Updated March 2021: The Disgraceful Behaviour of the Governors of Fairview Primary School
I recently wrote an article reporting that the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) had exceptionally turned down a proposal for Fairview Community Primary School to become an academy, partly because ‘the Governing Body was at odds with the school community’. Two months after the decision, governors got round to letting parents know in a letter on 24th February.
This two page letter comprises a page and a half of self-justification before a brief mention of the decision was made: ‘In December we proceeded with an application for an Academy Order, this was declined as our Local Authority, Medway and the RSC raised concerns after receiving a number of correspondences.
Governors will now carry out a ‘period of reflection in which they will take this opportunity to respond to the most frequently raised themes highlighted, including Academic Standards, transparency and the question of why The Westbrook Trust with more regular communication’. What they will not do apparently, is carry out further consultation or reconsider whether their decision was in the best interests of the school.
It appears to be agreed that the Compass Partnership of Schools (not to be confused with four other ‘Compass’ Trusts all with similar names), based in Greenwich and called in to support the school after a disastrous episode in 2018 as explained here, is doing a good job. Indeed, ‘in response to the various comments around change, Fairview's Governing Body has already extended its temporary contract with Compass until the end of this academic year to provide stability throughout these uncertain times’.
What remains unclear is why the RSC turned this application down, contrary to numerous counterexamples across the country of schools being forced into becoming academies in spite of strong and very public protests. The RSC’s report justifying its decision is fuller than that of the Governing Body to parents. It records that: ‘A majority of responses to the consultation were not in favour of the school to join Westbrook Trust. The governing body, having taken these concerns into consideration, but still feel The Westbrook Trust is the best option for the school. It was noted that the LA had formally raised concerns surrounding the governing body’s decision making, specifically around transparency and community engagement. Members raised concerns that the governing body was at odds with the school community’.
‘The Governing Body was at Odds with the School Community’
This is very much stronger than the governors’ view of ‘concerns after receiving a number of correspondences’ (unspecified). My previous article covers some of those concerns in considerable detail. The Governing Body now plans to regularly communicate with parents exploring the themes of 'Academic Standards, transparency and the question of why The Westbrook Trust' and parents will no doubt be interested to learn about these, as explored below. It is underlined by Medway Council's formal concern about governors 'transparency and community engagement'. This may well signal a failure to share and discuss the issues with parents rather than just tell them what they are doing.
As governors have highlighted the main issue raised by parents as being one of academic standards, I begin there, the table below showing what is publicly available. The data comes from the Department of Education Performance Tables for 2019 Key Stage Two results (no 2020 outcomes published). Two of the schools in the Westbrook Trust featured in this table with the third, St Margaret's Infant School, not involved. Its lead school Brompton-Westbrook, academised in 2014, undoubtedly has the worst performance of all schools in the two Trusts. The whole suggests that the five primary schools of the Compass Partnership of Schools, who converted to become academies together in July 2017 (along with Willow Dene a Special School), have a superior level of performance, so it is difficult to see how the governors’ conclusion was reached.
Strangely, whilst governors published a detailed Performance analysis of the two schools of the Westbrook Trust over the four years 2016-19, which appeared to show very little, they omitted the central and published figures of the proportion of children reaching an expected or higher standard in their performance, or any comparison with Fairview.
|2019 Key Stage Two Performance of the Two Trusts Compared
*Pupils are meeting the expected standard if they achieve a scaled score of 100 or more in their reading and maths tests, and their teacher assesses them as 'working at the expected standard' or better in writing.
**Pupils are achieving at a higher standard if they achieve a scaled score of 110 or more in their reading and maths tests, and their teacher assesses them as ‘working at a greater depth within the expected standard’ in writing.
Overall Key Stage Two Progress Levels and Ofsted Outcomes for the two groups of schools
Brompton Westbrook: Reading Progress - Well Below Average; Writing -Average; Maths - Well Below Average. Ofsted Good 2019
Byron: Reading Progress -Above Average; Writing -Above Average; Maths - Average. Ofsted Requires Improvement 2018
St Margaret's Infant School: Ofsted Pre Academisation Good 2016.
