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Wednesday, 05 November 2014 00:00

Charles Dickens School in Broadstairs: Special Measures

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Charles Dickens School in Broadstairs has been placed in Special Measures by OFSTED, just three years after being found “Good”. This follows the even sharper decline of Castle Community College  in Deal, from “Outstanding” to Special Measures in March, but is all the more surprising as there appeared few signs of decline to the outsider, with very good GCSE results in previous years, a well established headteacher with a good reputation and parents queuing up to send their children to the school.

Charles Dickens

 However, as I warned in a previous article, the new GCSE regime, along with a new Inspection regime, is going to provide Kent’s non-selective schools with a strong challenge.

Academically, the school steadily improved its confirmed 5 GCSE A-C including English and maths to a sound 53% in 2013, and the Report notes that the school has reached the government’s current floor standard of 40%, which sets minimum standards for attainment and progress. However, along with the large majority of Kent’s non-selective schools, there has been a strong dip for the unconfirmed 2014 results to 34%, connected with the changes in GCSE result calculation. This will have played its part in influencing the decision.  

The problem I have with this Report is that whilst it reads as the most critical I have ever read of a Kent secondary school (worse even than Castle), it almost appears to have lost objectivity and to be deliberately vindictive: “boys’ shirts are often hanging out untidily”! hardly the stuff of serious reporting. This sense is compounded by the fact that the Inspection Team invited the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to join them on the second day of the Inspection, or was it that the findings of the team were so awful, they needed him to see them for himself?

So what are the key issues? The reality is that this is a damning Report, with copious evidence cited to back it up:.....

  • The headteacher does not communicate a clear vision for the school. Many staff feel that there is a lack of consistency in how the school works from day to day. Crucial policies are not in place.
  • The governing body is failing to monitor the quality of the school’s work well enough.
  • Leaders do not present information about how well students are doing clearly enough for staff to be able to use it effectively, or analyse important information about behaviour and safety.
  • The school is not a community in which people’s differences are sufficiently valued and respected. This is not managed adequately by the school.
  • The poor behaviour of a minority is a significant concern.
  • Attendance is below national averages and is in decline; exclusions are above average, and are increasing.
  • Leaders do not monitor the quality of teaching or improve it well enough.
  • Too much teaching fails to give students a good understanding of key ideas and basic subject knowledge. Teaching rarely meets the needs of all groups of students properly.
  • Achievement is inadequate because of the poor progress made by many students over their five years at the school, and in the majority of subjects; this leads to low attainment by the end of Year 11.
  • Disadvantaged students generally make less progress than others and the gap is widening between them and other students, despite the school receiving pupil premium funding to reduce it.
  • Achievement in mathematics is particularly low and teaching is not good enough to improve it.
  • The sixth form is inadequate. Examination results for the first students were very low.

Reported strengths are few:

  • Students achieve well in English. Despite arriving at the school with lower than average Key Stage 2 results they achieve near national average standards in this subject.
  • Some middle leaders have an accurate picture of the significant improvements required in teaching and outcomes.

However, a Facebook page with a range of opinions shows many parents being bewildered by the OFSTED decision. 

The four pages of detailed evidence, the most comprehensive I can recall, are packed with justification for the above decisions. Some examples:

