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Friday, 12 July 2019 06:35

Copperfield Academy, Gravesham: Reply to FOI about staffing exposes even worse problems.

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Following my two previous articles about the failings of those running Copperfield Academy and its predecessor school to provide an adequate education for the children of the school over too many years, I explored further the alarming position described in the most recent Ofsted Monitoring Report. This revealed that half the class teachers in the school were not qualified to teach, out of a total of 18 classes listed on the website and that: ‘the quality of teaching remains highly variable. This is further exacerbated by the high level of staff changes or staff who are absent’. The recent pattern of appointments is (presumably matched by an equivalent rate of resignations): 

Copperfield Academy, Gravesham
New Staff Appointed for 18 classes in September
Teachers
Appointed
Source Notes
2016 13 Ofsted 2016
5 NQT*, 6 teachers new
to English system
2017 11 Ofsted 2017
2018 5 School data
Ofsted 2019 describes staffing
changes as 'turbulent'
2019 10  Ofsted June 2019 planned, so likely to be more

 Note: * = Newly  Qualified Teacher

The whole amounts to a shocking rate of attrition of teachers, with the added tragedy that many of those leaving each year are no doubt being disillusioned by the experience and so have become a loss to a profession already suffering from the severe shortage of new entrants who stay the course.     

Accordingly, I submitted a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) to the REach 2 Academy Trust which runs Copperfield to find out the detail and received back a report of a different pattern of events as explained below, which put the school in a much better light. So, I followed it up and was told there was no discrepancy with the Ofsted comments in my first paragraph, which is untrue. One key admission  was that Higher Level Teaching Assistants or Learning Support Assistants who have been 'covering classes' during the year will return to their substantive roles in September (presuming of course that all the ten new appointments turn up). Sadly, I regularly get reports of other schools engaging in such practices with the result that children are not being provided with an adequate education. 

You will find the result of my initial FOI here, containing the surprising information that of the 22 full time and five part time teachers (this will have included the three senior leaders none of whom were class teachers) just five were unqualified at the time of the inspection, clearly contradicting the information provided by Ofsted of 'half the teachers'. Further, it tells us that the staff included just five teachers who had joined the school in September 2018 and that only four full time teachers have left during or are leaving at the end of  this school year, along with two part-timers, to be replaced by ten new appointments in September 2019 (Ofsted). These ‘facts’ hardly meet the Ofsted description of ‘the high level of staff changes’, passing over the 'high level of staff who are absent' for the moment. 

 I did not go through a formal Internal Review request to explore my concerns, as these had been widened by the response to the FOI. Instead I wrote and expressed these to the Trust, receiving a courteous but inadequate and misleading attempt to justify the data in a reply which you will find in full here. This clearly confirms that the answer to my original FOI was false. The first point in my enquiry was that 'The recent Ofsted Monitoring Inspection carried out in May states: "currently nine classes from Reception to Year 6 are covered by unqualified teachers" but your data indicates four full time Unqualified Teachers (UQTs) and one part-time'.  The Trust replied: "There is no discrepancy in this information. The school currently has nine members of staff working as ‘UQTs’ (Unqualified Teachers), across the school. By ‘UQT’ this means anyone who does not (yet) hold Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), or does not need to for their regular role. In some cases, their QTS is in progress; in others they hold relevant qualifications for the post they ‘typically’ hold, or they are HLTAs or lead LSAs, all of whom have covered classes to ensure continuity, stability and equity for our children". 

To clarify. Academies are exempt from the requirement that class teachers need to hold Qualified Teacher Status. This is to enable them to employ exceptional people from outside of the profession, who will bring something extra to the job, as explained here: ‘Government officials say this means academies will be free to hire "great linguists, computer scientists and other specialists who have not worked in state schools before".’ This was never ever intended to allow the dilution of standards to include Higher Level Teaching Assistants or Learning Support Assistants who may have many excellent qualities but are not trained teachers. Those learning on the job, as they work towards Qualified Teacher Status should not have full responsibility for classes, the key being in the word 'training'. None of these should be used instead of trained teachers to cover up a shortage, with those on training schemes working to a part-time timetable under supervision.  

So, the Ofsted report of nine UQTs is correct, the school claim of ‘just’ five is false, and the ‘explanation’ to try and equate the two is invalid.

My second point to the Trust demonstrates a different discrepancy. ‘You are intending to recruit 10 teachers to start in September 2019’. Given that there are just two teachers (one part-time) leaving by the end of the summer, this appears out of all proportionAnswer: 'This is not the case. Please refer to the answer to question 1 above'.  The reference to question one confirms that Teaching Assistants who have been used to cover classes over the year, are simply standing down. I do have considerable sympathy for schools that are forced down this route through no fault of their own, but in the case of Copperfield this is surely a result of poor management producing a multi-failed school with an inevitable high turnover of staff

The whole charade is explained in the response to my third point that: 'staff who have been ‘covering’ classes will return to their substantive roles' (unless some of the ten new teachers don't arrive in which case the inadequate provision will continue). Covering Classes for a year can never be an adequate substitute for being taught by a trained teacher, the school apparently satisfied that these Teaching Assistants will 'ensure continuity, stability and equity for our children' . This may well be true, but parents have a right to expect their children will be taught and taught effectively as well. 

None of what I have written should be taken as a criticism of the Teaching Assistants in this and many other schools who will step into the breach and do their very best to minimise the damage caused by the absence of a trained teacher. 

Teacher Absence
The fact that Ofsted has gone out of its way to highlight the high level of teacher absence, shows that the Inspectors consider something seriously troubling. We are not told the pattern of absence, but in some schools this happens when an Inspection is pending. A Multi-Academy Trust is able to stand down some of its less adequate 'teachers' and bring in a hit squad of substitute staff from other Trust schools to cover up the deficiency. In most work places outside schools a high level of staff absence is regarded as a strong indicator of inadequate practices on the part of employers and, given the evident staff shortages setting up additional pressures on staff at Copperfield Academy, this may well be the case here. 
 
After Thought
In both recent Inspection Reports, the school is given explicit permission to employ even more newly qualified teachers, a provision Inspectors had the power to withhold. Given the pattern of poor standards, high staff turnover and teacher absence, surely using NQTs as cannon fodder with such a high attrition rate, is betraying such recruits and their future. Or perhaps there is no other way to plug the gaps. 
 
Sadly, this depressing pattern is certainly not unique to Copperfield Academy as schools come under ever increasing pressure to deliver 'success', at the expense of the the very children they should be placing at the centre of their priorities.

 

 

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Read 297 times Last modified on Sunday, 14 July 2019 06:50

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