Supporting Families
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Peter Read

Wednesday, 09 January 2019 19:58

Holmesdale School: Further Revelations

Swale Academies Trust (SAT) has engaged in a series of email exchanges with Kent County Council staff, which have been forwarded to me following a Freedom of Information Request. These culminate in serious allegations that KCC tried to block the Trust’s attempts to prepare the failing Holmesdale School for the best possible start in January.

In particular Swale Academies Trust alleges that: KCC's deliberate and deeply damaging procrastination over the awarding of the support contract left the school without support from June 2018 to late November 2018; KCC attempted to block the appointment of a suitably experienced Headteacher to take on the Headship of Holmesdale at incredibly short notice; and that KCC refused to engage in SAT’s offer to provide Holmesdale with a full complement of teachers for January.

INDEX, A Lifestyle Magazine which publishes two editions in East and West Kent, has drawn up its own Alternative New Year’s Honours List  for ‘Outstanding Men and Women of Kent - unsung heroes who go mostly unrecognised, who excel in their diverse fields and give unconditionally’.

Index Magazine

 

I feel honoured to be included in both editions along with: Tammy Beaumont, the Kent and England cricket star; and John Warnett, the Radio Kent presenter. The East Kent list also includes: Victoria Pomerey, Director, Turner Contemporary; Razia Shariff, CEO of Kent Refugee Action Network; Peter Taylor Gooby, Trustee of Canterbury Food Bank; Rosie Turner, Director, Canterbury Festival; Rt Revd Trevor Wilmott, Bishop of Dover; and posthumously, Peter Firmin, Artist and Puppet Maker. For West Kent there are: Rt Rev Simon Burton-Jones, newly appointed Bishop of Tunbridge, previously Archdeacon of Rochester Diocese; Deborah Gjeloshaj, Founder of Kitchen Opera, bringing youth opera to West Kent; Alex Green, Executive Director at the Tunbridge Wells Trinity Theatre, together with Arts community work; Richard Hughes, a drummer with pop group Keane and now human rights activist with Amnesty; and Olga Johnson, Co-Founder of Nourish Community Food Bank.

Friday, 28 December 2018 19:06

Holmesdale School: Pupils Failed Yet Again

Updated  8th January 2019

Holmesdale school families have been failed by Kent County Council and the school’s governors and leaders ever since the Ofsted Report of March 2014 found the school to be Good. Since then the school went into a spiral of decline up to and after it was placed in Special Measures by Ofsted in February 2018, which I explored in detail in a previous article here.  My analysis included critical areas of decline over the interim that should have alerted KCC to the problem, but they failed to act and pupils' futures were sacrificed. Following the Ofsted Inspection the Regional School Commissioner (RSC) placed an Academy Order on the school naming Swale Academies Trust (SAT) as the preferred sponsor.

Holmesdale

Subsequently, the school had an Ofsted Monitoring Inspection in July which found that ‘leaders and managers are not taking effective action towards the removal of special measures’. Unsurprisingly, the Provisional 2018 GCSE results showed that Progress 8, the key government measure of performance, was -0.86, officially ‘well below average’  and the second worst in the county. Amongst then many issues identified, The Ofsted Report refers to major concerns with persistent absence, hardly surprising perhaps with the poor quality of education being offered. These are amongst the factors I identified leading up to the Special Measures finding.  Most shockingly, Holmesdale had lost 34% of its Year 7 roll by the time they reached Year 11, by some way the highest figure in the county. The headteacher has chosen to leave at short notice, for Christmas, and there are reports of severe staff shortages for January.

Also, since February 2018 there has been unacceptable wrangling between KCC and various other bodies over who should supply school improvement support, which was only resolved at the end of November, so that the school was left rudderless in between and went downhill further. There is considerable risk to the school with still falling numbers and Swale Academies Trust will have to work hard to make the school once again financially viable by attracting pupils. . 

Revision of Previous Article
Kent County Council has been highly pro-active in promoting grammar school opportunities for pupils on Pupil Premium which has no doubt contributed to the fact that over three quarters of its 32 grammar schools already make provision for this in their Admissions Policies. Kent now appears to have been punished for its success in following government policy!

