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Saturday, 09 March 2019 19:35

Turner Schools: Failed Attempt to Counter Negative Publicity

Written by
 
You will find a fresh news item about Turner Schools here (27/4)
 
Update:  In a critical two page article about Folkestone Academy in the Folkestone Herald and online, Turner Schools once again attempts to deflect the criticisms by answering irrelevant 'concerns'. See my analysis at the foot of this article, below
 
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’?
TurnerSchools
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. 
 
Folkestone Herald Article
A two page exposé  of the multiple failings of Turner Schools Folkestone Academy in the Folkestone Herald, reproduced on the Kentlive website, is accompanied as one would expect, by the strong PR response by the Trust. Headlined 'Bosses blame previous management and national trend for failures'. So: 

'Two Folkestone schools run by Turner Schools had among the highest exclusion rates in Kent Folkestone Academy accounted for more than one in every seven of all suspensions in Kent’s 101 state secondary schools in the 2017-18 - the highest in the county. In the same year, Martello Primary’s suspension rate was the second highest of Kent’s 463 state primary schools'.

However the trust pointed at positive signs of progress, and said a new timetable has been introduced. As I reported elsewhere, Folkestone academy (FA) had by far the highest number of fixed term exclusions in Kent at 1211 (not amongst the highest!). In that article I quote from the TES: ‘Saxton agrees with Lemov that a structured approach to behaviour is a way of reducing exclusions. She says that prior to joining Turner Schools, Folkestone Academy was the highest excluding school in Kent, but it is now reintegrating pupils into mainstream education.’  Nearly doubling the number in the Trust’s first full year of operation, is surely an indication of something very different. Still its good to know that a new timetable is going to fix the problem! Or is it a problem at all: The trust spokesman acknowledged the high number of suspensions at Folkestone Academy, which came under criticism from parents last year, saying they were a results of “high expectations for behaviour”.

'The 2018/2019 school year saw a drop in the number of reception pupils in both Martello Primary and Morehall from the previous year. According to Morehall’s website, it would accept a maximum of 60 pupils in reception in 2018, though this number has not been updated since December 2017,However, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, it only had 14 reception pupils as of October 2018'.

The trust said the school chose to only have one class of 30, rather than two until it opens a new building, but this one class group is still half empty. With only 14 pupils it is hardly a choice to have one class instead of two.

A Turner Schools spokesman admitted the closure of the Glassworks affected its sixth form numbers and in reference to the courses offered said: “The nature of the offer has changed slightly, as we refine our vocational offer in line with our students’ preferences” but denied it is “cutting out practical vocational options.

At the time the move was hailed as “the opportunity to bring the Folkestone Academy family back together on one site, in line with our vision to serve the community inclusively from 2 to 19.”  I have clearly demonstrated the cutting out of practical options above. A 45% fall in numbers in Year 12  over two years is hardly something to be glossed over and clearly demonstrates that student preferences are being ignored, as the school chases academic prowess and success at all costs.

“Key stage 4 results at Folkestone Academy changed in line with the implementation of the reformed GCSEs and new National Award BTecs. This is a national issue and other non-selective local schools were also affected. “Singling out Folkestone Academy would therefore present an unbalanced picture, as this issue is replicated both nationally and locally.” I singled out Folkestone Academy as its Progress 8 position in Kent, the key government measure, saw Folkestone academy fall from being in the top half of Kent non-selective schools in 2017, to being sixth from bottom in the county, and fifth from bottom in Attainment 8, the steepest fall of any school. That is a balanced picture. Previously the Trust tried to blame the sharp fall as inherited poor standards from the previous Roger De Haan sponsorship, but now appears to have dropped this false claim, as it is so easily disproved. 

The trust spokesman added: “The Academy achieved more top grades at GCSE than ever before in Summer 2018” and said the new timetable has been introduced to make sure English and Maths are taught every day and increase how much history, geography and science is taught. As I have explained previously, there were just two GCSEs, English and Maths, which had the new 1 to 9 Grades in 2017, expanding to all subjects in 2018, so it is hardly surprising that the number of top grades went up! Once again it is difficult to see how the new timetable which has only been introduced last September, 2018, had an influence on this non-achievement in the year before. 

'In the 2017/18 year, Mr Read said the Folkestone Academy saw a teaching staff turnover of 33.1 per cent, more than twice the average of local secondary schools.

In relation to the high teacher turnover rate at Folkestone Academy, the spokesman said: “The restructure was to ensure that the school’s structure, curriculum and staffing were fit for purpose to equip pupils for modern life and Key Stage 4 qualifications.” The spokesman added: “Staffing levels at Folkestone Academy remain above the national averages, with approximately one colleague to every ten pupils,” however they did not state how many of these colleagues are teaching staff. Once again, this response completely ignores the original and praises a different facet. You will find this approach repeatedly through Trust articles ‘responding to criticism’, as I have repeatedly demonstrated. In this case, my article refers to the false claim by the Trust that its staff turnover in 2017-18 was similar to that of other local schools, but acknowledging it was double – as was obvious from the statistics quoted.

'We are starting to see positive signs of progress'. I remain unconvinced Turner Schools has yet produced any evidence of this.

Read 1353 times Last modified on Monday, 08 July 2019 05:44

6 comments

  • Comment Link Monday, 01 April 2019 08:33 posted by Anonymous

    Turner schools is an absolute joke! How can they be boasting about the SLT when they found it so difficult to get anyone in the head position at FA. The new SLT at Martello has already lost one of it's team and there's literally 1 original member of staff - none of the teachers are left. How many unqualified teachers do they have there now?
    When turner took over from lilac sky, they told staff that there was no money and so wages would be much more non line with local authority wages. Teachers were kept on the pay grades that they were on, because there was no money. All of the problems were blamed on the previous management of the school - sound familiar?

    The high quality food had to be changed from the kitchens running their own menus to bringing in a catering company. One final thing, what has happened to Martello's ASD unit?

  • 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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