Supporting Families
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Peter Read

Revised 13th July
The campaigning organisation Comprehensive Future (CF) has published a lengthy article whose main purpose appears to be to attack me. For the second time, this uses false data they have published relating to grammar schools and Pupil Premium children. The problem dates back to a previous CF article about grammar schools two years ago, which wrongly stated, ‘When asked how many pupils were admitted through these priority policies 80 schools responded, revealing that just 574 disadvantaged pupils were offered admission out of their 12,431 available places... there were 22 selective schools who responded to say they had failed to admit a single disadvantaged pupil through their policies’.  Unfortunately, in order to obtain these figures, the authors of both CF articles used figures from a database that has no basis in reality and then have compounded the fiction by using data taken from the wrong column of the database, to make these false claims about grammar school performance, damaging to the image of these schools. The whole fulfils the well-known IT mantra of ‘Garbage in, Garbage out’, twice over.
 
CF has informed me that their published article is the continuation of what I was told was a confidential email correspondence, about a single phrase in a minor paragraph of an article I wrote earlier this year which they have chosen to open up in this way. That article was also about grammar schools and Pupil Premium, although mainly factual rather than theirs which is polemical. The phrase that CF objected to was: ‘demonstrating the falsehood of a previous claim by them’. The new article alleges that I ‘accuse CF of falsifying data. We refute these allegations and object most strongly to the implication that anyone who is a part of Comprehensive Future would alter or fabricate figures supplied in response to an FOI request’, which of course I didn’t, but this misuse of statistics does beg too many questions,  explored below. 

News Update: I have been contacted by a number of Thanet families whose children were found selective but not offered grammar school places because they live too far away and the grammar schools are full. They were placed on waiting lists, but have been shocked to be moved further down the list. This is because, at the recent admission appeals, several non-selective children were found to be of grammar school ability. The rules require that they are also added to the waiting list and if they live closer go ahead of those already on it! I have previously looked at the dire situation in Thanet here,  with several of these families being offered one of the county's least popular schools. Sadly I have nothing positive to suggest.  

I am starting to receive some feedback on school admission appeals for Kent families, decided on the basis of written submissions only,  although most are happening very late in the year and many have not yet happened. This method is likely to have been the norm for both KCC Panels and other organisations running appeals where there are multiple appeals for a school. It is in my view the only practical way forward for grammar school and probably other multiple appeals as I identified here back in April. However, it is a variation breaking with the hopelessly impractical model outlined by the government, which I described as 'a chink of light in the regulations'.  The use of written submissions only was put forward as one of three possible options, the other two being telephone and video conferencing.    

Most appellants appear content with this process whatever the outcome, it being far less stressful than the 'normal' appeals of previous yearsespecially in the view of families who have past experience of these. Others are looking to challenge the outcome on grounds that it was very different from the model laid down by the government, as explained here.  However, as I concluded in that article, the model is not obligatory, so such a challenge is unlikely to succeed.

I have not yet heard of the experience of local families encountering telephone or video conferencing for multiple appeals, although KCC appears to be using the former for some individual appeals and I look below at one such in-year hearing. I will update this article as and if I receive further reports of different experiences.  

REMEMBER TO REGISTER FOR THE KENT TEST BY 1ST JULY 

Kent County Council ‘has been contingency planning ever since schools were forced to close on March 20th, to see what adjustments might be needed to the Kent Test process in different situations as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded’. As a result of all this planning, it has decided simply to postpone the test by five weeks, subject to approval by the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills after 20th July. If matters develop then KCC will think of something else. You will find full details here

Unfortunately, the current plan will heavily penalise all those children whose families cannot afford or otherwise arrange for extensive private tuition to make up for the absence of school curriculum time over the second half of this school year, and bar those who miss the Test in the case of a second wave of the pandemic, or for other connected reasons, such as being placed in quarantine or simply through fear. Private schools with a focus on securing places at grammar school for their pupils will now be able to concentrate on preparing their pupils for the Kent Test over the five or six weeks of the autumn term preceding it. Kent state schools are forbidden to do this. 

This all makes a mockery of the statement by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, that: "We’re going to be looking at working with local authorities who have grammar school systems in their area as to how best we can ensure that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are not disadvantaged as they look at taking the 11-plus in the future.”

Update 13th July: Supporters of Mrs Aquilina have launched an online petition entitled 'Keep our Headteacher at St Thomas's and prevent a KCSP cluster with other schools'. I have also been sent a comment written by the Kent Catholic Schools Trust. You will find my thoughts on these below

Last month (14th June), all I knew about St Thomas’ Catholic Primary School in Sevenoaks, was that it had an Outstanding Ofsted Report dating back to 2014, was an averagely performing school in terms of Progress levels, usually had one of the highest proportion of pupils in the county passing the Kent Test (dipping in 2019), and just about filled in most years. I then published an article about the travails of the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership (KCSP) and the ‘unexpected absence’ of its Chief Executive. Leading on from this I was informed about the crisis at the school, a member of the Partnership. The headteacher, Mrs Aquilina, had been placed on Special Leave until the end of the academic year as the Partnership’s ‘Immediate priority as a Trust must be the children and staff of St Thomas’. This is now a major revision of the article I wrote to follow up the Pandora’s Box of outcomes that emerged followed this revelation, including the ‘voluntary absence’ of her husband, Father Aquilina, from his parish. 

