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Sunday, 28 April 2019 19:34

Ebbsfleet Academy: Parents rubbished by departing Principal

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Today’s Sunday Times has a feature article on the departure of one of the most confrontational ( the ST describes her as 'visionary') heads in Kent from Ebbsfleet Academy, a school with one of the highest proportions of children leaving for Home Education in the county (top in 2016-7 with 4.1% of families removing their children from the school mid-course) and, for the whole of her time at the school, one of the highest vacancy rates of any secondary school in Kent, partially covered up by some of the highest number of Local Authority Allocations (children placed who did not apply to the school – 83 this summer!). No other Dartford school has any vacancies, or spaces for LAAs. 

Ebbsfleet Academy

She makes a damning indictment of the behaviour of parents from the ‘white working class’ who are unable to cope with the fierce discipline characteristic of the three schools who form what I call the ‘Tough Love Academies of Kent. She makes no reference to any other parents, presumably happy to tar all families with the same brush. The Tough Love academies all exhibit similar negative outcomes from their philosophy, and then appear to think that more of the same will solve the problem they have created. Home Education, which is not the solution, has been suggested by Ebbsfleet to some families in what is called ‘off-rolling’, the implication being that it is encouraged to improve examination results by removing lower performing pupils.   

In spite of its claims to high  academic performance, the school came 45th out of 68 non-selective schools in Kent,  in the government's preferred measure of performance, Progress 8. 

This year has been the worst I have seen of distraught parents contacting me about Ebbsfleet Academy, having been awarded places at the school although they have not applied for it. Some have gone the extra mile and visited Ebbsfleet Academy but after seeing how the school is operated have become even more determined to avoid it at all costs. All the other five Dartford schools are full and turning away pupils on allocation, with families who have applied for them. 

A KentOnline article in 2015 quotes Ms Colwell as saying: 'We are unashamedly strict and my experience is that parents feel strict schools with strict rules is a good idea, and the children have responded to that.' Sadly, in 2019 she is now criticising the same parents, whilst at the same time the evidence of the large numbers trying to avoid the school proves otherwise. 

Ebbsfleet Academy lost 11% of its pupils in the two years leading up to GCSE in 2017, second highest proportion in the county, a very typical sign of the off-rolling scandal to improve GCSE performance, although lower for 2018 at 5%,  as schools responded to the public awareness of the issue, and as a function of it having one of the smallest roll numbers in the county at 94 Year 11 children. There is considerably more data pointing up the issues in my article on Tough Love Academies.

My introduction to the new culture at Ebbsfleet came shortly after Ms Colwell arrived when she attempted to force an unlawful Home School Contract on families, which was heavily weighted towards the school's powers, attempting to give it the power to force pupils to leave if their parents would not sign. This would of course amount to an unlawful exclusion. Since then I have had a steady trickle of responsible parents seeking my advice on how to cope with the tough disciplinary  culture and what their alternatives could be. 

This is the second feature article about the school in The Sunday Times. Four years ago I wrote about: 'an article in the Sunday Times Magazine in July 2014, which explained "how it had turned around its reputation as one of the country’s worst performing schools". Puzzlingly, the predecessor Swan Valley School had no such reputation and this statement is completely untrue'. You can still read the article here, the school presumably still being proud of the untruths it contains. The current article repeats the false claim that when she arrived: it was ‘failing on every measure’. These are certainly not the only falsehoods uttered from the Academy, its inception being itself highly controversial including the removal of Ms Colwell’s predecessor, Nigel Jones at no notice. Mr Jones removal took place only after she had already been offered the post informally, as explained by her here. The trashing of the school under Mr Jones's leadership is completely false, as he  had been steadily building up the school and its reputation, was well respected by parents and children, and was highly praised in the Ofsted Inspection two years previously: 'The headteacher, passionate about obtaining the best for his students.... Staff morale is high and the students are very proud of their school'.  He was rapidly snapped up to be the head of the highly successful and twice Ofsted Outstanding Milestone Special Academy in nearby New Ash Green, a far more complex and challenging school than Ebbsfleet, both Ofsted Reports dripping with praise for Mr Jones.  

