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Peter Read

Wednesday, 10 June 2020 17:58

More drama at Turner Schools

Update 24 Jan 2021: Mrs Sowden-Mehta, who left at no notice from her role as Executive Primary Head, below, is now headteacher at Meopham Community Primary School.
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.  


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.  

Whilst the following news is not directly relevant for the purposes of Kentadvice,  my previous article about alumni of four Colleges for Teacher Education written in 2017 has attracted 8963 visits to date, suggesting that among the many visitors to this site is a large number of teachers and retired teachers. 

The article began:  In a brilliant initiative, the University of Roehampton, which was formed out of an amalgamation of the four Colleges for Teacher Education - Digby Stuart, Froebel, Southlands and Whitelands Colleges, has decided to award all traceable holders of Certificates in Education awarded before 1980, with an Honorary Degree:  Bachelor of Education 'Honoris Causa'. 

This note is simply to say that alumni of Gipsy Hill College and Kingston Polytechnic, also with Certificates of Education, awarded prior to 1979 are now eligible to be awarded Honorary Degrees in Education (see below), amongst many others. This discovery was made following discussion with teacher friends and I was surprised to discover not only how widespread the practice was, but also how many retired Cert Ed teachers were still completely unaware of it. Other such former colleges include Goldsmiths CollegeRipon College and York St JohnChester and Padgate CollegesLiverpool Hope University’s founding colleges including Notre DameAvery Hill College; Dartford College;  Worcester College (as far back as 2012); Sarum St Michael;  am happy to expand this item to cover further such initiatives if I am informed of them. 

Off-rolling is the practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without using a permanent exclusion when the removal is primarily in the best interests of the school, rather than the best interests of the pupil. This includes pressuring a parent to remove their child from the school roll.

It can happen in any type of school, as I demonstrated a few years ago when I exposed the Invicta Grammar Sixth Form scandal which went national and resulted in the government being forced to clarify the existing law although I suspect it still continues in a few cases, notably Holcombe Grammar, below.  

A major pointer to off-rolling taking place is a large percentage fall in pupil numbers for a school between the start of Year 10 and January of Year 11 along with, or alternatively, high Elective Home Education numbers (EHE).  The importance of the January date is that after this, pupils leaving the school will have their GCSE performance (or absence) counted in official outcomes even with the new Coronavirus arrangements. I have no proof that off-rolling is the key reason for the sharp falls in pupil numbers identified below, but it is a reasonable suspicion. 

Twelve Kent and two Medway schools lost from 7% to 13% of their cohort in this way this year, five of them for at least two years running. 

I have also given figures for the change between Year Seven and Year Eleven for these schools, which, in some cases should certainly be raising questions, as was the case a few years ago with Holmesdale School then under KCC control. This signposted a school falling apart at the seams, although KCC failed to notice, and I am delighted that it now appears on the way back again under different control. Although Ofsted now has responsibility for identifying schools where off-rolling occurs, I have as yet seen no evidence of this in relevant Reports locally. 

Regular updates in progress. Most recent 8 p.m. 5th June. 

The government encouraged all primary schools to re-open on 1st June for Nursery, Reception, Year One and Year Six pupils. I sent a survey to Kent and Medway primary schools on Sunday asking their plans and have now (Tuesday 2nd) had responses from more than 15% of  schools surveyed, as set out in the table below

This has now been partially overtaken by data from the 360 primary schools that have responded to KCC's own enquiry. This reports 118 primaries opening to all three school years on Monday 1st June, and 58 more opening to one or two of the year groups. Another 78 are opening Tuesday or Wednesday, the delay being due to an Inset Day, Deep Cleaning or other reason. Eight are on a second week of half term, leaving 98 who are not open (possibly doing so later on, some next week, or else unable to, or unwilling). That is a figure much larger than I was expecting. Of the 95 schools that have chosen not to reply, some may be from large uncooperative Academy Trusts. This is not incompatible with my own findings, although these expand the information, and it would be good to receive further results directly. KCC has now issued a general statement about re-opening. 

The only quotes I have seen from Medway Council (via KentOnline) are: 'Some schools across Medway are welcoming pupils back to school from 1 June.'  and 'We anticipate more primary schools will be able to reopen over the coming week, with 94% of Medway primary schools potentially able to reopen by mid-June'. The second of these is meaningless, as 'potentially able' is very different from 'will'.  