Medway Council appears not have noticed the shift in priorities and as a result just one out of the six grammar schools currently has a relevant policy. Certainly, there is no evidence that Rochester Grammar, the one local school offered funds for expansion in return for developing a social mobility policy, has ever shown any interest before in such a development. Further, such an expansion when Medway has a large surplus of grammar school places for girls, appears pointless, and could place Chatham Grammar School for Girls at risk through lack of numbers as explained here. It in turn is now chasing London girls and so should survive. 

I look below at issues in Kent and Medway in more detail. 

The Rochester Grammar School (RGS) is proposing a radical change to its admission rules from September 2020. This follows the government decision to award some £3 million to each of 16 grammar schools including RGS, to enable them to expand on  condition that these schools have plans  to improve access for pupils on Pupil Premium  and to undertake effective partnerships with local primary schools and non-selective secondary schools, to contribute to improved educational outcomes across the wider system.

.Rochester Grammar

The school, which is part of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT), has gone out to Consultation to scrap its current academic super-selective status which sees the great majority of its pupils selected through high scores. It plans to become a school that gives admission priority to girls on Pupil Premium from 2020. Then, after several smaller categories (below) it will prioritise local children who have passed the Medway Test no matter what their scores. Given that the Trust runs two Medway grammar schools and has proposed identical admission criteria for both, except that the other school, Holcombe Grammar, is to give no priority whatever to Pupil Premium, so this does not appear a principled decision,  

I look at wider aspects of local implications of the grammar school expansions in a separate article

Rainham School for Girls, a non-selective secondary school in Medway,  is consulting on a controversial scheme to set up the first new primary section for girls only in the country. It would have an intake of 60 girls, beginning in 2020-21. There is currently just one all through girls school in the country,  a girls' private school founded in the 19th century that only became a state school recently, and remains a member of the Independent Girls School Day Trust, a very different set up to that proposed for Rainham Girls. There are just seven single sex state primary schools nationally, five of which are conformist Jewish schools. 

Rainham School for Girls Logo 

The only reference to single sex education in the thin consultation document is the rather tentative one of: ‘We are keen to explore with stakeholders the concept of single sex primary provision, which we feel is an exciting prospect that will enable us to not only focus on the best learning strategies for girls, but will ensure that they have the chance to explore all aspects of learning, challenging stereotypes’.

The document also offers little rationale for extending the age range.

‘The offer to extend our all-inclusive wrap around provision to Primary age children is an exciting one. The biggest impact of extending the school’s age range would be on a pupil’s learning journey.  The school’s ethos of high expectation and aspiration, in addition to having a common learning language from the age of 4 through to 18 will significantly increase a pupil’s progress path, leading to successful, well rounded young people’, which offers nothing to the over 80% of Year 7 girls who would be joining Rainham Girls from other schools.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018 10:18

Folkestone Academy - Further Troubles

Update: In spite of using the Turner School headhunters, Saxton Bampfylde, the Trust has been unable to appoint an Executive Principal for the Academy. See below

I make no apologies for yet another table topping statistic for Folkestone Academy after it ran up a debt of £708,707 in 2017-18 for overestimating its pupil roll for last year, the highest figure in the country, as confirmed by SchoolsWeek. A spokesperson for Turner Schools trust, which runs four schools including Folkestone Academy, pointed out the calculation was made in November 2016 before the school transferred to the trust. 

Turner Schools Logo

However, it is clear that the reason the school saw a fall of 50 Sixth Form students (or 21%) leading into the year 2017-18  is because of decisions made by Turner Schools  after it took responsibility for the school in April 2017, as it chased higher academic performance. This will have been exacerbated for 2018-19 by the sharp fall in GCSE provisional performance, with Progress 8 diving to -0.78 from -0.22, sixth worst in the county, and Performance 8 falling to 31.0 from 36.4, fifth worst in Kent after over a year of Turner Schools' control. 

The academic ambitions of the Trust are clear from a quotation by Dr Jo Saxton, CEO of Turner Schools, and from many other quotations: ‘This past summer, 101 students went on to university but only one per cent went to a Russell Group university. Some are dropping out of university before finishing their degree’These ambitions may be laudable but surely the Trust has to secure its base instead of collapsing it along with young people’s education and aspirations, before driving ahead without foundations. These would include a lawful admissions policy for Sixth Form admissions (see below). 