St Thomas Sevenoaks

Between them, the two articles have now clocked up over  22,000 visitors in less than a month, an unprecedented number over the 15 years this site has been in existence. The host of comments at the foot amplify a number of the issues. I have reorganised the comments posted after the two articles to the one most appropriate for the content and have indicated where this has happened, although they are no longer in full date order. Items specific to the Partnership are now being transferred to the original article for clarity.

The St Thomas’ story continues below. I also look at the intriguing story of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which appears to have played a significant part in the background, although not of direct relevance to the absence of Mrs Aquilina.

If you have safeguarding concerns affecting a child at any school, contact Social Services here

17th June: A flurry of media interviews, including KMTV here, focusing on the Medway Test. 
 
Updated with Reference to Medway Test
Kent primary school headteachers are now being consulted by KCC on the nature of assessment for grammar school selection this year. Whilst there are various options, the key element of the consultation is whether to delay the Kent Test until mid-October, with consequent changes to the admission process as outlined in a previous article
 
Medway Council has also announced its decision to delay the Medway Test until October 13th and 14th. See below.  
 
Sadly there is no consideration or mention of the position of disadvantaged and Pupil Premium children, who currently make up 10% of the Kent Year Seven grammar school cohort, and 11% in Medway. It is clear that the nature of any decisions in line with this consultation and the Medway decision to delay will not only strongly disadvantage the chances of these disadvantaged children in the selection process, at the expense of those who have been intensively coached or from private schools. In a previous article I wrote:
There is therefore a huge responsibility on Local Authorities, whatever selection method is finally agreed on, to ensure that these percentages are at least maintained.
Under the Kent proposal and Medway decision the reverse would be true. Grammar schools would inevitably see a considerable increase in numbers of children from private schools and those heavily tutored, at the expense of those who have suffered from a limited education since March 23rd through no fault of their own. In Medway this will certainly be the case. 

Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education has said:  "We’re going to be looking at working with local authorities who have grammar school systems in their area as to how best we can ensure that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are not disadvantaged as they look at taking the 11-plus in the future.” There is no sign whatever of any intervention or even awareness of this pledge in the Kent consultation or Medway decision. This is an abject failure by both Authorities to honour this pledge. 

REMEMBER TO REGISTER FOR THE KENT TEST BY 1ST JULY 

Updated several times, most recently here.

Kent County Education Officers have still not yet released details of the Kent Test arrangements for 2020, but I have a proposal that appears to cover the key issues. Quite simply:

1) The Kent Test goes ahead as normal on September 10th for Kent Primary School Pupils and September 12th for those attending Out of County schools. I am confident that even if there is a second wave of Coronavirus, a high proportion of those registered for the Kent Test will wish and be able to take part under the prevailing safety regulations with schools making every effort to facilitate this. However, instead of the pass scores set to select the normal 20% of pupils in the cohort, my proposal is to reduce this possibly to as low as 12.5%.  

2) Expand the procedure for Headteacher Assessment to identify a further 12.5% of the cohort, who registered for the test, whether or not they took it, bringing the selective pass rate back to its normal 25%. Place greater responsibility on primary school headteachers. For example, as I have suggested previously, give them an indicative figure for their school, based on the average number of pupils found selective by both routes over the previous three years. The HTA Panel should then rely strongly on these recommendations in the light of the limited evidence that will be available in most cases to support a case. It is possible that they could simply be contained in a ranking order.

This procedure has the strong advantage that it broadly follows the current regulations and so could be introduced without too much difficulty. It also caters for the up to 5,000 out of county children who usually take the Kent Test. They can qualify via the direct route, or else, and less likely, also use the HTA procedure with the support of their headteachers.

The Campaigning website Comprehensive Future has criticised a single phrase in the last section below in a dedicated article here. Whilst hardly groundbreaking, I do not accept the criticism which is based on an inept and complete misreading of their own dodgy data and have responded here.  
There are considerable concerns over the opportunities for disadvantaged pupils in this year’s grammar school selection process, whatever form this takes. Nationally and in Kent and Medway there is remarkable consistency over the statistics for the last four years. The national percentage for Pupil Premium children in Year Seven of grammar schools is 8% of the total in each of January 2017-2019, with Kent being 9% (10% in 2020) and Medway 12% falling to 11% in 2019.
 
The four Kent grammar schools with the highest proportion of PP children currently in Year Seven, are those in Dover and Folkestone that offer local tests as an additional route of entry to grammar school. These are Dover Boys (22%); Dover Girls (20%); Folkestone Girls and Harvey both 19%. Lowest are Tonbridge (2%); Judd, Skinners, and Tunbridge Wells Girls, all with 3% PP. Highest in Medway in January 2019 were Chatham, Holcombe, and Fort Pitt, all with 15%. Lowest were Rainham Mark and Rochester (see below) with 8%.  Further details below.
 