The article also continues the tradition of misleading information in academic matters. It identifies the school as rising from 24% good GCSEs (A-C Grades) suggesting this was before Ms Colwell took over, whereas this was a year and a half afterwards and actually represented a fall from the final results of the school under Mr Jones! The claim that it has risen to 60% does not make sense with the new GCSE assessment system. For in 2018, the school achieved a Below Average Progress 8 Grade of -0.39, the government’s preferred measure, which is well inside the bottom half for Kent’s non-selective schools.

Ebbsfleet Academy is part of the Brook Academy Trust, one of Kent’s lowest performing academy chains across a range of measures, comprising Ebbsfleet, Hayesbrook School and High Weald Academy, so little incentive to change or improve. The decision by the Trust to get rid of Mr Jones and replace him by a much less successful head was replicated at the Trust's Hayesbrook School, when it got rid of the highly successful David Day and replaced him with a headteacher who has steadily taken the school downhill subsequently. However, Ms Colwell is leaving all this, and is off to run a far less stressful private school in Mallorca, leaving the Brook Trust with the challenging task of now recruiting a strong replacement after she has rubbished the parents of the school she has led for seven years.

She and I agreed publicly at a Conference two years ago, that the biggest issue facing schools today is the recruitment and retention of teachers. However, she can see no further in this article than to blame the exodus on foul mouthed parents, with no mention of the  behaviour of pupils which she does not mention, so presumably not a problem at Ebbsfleet! However, I strongly believe and have consistently argued, based on the view expressed to me by teachers from both good and poor schools, that the main factor leading to poor quality and retention of staff  is seen in schools that adopt a sink or swim culture for their teachers. Contrast this with the nurturing approach developing skills in new teachers, which brings the best outcomes in good schools and keeps losses to the profession to a minimum. This may be reflected at Ebbsfleet by the ten posts currently being advertised by the school, including four at a senior level. The advertisements include the statement: 'It is a fantastic time to be joining the team. You will join a hardworking and passionate team of staff, in an academy characterised by high aspirations, academic excellence and exemplary behaviour. Firm discipline and crystal clear rules are enforced alongside a strong climate of care, encouragement and reward. Our parents are supportive and ambitious for their children, and our reputation in the locale has grown. The academy is an increasingly popular school in the rapidly growing Ebbsfleet Garden City community'. This surely contradicts the Sunday Times article with its forgotten supportive parents who are ambitious for their children (the school must be hoping candidates don't read the Sunday Times!); together with the 'growing reputation in the locale and increasing popularity' that is in sharp contradiction to the facts in this article. 

 

Read 1093 times Last modified on Wednesday, 05 June 2019 19:49

8 comments

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 03 July 2019 17:23 posted by Marek Potuka

    I want to complain about Ms Colwell. I had a meeting with her today about my son because yesterday some boy was threatening outside of school with stabbing and my son come home nearly hour late from school just because of that boy he was scared of him so he hid around school nearly one hour after that boy gone my son come home and tell my what happen. I emailed the school straight away straight away and today my self and my son have meeting with Ms Colwell and she no doing her work properly because it's serious threat in which case she should call the boys parents too for meeting and sort it out. But she doesn't call them and she trying to push all for my son ,but she don't care about what that another boy done outside to my son. I mean like he tell my son when I catch you I stab you ,you f*****g little b**ch he take my son PE bag and hitting in kerb and call my son for fight and tell him I stab you. My son just run away from him. I'm very upset now because ms Colwell did not help us today with anything. She is not taking her work seriously if she was then she would sort it out and not just say ok ok ok ok so now go. That is her style, how she communicates with parents? So I called the DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION. They gave me the number for LADO.KENT and also for MATT DUNKLEY (WORRY ABOUT STUDENT ) THIS NEEDS TO BE SORTED OUT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE BECAUSE I WORRY ABOUT MY SON AND I WILL REPORT THIS CASE TO KENT POLICE. .DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION TELL ME TO DO THAT SO I WILL ...!!!!!!!!! PETER: A very worrying comment: not the first I have heard about bullying at Ebbsfleet Academy not being tackled, but allegations of knife threats take it up a gear. I do hope the police are willing to investigate.

