have been, with 2017 academic progress and achievement at GCSE both being the lowest in Kent, popularity with families at a low, and those withdrawn to Home Educate (or using this as a way out) at a high. The controversial no compromise stance of the headteacher may well work for those who stay the course, Ofsted certainly think so. Clearly they would have loved to Grade the school as 'Good', but the dreadful 2017 GCSE results will have blocked this. 

2018 GCSE results will be an important milestone for the school, especially Progress 8 which shows how far pupils have travelled. These children are amongst the most vulnerable children in the county; and if this approach works as Ofsted clearly thinks it will, then that will be wonderful news. However, sadly good works amongst those who have had the worst experiences imaginable do not work as a marketing tool, however much they impress Ofsted.  

I am clearly not qualified to make my own first hand assessment of the work of the academy, being neither Inspector, current educationalist, nor having any personal experience of such a situation. As such, I rely on the wide variety of data available together with valued opinions offered, to come to my personal conclusions. The people of Margate desperately and rightly need Hartsdown to become a good school by any measure. I sincerely hope this turns out to be the way to do it, even though it appears wrapped up in the personality of Matthew Tate, the Principal, and still sits very uncomfortably with me.

Given the nature of much of the good work now being carried out by Hartsdown is there a case for it receiving some sort of special status to protect this?




Last modified on Saturday, 28 April 2018 06:56

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