There is therefore a huge responsibility on Local Authorities, whatever selection method is finally agreed on, to ensure that these percentages are at least maintained.
 Update 29 June: The proposed Review of the Trust (see below)  has been postponed to a later date.
 
With over 9,000 visitors in the three weeks since this article has been published, it is by some way the most popular article on this site this year.
 
The controversial Chief Executive of the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership (KCSP) is 'unexpectedly away for his duties at present' and is reported to have been removed from his post. Whilst the Trust states that he remains an employee the discrepancy could well be explained by his being on gardening leave whilst arrangements are made. The KCSP is an Academy Trust that runs 19 Catholic primaries  and five secondaries out of a total of 26 primary and six secondary Catholic schools in the county. Clive Webster, the CEO, was paid an annual salary of £155-160,000 in 2018-19, above the level where the Department for Education warns Academy Trusts about high pay . 
KCSP Logo

A letter from the Partnership to me (4th June) states: ‘Thank you for contacting Kent Catholic Schools' Partnership.  I am able to confirm that Mr Webster is unexpectedly away from his duties at present but has not left KCSP and remains an employee of the Trust’. School governors are unable to get any further information and some are naturally very unhappy about this, approaching me on the subject of his departure. This is very surprising as KCSP is normally a highly disciplined organisation. Secrecy about the matter is unlikely to be helpful to anyone, unless discussions about Mr Webster's future are taking place.  

Clive Webster created a national controversy and unhappiness amongst many of the Trust’s primary schools last October when he instructed them not to host the Kent Test for grammar school entrance from this year onward. This decision appears to have been his own initiative and a subsequent letter from the then Archbishop of Southwark publicly reversed it, following an unholy row in the Trust. The depth of the public row over the decision to ban Trust schools from hosting the Kent Test cannot be understated. The Archbishop’s predecessor had earlier publicly blocked another unpopular policy personally championed by Mr Webster, reorganising the Trust structure, including leadership of the individual schools.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020 17:58

More drama at Turner Schools

Update in blue below., about Jo Swash, Vice Principal vanished 'in the night'.  
Since its arrival in Folkestone at the Easter of 2017 under the leadership of CEO Dr Jo Saxton, Turner Schools has indulged in an ad hoc adventure: appointing and removing staff at short notice amidst a flood of changing job titles, along with other multiple changes of direction; low academic standards and unpopular schools; and a massive variation in exclusion rates, at its peak the highest number of any school in Kent. Headteachers have come and gone in attempts to fix the problems, six at Folkestone Academy and another half dozen at Martello Primary, along with a multitude of other senior leaders as changes in the structure become bewildering in their frequency.

Dr Saxton has now moved on to advise Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education in March this year (see below) and Seamus Murphy, her successor as CEO, is wasting no time in making his mark on Turner Schools. Having arrived in April 2019, he is now on his fourth role in the Trust.

One of his early actions on taking on full responsibility has continued the Turner Schools tradition of creating a high turnover of senior staff, with the Executive Principal of the two Trust primary schools departing at very short notice on Friday last, after just one week of Term Six. Monday’s letter informing parents of the decision can be found by a link on Facebook but is well hidden. It is also very short on detail about Mrs Sowden-Mehta who has been at the school for three years, having been promoted twice. In spite of this success, she has very suddenly ‘decided to leave Turner Schools to pursue new opportunities’, a time-honoured phrase used to cover leaders who have been forced out of their schools. The previous Principal of Folkestone Academy has also recently vanished after first being demoted. 

Update July: Jo Swash, Vice Principal has left Folkestone Academy suddenly, my correspondent says'mysteriously'. When I checked this recently here, he was present in the photographs but has now gone, but is still present on the list of all staff, below

The government began an enquiry into financial malpractice at Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT) in 2016 which it closed down the same year, transferring its  its five Kent primary schools to other Trusts. The enquiry was  completed in 2019, but is still not published eight months later. A troubling Liquidator’s Report into Henriette Le Forestier Schools, a direct successor company to Lilac Sky, has now been published, as reported in SchoolsWeek, after it ran up £928,000 in debts in less than a year.  

LSSAT Logo

I first came across the Lilac Sky profit making empire in 2012, when I discovered the large sums of money it was extracting from Kent County Council through its management of the struggling Furness Special School, using expensive consultants brought in for brief periods, along with other profit making wheezes, eventually leaving this small school with a deficit of £1.63 million. It set up LSSAT in the same year, having been a ‘school improvement’ firm since 2009. The organisation then proceeded to cream off considerable funds from the Trust. By the time LSSAT was closed down by government in 2016 with debts of nearly £2 million, it was running nine primary schools in Kent and Sussex and still being strongly championed by KCC in the face of my exposure of extensive malpractice. Lilac Sky morphed through nine different limited companies and finally vanished after the final four of these were eventually declared insolvent, as explained here

I have reported on as much of this disturbing and complex story as is appropriate through a series of articles listed below (necessarily omitting some of the spicier parts), revealing multiple and apparently highly successful money making schemes, and looking at some of the schools whose children were failed on the way.  

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