Compass Partnership of Schools
Alderwood: Reading Progress - Average; Writing -Average; Maths - Average. Ofsted Pre Academisation Requires Improvement
Deansfield: Reading Progress - Well Below Average; Writing -Average; Maths - Below Average. Ofsted Pre Academisation - Outstanding
Halstow Reading Progress - Average; Writing -Average; Maths -Average. Ofsted Pre Academisation Outstanding
Horn Park Reading Progress - Average; Writing -Average; Maths -Average. Ofsted Pre Academisation Good
South Rise: Reading Progress - Below Average; Writing -Average; Maths -Below Average. Ofsted Pre Academisation Good
The table shows that four out of the five Compass schools contain a considerably higher proportion of pupils who achieved the required standard at Key Stage Two in 2019 (no published tables for 2020 because of Covid), and of pupils achieving a higher standard. In terms of Progress in Reading, Writing and Mathematics, Brompton Westbrook Primary, the lead school of the Westbrook Trust, achieved the worst overall performance, and Byron Primary the best. In terms of Ofsted, no Compass School has been inspected since academisation (schools are allowed a three year holiday after conversion), but four carried a strong performance into the Trust.
This is the one that I can't see (!) unless it refers to transparency in dealings with parents, but it may be that what is hidden is the critical reason why the academisation proposal was rejected.
Why The Westbrook Trust?
This is also a puzzle, as all appear very happy with the way that Compass has managed Fairview Primary since January 2019, when it took over a school that had been severely damaged by its previous leadership and restored confidence, although there is no mention of this in the governors' letter. This considered that Fairview was 'A school whose reputation and popularity has always been rooted in its ability to provide not only an environment that supports a good academic experience for its children, but also an environment that feels like 'home' to its pupils, parents and staff alike'. The Spring of 2018 saw a very different picture, as I learned at the time from those teachers and parents who were expressing their concerns directly to me, with no sign then of governor concern.
The best knowledge about the Westbrook Trust will inevitably have come from the previous Chair of Governors, who was married to the CEO of Westbrook. Quite rightly she stood down after negotiations with Westbrook began, but still remained on the Governing Body. 'Governors voted overwhelmingly to proceed with The Westbrook Trust as their vision aligned most closely with the ethos and values of Fairview', although why these were stronger than those of Compass is unclear. Parents will be looking forward to the governor communications that explain this.
What we do know about Compass is that it was formed by five schools coming together, two of which were Ofsted Outstanding and are now led by the previous head of the Outstanding Deansfield Primary, one of the five. This is a strong model, underlining the word 'Partnership' and identical to that of the flourishing Deal Education Alliance for Learning Trust, which was formed in 2018. Hardly the corporate money-grabbing monsters that a few have alleged! If Fairview Governors carried out due diligence by 'examining pupil performance data, reviewing parental surveys, reviewing Ofsted reports' etc, as claimed, then parents should certainly expect to learn why they ignored the poorer pupil performance of Westbrook pupils, and how they reviewed Ofsted Reports, given that the none of the Compass Partnership schools has had an inspection since becoming academies, whilst just two of the three Westbrook schools have, with one rated Good and the other Requires Improvement.
Compass has already demonstrated its qualities in Medway, having successfully managed issues at Luton Infant School before this merged with the Juniors, the new school joining the Compass Partnership as an Associate Member. The Westbrook Trust does have the current advantage that it is not only based in Medway but just runs Medway primary schools. However, because of the failure of too many Council run schools in the past, there are 55 primary and special school academies out of a total of 82, with at least 14 of these belonging to Trusts outside the Authority, the majority in Greenwich, so this option is not unusual.
Whilst 'it was discussed in depth that although Compass would likely offer greater short-term stability, it was felt that The Westbrook Trust was the best long-term option and a careful transition plan would avoid detrimental impact to all those the school serves today'. Whilst my previous article did not look closely at the qualities of the two Trusts, this letter has caused me to carry out the above analysis which shows that the Compass Partnership of Schools offers much more than greater short term stability, without the risk of a transition plan losing the highly respected headteacher and executive head. Perhaps the governors of Fairview Community Primary School should reconsider their recommendation.