The following article may not be of direct interest to families but it identifies the chaos and machinations at the top of Turner Schools and as such I consider it is an important testimony. The consequences for schools operating under this chaotic level of leadership cannot be good.
The mystery of the resignation of the Chairman of Directors and Founder of Turner Schools, Professor Carl Lygo, along with Dame Susan John and four other Directors continues to deepen in what appears to have been a meltdown amongst the Board of Directors back in May. Amongst other developments below, the Trust has quietly announced the appointment of Mike Buchanan as the new Board Chairman in the middle of an article about building works, although completely forgetting to mention why another Chairman is needed, or to give any mention or credit anywhere to Professor Lygo, Dame Susan John, or Jenny King amongst others for their important contributions to the Trust.
Since I wrote my previous article, Folkestone Academy has had another set of poor GCSE results. Although it has improved on its record of awarding more than one in seven fixed term exclusions for the whole of Kent in 2017-18, the 2018-19 performance of being the third highest percentage in Kent is nothing to be proud of, nor are the high exclusion rates at Martello Primary and the Turner Free School. 2017-2018 had seen a mass exodus of staff, another large swathe going in July this year. Folkestone Academy has got through five headteachers since Turner Schools took over. Sixth form numbers have slumped, as has intake. The Trust has made multiple false claims about its ‘successes’ over the past two years to cover this record up. There is more to come before Christmas.
The current rot at Folkestone Academy dates back to well before September 2018, by which time the school had completely failed to attract a new Executive Headteacher in spite of extensive advertising by a high profile firm of head-hunters. The Trust then settled instead for an internal promotion in the secondary section of this all through school.
However, 2018-19 has not seen the improvement forecast, the continued high rate of exclusions being a particular embarrassment. This was in spite of one of the Turner School gurus stating that: ‘“Behaviours that lead to exclusions happen when students perceive there to be no limits and no expectations and no rules.” In reply to my article the CEO, in a completely contradictory statement, justified the high number of exclusions, by stating that they were necessary to achieve high standards, along with excuses for each of the other failures. This in a climate which saw the same guru comparing Folkestone to an American rust-bucket city whilst the CEO was proudly referring to The Times verdict that Folkestone was one of the coolest places to live in England.
Easter saw the sudden appointment of a Deputy CEO, Seamus Murphy, to the Trust, reportedly because the CEO, Dr Jo Saxton (JS), wanted to focus on her main interest of curriculum, surely the wrong priority for the person at the top of the organisation. The reason for the appointment only became clear in September when it was announced that Mr Murphy had been appointed Executive Principal of Folkestone Academy from January 2020, with the previous Principal demoted. The school website identifies him as already Executive Headteacher in various places, so it looks likely this was the plan from the start.
In between these two events, the Board of Directors at Folkestone Academy appeared to go into meltdown. On 1st May, the Secretary of the Trust, Hayley Porter-Aslet resigned after just over a year in office as Chief Operating Officer for the Trust. Her previous post was at John Wallis Academy, Ashford, and a number of staff followed her from there. She was succeeded in post by Jenny Bledge, Trust Governance and Compliance Officer, whom I found very helpful and competent on FOI matters, although she also vanished in September.
Folkestone Academy GCSE Performance 2019
The Trust's obsession with promoting good news stories led to the following press release from Mr Carroll, shortly to step down as Principal of Folkestone Academy, published on the school website and in a local newspaper: “These are the first results for Folkestone Academy since we joined Turner Schools and I am extremely proud of our students and their achievements in their GCSE examinations. These results are a reflection of the dedication and hard work of students and staff over the course of the five years of secondary school. It is particularly encouraging to see that Folkestone Academy is improving at a faster rate than the national average: we have further to go, but this is a very encouraging sign". Just a couple of problems with this. Firstly, it is the second set of first results (!), those for 2018 also being described as the first since Turner Schools took over Folkestone Academy. The 2018 article also reported in glowing terms that: '‘Folkestone Academy Celebrates Encouraging Uptick in Students Securing Top Grades’, whilst in fact there was a sharp decline in Progress 8 GCSE and a decline in Higher Grade English and Maths as can be seen in the Individual Schools section of this site.The 2019 data on the same page shows a continued decline since the 2017 results to Well Below Average Progress (although slightly up on 2018), a fall in Attainment 8 and a fall in Higher Grade English and maths. So a further decline rather than an improvement faster than the national average! Not surprisingly the 2019 results article soon vanished from the website soon after having made its initial impact, and presumably knowing it was open to challenge.
Board of Directors
Meeting of 7th/8th May
The following week the Trust held an emergency meeting of Directors, so urgent it was conducted by conference telephone. Indeed, it was so important that it extended over two days to ensure ‘full coverage’. Every Director was ‘present’. Clues from the Minutes as to what was so urgent are sparse. There are a couple of ‘Updates on the Senior Team’, including ‘changes to the senior operational team’, not necessarily the stuff for such an urgent meeting. However: ‘Following the raising of retrospective concerns' from several Directors, the Chairman, Professor Lygo ‘advised that he would like the Board to reflect on how it – collectively – ensures issues are brought up with the Chair and CEO. It was agreed that self-reflection would form an element of board self-assessment. Action: Clerk to ensure self-assessments undertaken’.
The next item on the agenda was: Leadership and Governance Culture. ‘JS (CEO Jo Saxton) informed the Board on her plans to run a training session with all senior colleagues on leadership culture, using the Nolan Principles, as published on the Trust’s website. GC suggested that informal/social contact may also be beneficial. JS noted the latter already took place. Professor Lygo asked JS to consider informal mechanisms for “triangulation” JS agreed to do so. This meeting was conducted as a closed session. There being no further business the meeting was closed’. And that was it. Conclusion: There had been a bust-up amongst Directors, confirmed by the next event.
3rd July. Professor Lygo (Founder Director and Chairman of the Trust) and Dame Susan John resign as Directors, although no indication of this was given in the Minutes of the Emergency Meeting. Even this managed to get fouled up, as the resignations still appear on the Trust Website on a page via a link called: ‘Details of Former Trustees/Directors can be Found Here’ as having happened on 9th July (Companies House describes the revision of the date as ‘Clarification: a second filed TM01 registered on 8/08/2019’). The Minutes of the July Meeting, below, claim that the reasons for these simultaneous mid-meeting resignations was travel difficulties and that the Board wished to thank them for their services, but there still remains no public appreciation or even mention.
A further meeting, planned for 6th September was postponed (presumably as there was nothing pressing!), to seven weeks later on 30th October. The agenda is, as all official documents are, rather bland but notes that resignations are to be received along with Prospective Director Biographies. The latter will have included information on Michael Buchanan and Professor Helen James, details here, and a new Interim Chair, James Booth-Clibborn.
On 5th September, Jenny Bledge resigned as Secretary to the Board, after four months in post and just over a year with the Trust, to take up a post elsewhere. Overall, the rate of turnover amongst the administrative team at Turner Schools is also very large, once again making the point that this is not a happy organisation. On 19th September, Jenny King resigned as a Director, one of eight who had gone since the Trust was set up in 2016, including all six of the original Directors, apart from Dr Saxton.
At the 30th October Meeting Mr Buchanan was appointed Chairman of Directors.