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Saturday, 09 March 2019 19:35

Turner Schools: Failed Attempt to Counter Negative Publicity

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Turner Schools has published a bizarre advertisement in the Folkestone and Hythe Your District Today magazine published by the Local Council, purportedly to answer the question ‘What is Turner Schools’?
It begins: ‘Turner Schools blazed onto the Folkestone scene just a few years ago’, and is in the form of a pseudo interview with the CEO Jo Saxton. The second of the initial two brief paragraphs justifying the takeover of Folkestone Academy by Turner Schools also describes the high quality of food now provided for students.
The next section asks about an artificial controversy I have not seen aired before amongst all the major criticisms of Turner Schools published here and elsewhere,  about whether Turner Schools is only interested in purely academic routes.
Then follows a justification of the CEO’s very high salary for running a small low achieving Academy Trust, the article finishing with ‘We know that some people find change hard, so don’t believe all the negatives you’ve heard or read about Folkestone Academy’ . There is no mention at all of the other three schools in the Trust, and the initial question is ignored for start to finish. 
I am left bewildered why the Turner Schools remorseless publicity machine, examined in detail across previous articles on this website, most recently here, can have produced such an inept article in the official Council publication, an article which raises more questions than it answers and does nothing to promote its image.
Also below is the answer to a question I posed in a recent article: Turner Schools: What were they trying to hide?
Folkestone Academy
Since Turner Schools took over control of Folkestone Academy from the local philanthropist Sir Roger De Haan, at Easter 2017 when Dr Jo Saxon was appointed CEO, its fortunes have crashed. GCSE performance has slumped; Sixth Form numbers have collapsed; fixed term exclusions have soared to the highest in Kent by far; 27 Year 10 and 11 pupils left the school  during 2017-18 in what may have been off-rolling; staff turnover described by the Trust as average, has risen sharply; the school has been given a loan of £708,707 by government against additional pupils who never materialised. But the food is better!
According to the article: ‘Folkestone Academy is a school that spoke to me the first time I visited. It was sad talking to children who thought that the 52 rules were what the school was about, when it should be about the power learning gives them. We haven’t got everything right yet, but the school is so much brighter, happier, and its regularly filled with music now. Our sixth formers tell us their lessons are better now they are back on the main site. More children are eating the nutritious meals we are serving than ever ate school dinners before and hundreds come for the free breakfasts. We’ve got a fantastic leadership team who love working with children to get them a better education. Almost everyone who steps across the threshold tells us how different it feels’.
Clearly the 52 rules have been replaced by a regime that operates a ‘tough love’ no excuses approach, as in the three other struggling and unpopular Tough Love Kent academies although, if the rules have been abolished, one wonders on what basis the 1211 exclusions in 2017-218 were made. You will find further details here, along with the exclusion rate at Turner Schools Martello Primary, which has the second highest proportion of any primary school in the county.
The falling numbers headlines are that overall Sixth Form numbers fell by 21% from October 2017 to October 2018, with the Year 12 figure dropping by 45% over two years, the total school roll falling by 12%
Interviewer: 'There have been concerns voiced that you are only interested in purely academic routes'?
It’s interesting how things can be misconstrued. I’m actually hugely interested in exploring more how we can make the most of our vocational routes at Folkestone Academy. We are building better and stronger relationship (sic) with local employers and working hard to make sure that what we offer dovetails with what employers are looking for.
I am not sure how this squares with my comment about ‘The sharp drop of over a quarter in the Sixth Form intake in September 2017 will be partially down to the removal of practical vocational courses including the thriving Hair and Beauty Department . Or the Catering Department, just a year after the grand opening of its Training Kitchen. In both areas, students learned to  provide for the public in a very practical way, surely the mark of a truly vocational course, but sadly not fitting Turner Schools’ model  of ‘academic excellence for all’ (quote). 
CEO Salary
 A quarter of the whole article is taken up by a justification of the CEO’s high salary, which one would have thought had no place in an article attempting to promote the Trust.
Interviewer: Academy Trust CEO’s are paid a lot of money – what do you say to people who would argue its better to spend the money on more teachers?
I’m very well aware that I’m well paid, and it’s a real privilege to be CEO of Turner Schools. Salaries of the most senior people in any organisation are rightly scrutinised, and ultimately the test of anyone’s worth is whether they deliver what they promise. My promise is a powerful education and I believe that local families will see that coming through in all sorts of ways across all of our schools.
I last looked at salaries of school and Trust leaders in 2018 and, apart from one outrider, annual salaries of £140,000 - £150,000 as paid to Dr Saxton mainly went to CEOs of some large and successful Academy Trusts. Many others, running complex operations, were paid considerably less than this. Presumably Directors of the Trust found positive achievements to justify the high salary that I have missed in my analysis of the Trust operation (sentence revised).
Dr Saxton ran Folkestone Academy as CEO for the whole of the financial year in question, 2017-18, although it was only formally taken over by Turner Schools in December 2017. It was during this year that the school’s fortunes crashed, it also having got rid of three head teachers and failed to appoint an Executive Principal in the two years of her time in office. The new Consultant Executive Principal, Jason Feldwick, does not appear to have lasted long after his part-time appointment in September, and Vice Principal Val Reddecliffe, billed to appear in September in the end of term newsletter, did not arrive. 33% of staff left during the year 2017-18, including a reported 20 teachers in management roles as the school sought to reduce its staff payroll. 
There is a case for high salaries, but this is not one. Interestingly, the same set of accounts show that no other employee of the trust was paid even half as much as the CEO, supporting concerns expressed that the Trust is cutting back on salaries.
The article concludes with:  
Interviewer: Any final words for our readers? We know that some people find change hard, so don’t believe all the negatives you’ve heard or read about Folkestone Academy. Come and see for yourselves, and make your minds up – we love visitors!
In other words the article is aware of all those negatives, although the article does not appear to challenge them!
The FOI problem solved.
Summary of situation: I requested the breakdown of pupil numbers in the four Turner Schools according to the September 2018 census. (12/9/18)
Response: Rejected as Turner Schools will be publishing information. No Internal Review process
Complaint to Information Commissioners Office (ICO).
As a result of complaint, Turner Schools Release Information to me (22/1/19).
As I was interested in the school case for not releasing the information, I filed an FOI with the ICO requesting this and the relevant correspondence has now been sent to me.
Turner Schools response to the ICO was: As stated in our response to Mr Read Turner Schools will publish the requested information. We will publish the information one week after the date of the official January Census in 2019. It would be inappropriate and misleading to the public, for information which is not the official information, to be made available to and then published by Mr Read in his blog until such a time as it is official; namely, following the January census.
The ICO then wrote to Turner schools with two pertinent questions summarised as follows: Is the requested information the same as the information provided to the January census? The complainant asked for the 'number of pupils currently registered as at the date of the request in September 2018. Does the January census also ask for pupil numbers based on the same September date? I also note that some schools complete an autumn census. Have the Turner Schools also completed an autumn census? If so, then could these figures be released to the complainant?
(22/1/19) Turner Schools gives in, releases the information and informs the ICO they have published the information on their website. I have provided a summary here, but the promise to publish the full data was untrue at the time and remains untrue, defying the ICO, unless one counts a  one line summary buried away in the Finance section of the website. 
So, the ridiculous defence against releasing the results of the October School Census was that the January Census outcomes had not been published!  Is this merely incompetent or was it deliberate? Still it served a purpose in delaying release of the information for four months, although what a waste of everyone's time. 
Read 574 times Last modified on Monday, 11 March 2019 16:10