  • Comment Link Friday, 24 May 2019 23:26 posted by Alison Smith

    Dartford Messenger and Kentonline covered this, repeating the tale above. They invited anyone with a different point of view to contribute. None did, but one supportive letter was printed. Have you told the Messenger of your views. PETER: Twice, without acknowledgement. It appears that the Messenger has no interest in families struggling to avoid the school but prefers to republish its propaganda.

  • Comment Link Friday, 10 May 2019 12:04 posted by Harry Giles

    The national and local media seem full of the school fantasy. Why does no one follow through with your clear demonstration that it is false. Quite simply the story is that families don't want to go there at any cost. If they are sent many do not wish to stay. GCSE performance is well below the claims. Rubbishing one's predecessor to make yourself look good is grossly unprofessional. PETER: I have expressed myself to various outlets, but the story in the Times and in the Kent Messenger makes better headlines. Who wants to contradict their own splash.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 01 May 2019 16:00 posted by Chris J

    What a load of rubbish from the previous contributor. Peter, you are absolutely correct in all matters. We live in Greenhithe, went to an Open Evening and vowed never to let our son near the school. We We did not apply for it, but were offered Ebbsfleet on allocation. We are appealing to all our four chosen schools, and if unsuccessful will give up all our luxuries to go private like others, or else investigate Home Education, which we never thought we would need to contemplate. Your previous contributor completely fails to explain why being the school of last resort can be ignored, why its okay for such a large number of families choosing to home educate rather than continue at Ebbsfleet, or why the school twists and turns to cover up its failures, showing no integrity. Perhaps the no excuses culture doesn't work.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 30 April 2019 18:48 posted by A previous employee (who didnt leave because of the Principal)

    Thank you for responding so promptly to my comments Peter. My apologies if I upset you by pointing out your spelling mistake. I purely assumed that someone with such high standards of everyone else would be the same with themselves.
    Also thank you for allowing me to enlighten you as to some facts that I have found. According to BBC Education the percentage of students who attained 5 good GCSE’s in 2009 was 20%. Under the previous head’s leadership the school raised this to a high of 35% in 2011. While I do appreciate that this percentage is moving in the right direction, I find it abhorrent that the man in charge can say he is ‘proud’ of his results, especially as 35% was still below national average by 20% in that year. Not only that, but it shows that 65% of the students were being failed by the school at its peak. I have heard very positive things about Nigel Jones’ personality and rapport with the students, and certainly do not want to turn this into a slanderous attack against someone, but personality clearly does not lead to the best education or results for children. Your quote of Mr Jones ‘steadily building up the school and its reputation’ seems alarmingly inaccurate with peaks of troughs over four year between 17 % and 35% of his years leading the school.
    Within two and a half years of Ms Colwell starting, the percentage of students with 5 good grades had risen to 54%. As you are aware, this number is even higher now. I do not see how you can claim that Ms Colwell is a ‘much less successful head’ when she raised attainment by 32% within 4 years whereas her predecessor managed an increase of 18% at best in the same time frame. I understand that her firm discipline may make people feel that Ms Colwell is too ‘hard line’ but it is my belief that a principal is there to get the best of their students, and this is undoubtedly what she has achieved.
    I also am struggling to see how you can claim that she has ‘rubbished’ the school when it was left in an incredibly unfortunate state. Swan Valley Community School was left ‘with nearly £500,000 of savings urgently required due to inadequate spending by Mr Jones which forced a restructure in 2013’, as reported by KCC. Someone who got spending so severely wrong for several years surely cannot be classed as a successful head.
    One last thing to consider: Your quote that Mr Jones ‘was rapidly snapped up to be head of the highly successful and twice Ofsted outstanding Milestone Special Academy’ rings slightly exaggerated. I do not feel that having 10 months between jobs classes as being ‘rapidly snapped up’.PETER: It is unfortunate that you have chosen to completely ignored the central arguments that parents are fighting to avoid this school like the plague and that so many are taking their children out having experienced the deeply unpopular 'no excuses' climate of one of Kent's three Tough Love Academies, all of which show similar symptoms. Tough Love and confrontation don't work and this school is failing the children of Swanscombe and Greenhithe. I am closing this correspondence as you appear deaf to reason. Your obsessions with one typo and with the Outstanding headteacher of another school in a lengthy article merely reflects a problem that pervades your incredibly lengthy hang ups which avoid the central issues.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 30 April 2019 14:53 posted by A previous employee (who didnt leave because of the Principal)

