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Tuesday, 16 November 2021 06:58

Exclusions and Bullying at Victory Academy in Medway

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My recent article on Kent and Medway School Exclusions 2020-21 has been widely read already, the most astonishing of the main headlines being the six-fold increase in fixed term exclusions at the Victory Academy in Medway since 2018-19, the year before the pandemic, with most other schools seeing a reduction. The figure of 403 exclusions is by some way the largest for any school across Kent or Medway in the past two years.

Victory Academy

At the time of writing, I had not recalled that Ofsted had carried out a ‘No Formal Designationinspection of the school in November last year, because ‘Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector wished to determine the effectiveness of safeguarding arrangements at the school as concerns had been raised with Ofsted about the behaviour and attitudes of pupils’. The one-day inspection by two inspectors appeared to rely mainly on evidence from the leaders of the school and Thinking Schools Academies Trust (TSAT), reporting an already high exclusion rate in the first two months of the school year without comment. Perhaps even more significantly ‘Around a quarter of pupils who completed our online survey felt that bullying was not dealt with well by the school’. 

Despite these two factors, the Inspectors presented a positive view of the school in their report on an inspection, probably triggered by concerned parents, whose seriousness is emphasised by there being only two other reports of this nature I have found across Kent and Medway schools in the past five years. However, the positive outcome of the inspection appears to have meant that leaders needed to take no other action than just keep excluding at an even higher rate. 

The exceptional nature of the Inspection is underlined both by the rarity of such events across Kent and Medway and the government guidance that: ‘Inspectors will follow this guidance where Ofsted has concerns that the safety of pupils and/or staff is at risk or where information suggests that there has been a serious breakdown in leadership and management, or a decline in standards. Where Ofsted receives information about a school that causes us concern, we will weigh this carefully against all other data and information we hold before making a decision whether to inspect the school under ‘no formal designation’ procedures’.

I have written several previous articles on problems in the management of TSAT, most recently with regard to The Gordon Children’s Academy, although this related to the bullying of staff. Too often these cover their decision making, which can appear irrelevant to the needs of the pupils in their care. 

This year’s 403 fixed term exclusions comprise over a third of the total of all those in the eleven Medway N/S schools. In 2019-20 there were 129 at Victory and in 2018-19 there were just 66. Parents had expressed very real concerns to Ofsted about the attitudes and behaviour of pupils to the extent that they carried out a special inspection in November 2020, looking at the safeguarding aspects of the concerns. The Inspectors appeared not to notice that a serious situation was developing, recording that: 'Leaders are relentless in setting high expectations about behaviour across the school.... Leaders from the trust bring specific expertise to support the school well with the management of safeguarding issues and attendance. The chief executive officer visits the school regularly to check on the culture and work of the school in person....There are also a set of well-understood incremental sanctions for poor behaviour. These include verbal warnings, detentions, pupils being ‘parked’ in another class (currently within the same bubble), internal exclusion and ultimately fixed-term exclusion. The school prioritises reconciliation....Around a quarter of pupils who completed our online survey felt that bullying was not dealt with well by the school'. And then: 'Behaviour records show that there are incidents of poor behaviour in the school and infrequently these can be of a violent nature. Records also show that these incidents are dealt with appropriately and proportionately by leaders, following the school’s behaviour policy. Sanctions such as exclusion are used where the policy deems it is appropriate, for example if a pupil is verbally abusive to a member of staff. Around 5% of pupils have had one or more fixed-term exclusions so far this academic year'. This statistic reveals that around 50 pupils had one or more fixed term exclusions in two months which, if the same rate had continued,  would have pitched it into my high exclusion rate in the table in my original article. Not only did Ofsted apparently not notice this high rate but more significantly, the leaders of the Victory Academy apparently just sat back and watch behaviour deteriorate to the extent that exclusions rocketed through the remainder of the year. This led to more than three times as many exclusions as in the previous year, uniquely across the county? What on earth is going on? So much for Ofsted and the parents who expressed those concerns!!

Read 165 times Last modified on Thursday, 18 November 2021 17:22

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