  • Comment Link Monday, 11 March 2019 22:05 posted by Furious ex staff member

    When TFS took over the Folkestone Academy many staff were baffled as to why they would want to run the only two non-selectives in the town.

    ‘Maybe it’s to make the Folkestone Academy go downhill so that the Turner Free School is a greater success’ people joked in the corridors.

    It doesn’t seem like such a joke now.

    Surely, surely not........

  • Comment Link Monday, 11 March 2019 19:44 posted by Ex staff member

    I worked here for a good amount of time and we improved the school. We got the school to the point where it felt like we were at the cusp of making it something to be proud of. Then Turner schools rolled in and shook the place. Threw the planners out and let students run the school down. I believe this was done on purpose to get rid of staff. They lost an amazing team of people and are worse off for it. I’m sure they have now come to realise the errors of their ways. Bit late now though. The sooner they stop trying to be like Pimlico the better, it’s a different area with a different clientele. I wish the staff that stayed all the best and hope they can turn this around.

  • Comment Link Monday, 11 March 2019 11:55 posted by Cynical Cindy

    Shouldn't Ofsted and the Regional Schools Commissioner be looking into this dreadful Trust? If not why not? Or is it that Turner Schools has powerful friends in the establishment and media.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 10 March 2019 19:53 posted by Ex staff member

    I wonder what Sir Roger de Hahn thinks of this disaster? So many staff have left that it is a different school and much the worse for that. For those who don't live in Folkestone I can assure them that all the negatives circulating in the town and on this website are true.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 10 March 2019 12:02 posted by Rachel

    Hardly a blaze. A damp squib might be a better description, but one lit too close so it also becomes self-harm

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