The National Schools Commissioner (NSC), Dominic Herrington, recently paid a visit to Folkestone Academy, proudly announced on the Turner Schools Trust website, in yet another article expounding the school's brilliance, and explored below. Mr Herrington is also currently Regional Schools Commissioner for the South East so, although this is not mentioned, he may have come in that capacity. One can only speculate on the reasons for this unusual visit to a school which is part of a Trust recently described by several ex members of staff as being run like a personality cult ( You will find a profile of CEO Dr Jo Saxton with photographs from the TES back in October, centrally featured on the Trust's 'Latest' news items, displacing the NSC's visit).
Was it that the National Commissioner wished to see at first hand the issues that Turner Schools have created at Folkestone Academy and the two primary schools of the Trust, as detailed in various articles on this website and summarised below; or was it to look at the way the largesse that has been lavishly showered on this small struggling Academy Trust has been used and why it was needed in the first place; or was it the false claims of a severe shortage of places across Folkestone and Hythe in five years’ time in this article grandly entitled 'How Turner Schools is helping Kent meet the growing secondary school population'.
Overall, the Turner Schools website appears specifically designed to impress important people rather than target the population of Folkestone with children considering secondary school places.
The Trust’s CEO, very highly paid for such a small Trust, is certainly praised in the Trust’s Annual Accounts for her ability to attract additional funding, and her high profile status has certainly seen the school benefit financially, such as described here and via the link. On the other hand it also enables her to speak out in the TES about the real need to provide extra funding for schools in Coastal Areas on grounds of their poor performance although, as so often, some of the evidence about Folkestone does not stand up to scrutiny.
‘This week, having visited the academy, the National Schools Commissioner, Dominic Herrington, praised the progress that the school has made to date’.
Did he take into account:
The dire 2018 GCSE results after more than a year of Turner Schools being in charge, with the sixth lowest Progress Grades in the county, having fallen sharply from being in the top half of non-selective schools (somehow blamed on poor performance before Turner arrived!).
The removal of vocational courses in the Sixth Form in 2018, contributing to a fall of 45% in Sixth Form numbers in one year.
The need to employ five different headteachers in the two years the Trust has been in charge (including failure to lure any external candidate in spite of expensive national advertising for the most recent change).
The high turnover of teachers at 33% last year, three times the local average.
The sharp fall in intake at Year Seven, caused partially by the opening of Turner Free School, although some pupils have been lured away to schools in Dover, and others clamour to get into the only non-Turner non-selective school in the area at Brockhill in Hythe. This follows another fall in numbers at all three schools the previous year.
The highest fixed term exclusion rate in Kent by far, more than twice as many as the third highest and 300 more than the second (put down to seeking to raise standards in spite of previously condemning exclusion as failure of teaching quality). Mirrored by Martello having the second highest rate of Kent's 463 primary schools.
Many other false claims about the school exposed on this site (perhaps the NSC was persuaded by these in being pleased with the progress of the school).
'As one of the top ten coolest places to live, according to The Times, it’s not surprising that people are flocking to the town'
They are not, and the article in the TES may suggest reasons why. Further, at the start of this academic year, on a staff in-service day at Folkestone Academy, the town was likened to ‘an American Rust Belt City, with their rusty, disused, failed factories and falling populations where most people who are economically viable are moving to places like New York City'. Which of these two visions does Turner Schools really believe is the correct image?
The proposed new development at Otterpool, some miles out of Folkestone will come with its own secondary school, so no apparent issue there.
After the free school opened, KCC calculated there would be a shortfall of 451 secondary school places by 2024-25 across Folkestone and Hythe ‘if this action was not taken’. It has already been taken, the action being the increase in PAN of Turner Free School (TFS) by 60 places from September to 180, leaving a shortfall of just 151 across the five year groups in five years’ time, according to this data (Any deficit can be cleared at a stroke by returning Folkestone Academy to its previous PAN of 300, having been reduced to 270 in 2018 to try and hide the fall in numbers). However, September 2019 is already seeing Folkestone Academy’s intake crucified by the increase in numbers at TFS, and is already down to 186 offers for its 270 places with more to be lost by successful grammar school appeals and children finding school places elsewhere. Further KCC’s Folkestone and Hythe Forecast (pp 106-107) has always overestimated non-selective take up in this area because of the additional pupils being taken up by the grammar schools through the Shepway Test which pickes up some 200 pupils annually on top of those selected by the Kent Test. In any case, KCC believe that by 2024-25 there will be a shortage of just 30 Year Seven places across the area with no additional places created, and by 2026-27, there will be no deficit as a smaller cohort works through.
Last October, Turner Schools tried to hide a fall in intake at FA and its two primary schools the previous year, which would have been demonstrable from Schools Census information. Firstly they refused the information I requested through a Freedom of Information Request, then unlawfully refused me an Internal Review, the next stage in the process. I was therefore forced to take my complaint directly to the Information Commissioner, who instructed them to disgorge it. I have now had the outcome of a subsequent FOI, which informs me that 'If a requestor is not satisfied with the outcome of their request, they have a right of complaint via internal review'. The change of policy will have followed an instruction by the Information Commissioner.
'Kent County Council (KCC) know that over the next five years they need to provide hundreds more secondary school places' (in Folkestone).
Quite simply untrue. The Commissioning Plan proposes that any short term pressure be met by temporary accommodation.
'While Folkestone Academy currently has a number of vacancies for September, this will not be the case in the future. It is no secret that Folkestone Academy is in the process of being turned around, following on from a challenging few years. We were very clear when we took on Folkestone Academy that there was a lot of work to be done to improve the school, and that work is now well under way. Indeed, the need for improvement was the main reason why the school joined Turner Schools'.
Local people and professionals are unaware of these challenging few years, including 2015 when the school was awarded a Good Ofsted classification. Turner Schools took over Folkestone Academy in April 2017 shortly afterwards trumpeting in the same newspaper article: The Folkestone Academy is absolutely a success story. There has been ten years of success, more than 500 young people have gone to university’ ; and the fantasy of ‘What is Turner Schools? The group with an ambitious plan to turn Folkestone Academy into the best school in the south of England’, together with 'We are committed to providing families in Folkestone with the best non-selective education in the south, at both Folkestone Academy and the Turner Free school’.
Since then there has been a continuous PR exercise to denigrate the school’s previous performance documented in various places on this site. There will be a surplus number of places at FA for many years to come unless the fortunes of TFS also decline under Turner Schools.
Meanwhile, Martello Primary appointed a new Head of School in April, presumably as part of yet another re-structuring in the past three years, but according to the current staffing list there are already two Vice Principals and an Executive Head in place to run a school of just 155 pupils, struggling to attract numbers, and having the sixth highest vacancy rate in Kent for September in Reception. That works out as one senior leader for every 40 pupils, a massively expensive staff loading, although at the time of writing in July, the staff team does not mention him. There are also two Vice Principals at the shrinking Morehall Primary (highest vacancy rate for Reception Year in Kent). Shades of the overstaffing by senior staff of Turner Free School. Oddly, whilst at both secondary schools, the full teaching staff are listed, at the primaries where there have also been large turnovers of staff, just the four senior leaders are identified, in spite of the heading 'Staff Team' so it appears the class teachers are not regarded as part of the staff team) . Two other new pieces of jargon are the introduction of 'Team Turner' at Martello only and 'Scholars' for all pupils at TFS. .