My previous article recorded that the school had by far the highest number and rate of Fixed Term Exclusions of any school in Kent.

Parents of pupils at schools in the Leigh Academies Trust and The Williamson Trust have now been sent a letter outlining details of the agreed 'merger' between the two Trusts. I have written previously about the proposal, and the letter offers no further information about how the new arrangements will work.

However, the letter is very revealing in one sentence:  'Directors of both trusts and the Regional Schools’ Commissioner have agreed that Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School, The Hundred of Hoo Academy, High Halstow Primary Academy, Allhallows Primary Academy and Stoke Primary Academy can join LAT from January 2019'. This explicitly confirms my previous view that this is a takeover, with the Williamson Trust schools about to 'join LAT from January 2019' .

Further Update: See new article here. 

Updates: There is more information relating to Martello Primary, below. I have now published an article setting out  exclusion data across Kent for 2017-18, which serves as the basis for this item. 

Folkestone Academy had more than one in every seven of all fixed term exclusions across Kent’s 101 secondary schools in 2017-18. That is just under one exclusion for every pupil in the school, and over twice as many as in 2016-17. This shocking and startling figure is just the latest in a number of revelations about happenings in the school revealed on this website. It closely follows the news that the school has dropped in GCSE performance this summer to become the fifth lowest performer in both Progress and Attainment. In 2016-17 it was  in the top half of non-selective schools in the county.

Folkestone Academy 2

Meanwhile, the new Martello Primary, taken on by Turner Schools in January 2017, has the second highest Fixed Term exclusion rate out of all of Kent's 463 primary schools with one exclusion for every four pupils. . 

These fly in the face of statements by the school’s Chief Executive in the TES that: Saxton agrees with Lemov that a structured approach to behaviour is a way of reducing exclusions. She says that prior to joining Turner Schools, Folkestone Academy was the highest excluding school in Kent, but it is now reintegrating pupils into mainstream education.’  Whilst the claim itself was false then, it is certainly true now, the 1211 fixed term exclusions being more than double any other school in Kent (with the exception of Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey with 786). This equates to 85% of the statutory aged secondary school body, a dramatic rise from 2016-17, for most of the year under the previous management of 35%. 

“Teacher capacity and skill is the best antidote there is to exclusion of students,” he (Professor Lemov) says. “The people who don’t work in high need communities often misunderstand that and think that order leads to suspensions and exclusions, but it’s the opposite. “Behaviours that lead to exclusions happen when students perceive there to be no limits and no expectations and no rules.”  So there you have it!

It was 'education guru' Mr Lemov who, in a recent training session for the Turner Trust staff compared Folkestone with an ‘American Rust Belt City’, presumably in an attempt to explain the poor performances away.

Friday, 02 November 2018 20:14

Exclusions Kent and Medway 2017-18

 Kent permanent exclusions have fallen by a remarkable 40% from last year to 49 pupils permanently excluded in 2017-18, in sharp contrast to nationally rising rates. No Kent school has more than five permanent exclusions. In 2011-12 there were an astonishing 210 Kent pupils permanently excluded more than any other Local Authority in the country, whereas now it is one of the very lowest. 

Other Headlines:

For 2016-17, even before this fall, Kent had the lowest rate of permanent exclusions in the South East. Kent fixed term exclusions have risen slightly to 10,698, an astonishing 11% or 1211 pupils of which are from one school, the secondary department of Folkestone Academy the rate of exclusion having shot up since 2016-17. Next comes Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy with 786 exclusions. In 2016-17, the last year for which I have national comparisons, Kent fell below the national average for fixed term exclusions for the first time. 

For Medway, one sixth of the size of Kent, the 2017-18 provisional number of permanently excluded pupil, is 58 (there may be additional exclusions to record),  down from the previous year’s final figure of 65. Five of Medway’s 18 secondary schools have more than five permanent exclusions, headed up by Brompton Academy with 11. I don’t yet have the Medway data for Fixed Term Exclusions.

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