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Monday, 22 November 2021 15:43

Dr Jo Saxton new Ofqual Regulator: ' No one will be able to say I hid away in the Ofqual attic’. 

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 The title quotation from the new Ofqual Regulator, Dr Jo Saxton, heads a profile of her contained in Schoolsweek last week. A few months ago, the same website also recorded a comment that  In the past, being a close confidante and policy adviser to the secretary of state for education would be seen as a straightforward disqualification for a non-ministerial departmental role like this, but clearly the civil service recruitment panel and Gavin Williamson has taken a different view’, and so has had to walk a difficult path in focusing on her virtues. 

The profile begins with a reference to her role as CEO of Turner Schools, which she co-founded, and which is the subject of several critical articles on this site countering the many extravagant claims she has made for the academy Trust, as she sought the headlines with no semblance of hiding away in an attic.

Jo Saxton is heavily influenced by two American educators, one of whom is Ed Hirsch who espouses a traditional knowledge and structure based curriculum,  and applied his principles to the four Turner Schools academies, with strongly negative effects, described below. These include: the removal of most vocational subjects from the Folkestone Academy (FA) Sixth Form, contributing to a fall of over 50% in Sixth form numbers in just three years;, a decline in take up of places across all three original Trust Schools made up by additional funding from government; and a lack of support for pupils with learning difficulties, as one of her gurus falsely considered that 'the ‘knowledge based curriculum should be offered to all children and if they cannot absorb it, then they won’t come to harm'. Although she appears to have no formal background, in 2019 she rearranged Trust priorities so she could follow her main interest of curriculum, a strange decision for a CEO in a small troubled academy Trust and on a very high salary of £149,783 in her last year. To be fair, curriculum was at the core of her first role in a school Trust, at Future Academies (see below), and the assessment of performance by pupils across the curriculum is a major function of her new role at Ofqual.  

In a recent speech as Ofqual regulator, she appears to once again pick up some of the other themes of an extensive 2018 profile in the TES  

'Let me be clear, then, I see the role of a regulator as being champion for the vulnerable and for the disadvantaged. In the case of qualifications that means acting on behalf of students of all ages and apprentices; and especially those with particular protected characteristics'

This should be taken alongside the recent draft proposal for consultation by Ofqual on designing and developing accessible assessments, which has brought criticism from the knowledge curriculum supporters on grounds of 'dumbing down'. For example, assessments are recommended to: use just one clause or idea per sentence, with each task expressed in a separate sentence or question; avoid words that have more than one meaning, for example, “draw”, “present”, “sound”; and many other simplifications of language use, to improve accessibility including by children with learning difficulties.   

As with the multitude of fine sounding ambitions that were the cornerstone of Dr Saxton’s time at Turner Schools, the profile and these early signs of  a change of approach promise much. We can only hope she now delivers in practice on the national stage, for the sake of the children of this country.

Jo Saxton
A previous article sets out many of the key elements of Dr Saxton’s time at Turner Schools (TS) from where, according to the SchoolsWeek profile, she came to the conclusion that the drive to academise all schools needs to be followed through. Several times in the profile she refers to minor problems she encountered after taking on TS , as well as rightly condemning the corrupt Lilac Sky Trust (twice) as letting down the case for academisation, an issue which government has repeatedly failed to tackle. Strangely, there is no mention in the profile of any specific successes or ‘major rehabilitation’ (her claim) at TS, all schools of which stand as a warning against the policy. Neither is there mention of her previous Trusteeship of New Schools Network, a political organisation dedicated to supporting new Free Schools and raising standards by promoting academisation. Previous to Turner Schools, she was CEO of the controversial Future Academies Trust with its 'knowledge rich curriculum', founded by Lord Nash, formerly a Minister for Schools with responsibility for academisation. At the DfE she worked for Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Standards, another strong advocate of  knowledge based education, the link going to a speech pitting it against the development of skills, although they are not opposites. 
Turner Schools
In a previous article I list my interpretation of the 'achievements' of Turner Schools. 
One of the most egregious examples of her claims is to justify the exclusions rocketing in her first year of responsibility for Folkestone Academy, the lead school of TS, to an astonishing 83% of the secondary roll, more than twice the level of any other English school over a period of four years (see below). Martello Primary, the second of the three Turner schools at the time, had an exclusion level at 25% of the statutory roll, second largest primary percentage in Kent. The Trust justified the high number of exclusions at the time, by stating that they were ‘necessary to achieve high standardsalthough not only have these standards fallen by so many other measures, Dr Saxton agreed with one of her gurus that Behaviours that lead to exclusions happen when students perceive there to be no limits and no expectations and no rules’.

 Exclusion Rates at Folkestone Academy 

Exclusion Rate per Secondary Student on Roll:
Highest in England by Year
Year School Local Authority Exclusion Rate

Bishopsgarth Academy

Stockport 40.3%
St Augustine's CE High School
Westminster 40.3%
2017-18* Folkestone Academy (Secondary) Kent 82.8%
2016-17 Outwood Academy Middlesbrough 39.7%

Notes: it is only since 2016-17 that government has published Exclusion Rates, by school with 2017-18 also not included.  The above table gives the highest rate for an English secondary school in each case. In 2017-18 Folkestone Academy saw 1211 school exclusions for its 1471 secondary pupils at the June census, a fixed term exclusion (or suspension) rate of 82.8% exclusions for each 11-19 pupil. This is more than double the maximum rate for any of the three surrounding years, so it is reasonable to assume that it was the highest rate by some way of any English school. 

 Turner Schools is now under new management, with Sean Murphy probably groomed for the job, having previously been appointed as Deputy CEO of TS by Jo Saxton. There are no indications that he is going to make significant changes in the operation of the Trust, but the one major change is that he gets on with the job fairly quietly as far as the outside world is concerned, rather than pursuing the incessant marketing undertaken by his predecessor.  


Read 87 times Last modified on Friday, 26 November 2021 20:12

1 comment

  • Comment Link Saturday, 27 November 2021 23:19 posted by Observer

    Why don't you mention the disgraced political figure, Toby Young, who appears in both this story and the one in your following article. Peter: because whilst he is interesting in the circles in which both moved, he is not central to the stories. According to wikipedia: Young has been at the centre of several controversies. In 2015, he wrote an article in advocacy of genetically engineered intelligence, which he described as "progressive eugenics". In early January 2018, he was briefly a non-executive director on the board of the Office for Students, an appointment from which he resigned within a few days after Twitter posts described as "misogynistic and homophobic" were uncovered. In 2020, press regulator IPSO found Young to have promoted misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic in a Daily Telegraph column.

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