    PETER: You will find my full response to this fact free diatribe at the foot of this comment. On the way through reading it, see if you can spot a single statement of fact, or a contradiction of any fact I have supplied. It would for example have been good to explain why this has become the school of last resort in Dartford, why it has one of the largest number of families in the county bailing out for Home Education, and why the claimed academic performance and history are both false for starters.
    ++++++++++++++
    Well your article is about as accurate as your spelling Peter - it leaves a lot to be desired. I would hope that if you are writing an article about someone you could at least bother to look up how to spell their name.

    This most basic of mistakes aside, I really feel that you are taking an incredibly biased and unsubstantiated view. As someone who works in education I am well aware of the way opinions can be twisted and manipulated, and you Sir should be ashamed of yourself for dedicating your life to rubbishing people whom you know incredibly little about.

    Having worked for Ms Colwell in the past I can reliably inform you that she is a hard working and dedicated headteacher. Her views on education may not be shared by all, but more shame them. I would much rather work in a school where the head truly wants the students to achieve their best and helps to build their resilience than one where the head can say all the right things but not carry any of them out (as demonstrated by appalling GCSE grades).
    Soft leadership and poor discipline are bringing this country to its knees. Thankfully there are some who want to alter the sad state of affairs - and I for one am fully behind them.
    As a parting note, I would encourage people to listen to the callers section of the LBC interview and hear what one of her current pupils has to say. Giving respect earns respect, as was shown by the student caller. I can't help but think, Peter, that a respectful thing to do would be to praise all the (very many) positives that Ms Colwell has brought to the school and wish her well in her new role rather than continuing to hype up falsified and exaggerated stories. I feel for the poor head who you next decide to sink your teeth into. PETER: Obviously I am sorry I put an extra letter in one of my three spellings of 'Colwell' as an obvious typo (the other two were of course correct) but I presume you picked on it because you were unable to challenge any of the other facts in the article which demonstrate why the 'no excuse culture' is not working. I am actually appalled by a headteacher who rubbishes her parent body in a national newspaper and falsely rubbishes her predecessor's hard work. The ridiculous and provably false claim that the predecessor school was 'one of the country's worst performing schools' shows an utter lack of professionalism and hardly give confidence in the validity of these further claims. the prefer to work with evidence to support my views. Feel free to let me know of any falsified or exaggerated stories I have included and I will happy acknowledge this and change them. Yes, I continue will continue to be critical of headteachers who are failing their children. Who else cares about those with no power. Sadly, the Sunday Times article is hardly likely to encourage a successor of sufficient quality to make the urgent changes of culture needed to turn this sorry school round.

  • Comment Link Monday, 29 April 2019 22:34 posted by Lara Randle

    She has just been on LBC, obviously backtracking on her article in The Times. The staff who worked for Mr Jones, loved the school, Community and students. She referred to staff retention - how many staff left due to her behaviour. What experience does she actually have? Did she have a good reputation at her previous school? Why not refer to her career with the Police? The last year prior to Mr Jones leaving, Mike Kelly was responsible for the school he was the Acting Headteacher as Mr Jones became Principal Designate and went to work outside of the school with the Trust. The staff under Mr Jones respected him and viewed themselves as a family. PETER: Thank you.

  • Comment Link Monday, 29 April 2019 10:18 posted by Shortly to become ex-Ebbsfleet parent

    Confrontational! Too polite. The 'no excuses' blanket policy enables Ms Colwell and her acolytes to ignore any concern about family difficulty and indeed ratchet up the pressure on us. Special Needs - no way! We are desperately trying to find a more sympathetic school, for the sake of our daughter's mental health, but having failed are close to taking a step we never thought sensible before. Yes we will go down in the statistics as having chosen Home Education!

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