Around half of the staff who returned questionnaires expressed concerns around the leadership and management of the school; key policies are out of date, including the pupil premium policy. Other very important policies, including those on literacy, and teaching and learning, are not in place; Decisions on early examination entry are driven too strongly by a perceived need to improve the school’s headline performance figures, rather than the achievement of students; too many students ended up last year on sixth form courses which did not suit their needs; The governance of the school is failing to offer sufficient challenge and support to the headteacher and senior leaders; a significant minority (of students) bully and abuse their peers and behave badly in lessons and around the school; students’ capacity to feel safe in the school depends too much on their making good friendships, avoiding coming into contact with certain other students, and factors such as their ethnic heritage. There are unacceptable racially-based remarks and too much prejudice-based bullying. Friction is often avoided between different groups of students by their remaining separate from each other. The consequence of the school’s failure to address deep-seated tensions is that fights break out, sometimes more than once a week, and students are hurt. The school is failing to tackle discrimination; Attendance has been below the national average since the last inspection; it worsened over 2013/14. Instances of fixed term exclusions, already high for students supported at school action plus, also increased over this period. This was mainly due to an increase in repeat offences by students whose behaviour was not being addressed successfully; Students reported that a significant minority of lessons are disrupted by a steady undercurrent of poor behaviour; often the same work is presented to the whole class in the same way - more able students are not challenged enough, and those who struggle to learn flounder; too few teachers check how well students are learning at important points in the lesson; Teachers too often aim to get through tasks without much regard for how well students understand important concepts and acquire knowledge; Marking is inconsistent in approach, and there are few signs of its effective impact; the proportion of students achieving five or more GCSE grade Cs including English and mathematics improved in 2013 but was still below the national average ( it would be with a non-selective school!); in 2014 it dropped to be well below minimum expectations; Students’ achievement in mathematics has been in need of urgent improvement for some years and was inadequate over the last year. The quality of their learning currently is severely compromised by weak teaching in this subject; students who are disabled or have special education needs do not make adequate progress because their needs are not understood well enough; the first set of results for the new sixth form were extremely disappointing. The sixth form did not meet students’ needs: nearly one in three AS-level examination entries did not reach the minimum standard required for a pass grade. Too many students started on courses for which they did not have the necessary qualifications.

The OFSTED Inspection team is clearly trying to make a point! I have never seen anything like this in nearly ten years of monitoring local OFSTED Reports. What was the role of Sir Michael Wilshaw? It is reported that he wanted the headteacher removed there and then, but there was nobody present at KCC in Maidstone at that time with authority to suspend him. The Report was leaked to the Thanet Gazette in mid-October, which describes actions being taken to rectify the situation, these include the setting up of a partnership with the Federation of Dane Court Grammar School and King Ethelbert School. At present, the headteacher, Mr Andrew Ollson, keeps his job, with the support of KCC, according to the Thanet Gazette, but the level of direct criticism of him in the public domain must cause concern. On the other hand, in 2011 OFSTED recorded: “The school has come through a period of major change and has now entered a period of stability and growth. This is because of the strong leadership of the headteacher and the commitment of leaders and managers at all levels, who are strongly focused on raising students' aspirations as well as their attainment. The school has set, and is now meeting or exceeding, challenging targets for students' achievement”.  The precarious nature of a headteacher’s tenure is hardly a recommendation!

Meanwhile what of Kent County Council? Charles Dickens is a Foundation School, a status that places it at arms length from KCC, but who have ultimate responsibility for standards at the school. OFSTED reports that: “The local authority has not responded to clear signals over recent years that students’ achievements are not good enough. Neither has it offered effective challenge and support to the headteacher and the governing body to ensure that enough is being done about this. Their assessment of the school’s current effectiveness is optimistic, and they are not therefore serving the best interests of students in the school”. Sadly, Kent’s Secondary school Improvement Team has also come under criticism recently, its performance disguised by the overall excellent performance of Kent’s secondary schools, mainly academies independent of the Authority. This comment hardly enhances it!

Towers School and Sixth Form Centre


However, elsewhere there is better news for a Kent non-selective school, the Towers School and Sixth From Centre being assessed “Requires Improvement” which, although the same standard as the previous inspection, has some promising comments. This was the first Inspection of its type in the county in this school year, following a few rocky years for the school and, as the Report states: “The inspirational leadership of the new Principal has successfully embedded a culture of striving for ‘excellence in everything’. As a result, the school is improving rapidly”. Sounds a valuable asset in a competitive situation with the Wye Free School down the road. 

Last modified on Thursday, 06 November 2014 12:37

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