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Wednesday, 10 April 2019 07:37

Turner Schools: Fresh Blessings from on High

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Update: In spite of claims that the two Trust Primary schools are proving popular with parents, recent data shows that Morehall Primary has 75% of its Reception places empty on allocation for September, the highest proportion in the county (along with two other schools), with Martello Primary not far behind at 63%. 

Turner Schools, a small academy Trust with a CEO being paid the disproportionate £140,000 – £150,000 a year, has appointed a Deputy Chief Executive Officer, on a salary likely to be above £120,000, to enable the CEO to focus on curriculum matters. His salary will be met from a Grant  of £143,100 from the government’s Multi Academy Trust Development and Improvement Fund, at no cost to the school, as explained in a letter to staff. Such grants are only available for MATs which have a “proven record of working with underperforming schools to improve performance” . This should surely have ruled Turner Schools out, given the damage they have wreaked on Folkestone Academy, as demonstrated in various articles on this site, most recently here



The letter provides three reasons for the appointment, explored below:

  • To join our mission to deliver a powerful education that overcomes educational underperformance.
  • To provide executive principal function when and where needed in our trust schools
  • To create additional capacity to enable the CEO to focus on curriculum.
There appear to be financial discrepancies as the maximum grant normally available is £100,000 for just one year, the Trust being required to show how it will fund the project in the future.  The new appointment, Seamus Murphy, was previously Executive Headteacher at Swale Academies Trust who will have previously been on a salary of some £120,000 plus considerable on-costs, although the letter to staff describes this as now being no cost to the Trust. As a result, his salary will inevitably take up almost all or all of the grant, although a response by Turner Schools to my FOI on the subject claims : 'The purpose of the grant was to support the development of the Multi-Academy Trust, and – accordingly – it would be incorrect to correlate the grant size directly with any individual's salary, since the grant is being deployed to support the Trust’s work in a number of ways'. 

Turner Schools has already been awarded a previous £100,000 sum from the same source in 2016-17, on the basis that it was taking on two new schools (Folkestone academy and Turner Free School) in the following year, even though Shepway does not appear in the list of priority areas for funding at that time. Although there appear to be no fresh published rules for 2019 starts, the original criteria would suggest that Turner Schools is being considered for further expansion, in spite of its appalling record! The current DfE view is that: “Applications for the Multi Academy Trust Development and Improvement Fund were considered through a robust process and funding and was awarded to trusts that provided sufficient evidence in relation to the assessment criteria.The Multi Academy Trust Development and Improvement Funding has enabled the Turner Schools Trust to accelerate the pace of school improvements ."(Schoolsweek). It is obviously unfortunate that all the assessment measures, such as the falling GCSE performance, soaring exclusion levels, sharply declining pupil rolls (notably Year  7 and Year 12) show school decline rather than improvement. 

It would appear that Turner Schools has the clout to attract largesse out of all proportion to performance, ahead of so many worthy and financially struggling establishments without such influence. Presumably in time this disproportionate investment will see the tide turn and signs of improvement appear, which will indeed show that with much greater resources any school can flourish.  As observed by Professor Lygo, Chairman of Turner Schools: 'Jo Saxton and her team have also worked extremely hard to bring in additional funding to Turner Schools with the explicit aim of this funding supporting all four schools. The additional funding Jo personally applied for amounts to over half a million pounds, and comes from a combination of government grants as well as charitable donations' .

I have also explored large sums of money accruing to Turner Schools from other directions previously, here

Leadership at Turner Schools below the level of CEO has always appeared to present a major problem for this small Academy Trust. Folkestone Academy, considerably larger than the other three Trust schools put together, has now had four Principals since Turner Schools took responsibility just two years ago. It failed to appoint an Executive Principal last year after extensive advertising, instead settling for the academy’s Deputy as the latest Principal. The Trust appointed an experienced headteacher as Consultant Executive Principal in September, to support him, which was apparently necessary, but he vanished without trace soon afterwards, reportedly because of differences with the CEO. Dr Jo Saxton, the CEO, is one of three leaders that Martello Primary has had in its two years of operation, the school currently sharing a headteacher with Morehall Primary, both of whom have had serious problems as I have identified previously, and as reflected in parental choice. Bob McKay, who was appointed Assistant Principal at Turner Free School in June 2018 to prepare for the opening in September ('I am thrilled to be a part of the exciting new opportunities presented by Turner Free School') from his post as Deputy Head at Dover Grammar, left the school and teaching in Term One. He had been billed as part of a 'big-hitting team'  comprising Principal and three Assistants to manage a school opening with just 120 pupils! One can only speculate what they all did/do! Three of the four senior leaders have a background at the selective Folkestone School for Girls, along with the Chair of the Local Governing Body. Playing it very safe! (Although Mr McKay left the school and teaching after just a month in post).
Jo Saxton, who has considerable high level experience in curriculum matters, now plans to focus on it, being the original reason she took on the Turner Schools post (we learn for the first time), being freed up from other strategic responsibilities by Mr Murphy. She wants Turner Schools to be known for its expertise in what is frequently posited as an academic subject based curriculum, although there is little mention of this aim in the numerous previous extravagant claims and quotes cited by the Trust. It is surely questionable that a highly paid CEO technically responsible for strategic oversight now has such a narrow focus.

The letter defines the Turner Schools latest mission, it being difficult to keep up with the number of versions. The previous version was: The Trust’s mission, ‘sea-change’, envisages contributing to the next phase of the regeneration of the area and overcoming disadvantage by running schools where children thrive and knowledge matters. The change of direction to 'to deliver a powerful education that overcomes educational underperformance' follows the poor recent performance of the Trust’s schools since it took on responsibility, especially at Folkestone Academy which appears to have declined on all measures. The Trust’s solution since September has been to blame everything on the previous management. A classic example was when I recently exposed the exclusion record of Folkestone Academy (1211 fixed term exclusions in 2017-18, 400 more than any other school in Kent), and Martello Primary (second highest in Kent) on new ‘high expectations for behaviour’, completely contradicting previous assertions such as that exclusion indicates 'Behaviours that lead to exclusions happen when students perceive there to be no limits and no expectations and no rules.'

Executive Principal Function
‘Executive Principal function when and where needed in our trust schools’ sounds suspiciously like firefighting, which may be what attracted Dr Jo Saxton, CEO to Seamus Murphy, her new appointment. He was previously Executive Principal to Swale Academies Trust, regularly featured in these pages, most recently relating to Meopham and Holmesdale Schools. He was previously an HMI. As seen before, the claims about a new appointment don’t quite fit the facts, with Mr Murphy being hailed as leading Meopham School from Good to Outstanding. This will comes as news to the outstanding staff who brought the school from Inadequate to Outstanding in just five years under the leadership of Suzanne Dickinson. 

It actually sounds peripheral to the running of a small well ordered Trust, which causes one to wonder what the Regional Schools Commissioner saw in the appointment when he approved it, unless either there are new schools in the pipeline  or else Turner Schools is well connected.

Perhaps surprisingly, when one opens the Home page of the Turner Schools website, there is just one article on show, a TES profile dating back to November 2018, of Dr Saxton, mainly her life and career and philosophy. Surely the introduction to Turner Schools should be about those schools, not just one person!

Read 2239 times Last modified on Saturday, 19 June 2021 19:07

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