I look below at some of the key elements that have emerged, although it is important to recognise that the schools which have replied are self-selecting and so may not be typical.

Nothing to do with the purposes of this website but, after talking with a headteacher this morning, he advised me to copyright the following.

The history of this country can now be divided into two parts: previously when we trusted government advice and instruction, including on Coronavirus; and afterwards when that trust has died.

BC: Before Cummings.     AD: After Dominic 

Saturday, 30 May 2020 12:24

Schools Opening 1st June

Updated Monday 1st June

I have been asked several times for my views on the merits of Kent and Medway schools opening on 1st June, and these are quite simple. I cannot imagine being in the position of current headteachers facing the challenge of deciding whether to open their schools or not, as they weigh up all the risks if they open and the brickbats if they stay closed. I am confident that the overwhelming majority of headteachers will make decisions for the benefit of their pupils, taking into account the individual circumstances of their own school, the safety and educational needs of pupils, and the safety and welfare of staff and their families. As a result there are many models for opening schools around, along with those that have decided to stay closed. As a retired headteacher and chairman of governors  myself, I am just glad it is not for me to take on that responsibility and do not consider myself qualified any more to have a view on individual circumstances. 

However, I am carrying out a survey of the decisions taken by those schools, sent out early on Sunday morning and was astonished to have a response from nearly 10%  of all Kent and Medway primary schools by the same evening, as headteachers are working over the weekend in preparation for Monday. I hope to have a preliminary summary of outcomes published some time on Monday. 

I will shortly be publishing my annual survey of Kent primary school oversubscription and vacancies. The timing is not good to say the least, with its focus on the situation of individual schools. However, I am being asked by many parents about this, as some need to know urgently if there are alternatives to the difficult situations in which they find themselves. I published my Medway survey a couple of weeks ago. 

There has been a small increase for the third year running in the number of pupils being allocated places in Kent Primary Reception Classes . Places for the additional 163 children were met by three new schools opening in September along with creating 67 more permanent and temporary places in current schools. Two of the new schools are in the Ebbsfleet area of North Kent: Ebbsfleet Green Primary opening for 30 pupils in each of Years R, One and Two; and Springhead Park Primary, in Northfleet, admitting 60 pupils in Year R, and unusually also accepting pupils for Years One to Four (see below for possible reason).   Bearsted Primary Academy in Maidstone is opening for 60 Year R children. None of these schools are currently part of the Kent Coordinated Admission Procedure, as all three accept applications directly, as is usual with new schools.

St Johns Weavering 1st     Brent Outstanding   2019

The tightest part of the county is again West Dartford with just nine spaces in two of its 12 schools, closely followed by urban Sevenoaks, with eight spaces in one school out of six. The most oversubscribed primary school is St John’s CofE in Maidstone, turning away 55 first choices (up from 37 in 2019); The Brent, Dartford, 44 (last year’s most popular school,  disappointing 86 families); followed by: Riverhead Infants, Sevenoaks (40);  Great Chart, Ashford (39); Sussex Road, Tonbridge (37) and Wentworth, also West Dartford (33). The last three named are newcomers to the most oversubscribed list along with Chilton, Ramsgate,all having leapt in popularity this year.

Special mention must go to two schools that have both travelled from high vacancy rates to being full, following Ofsted Special Measures to being Good. Brenzett CofE Primary, Ashford,  has shot from having the highest percentage vacancy rate in Kent of 75% in 2019, to being full for its 21 places in 2020. Kings Farm Primary, Gravesend is oversubscribed for the first time ever after gaining the sixth best KS2 progress grades in the county.                                                                        

Eight schools have 60% or more of their places empty. One school accounted for 10% of the 457 Local Authority Allocations in Kent, up by 10 on 2019. 

I look at the issues in more detail below, including a survey of each separate District and also allocations for Junior Schools. You will find advice on what to do if you do not have the school or your choice below, here, and the reality of primary school appeals here

Aspects of the current situation with regard to the Kent Test are that:
  • The date for the Kent Test is still currently set for September. To change it would require government approval. KCC is in discussion with government about an aspect of the Kent Test, presumably about a possible postponement.
  • There is no guarantee that any change of date would see the county free of Coronavirus, or schools operating normally.
  • There are no arrangements in place for children who are: unable to take the Kent Test because their schools are not open, or cannot provide facilities; or whose parents or schools judge it is unsafe to participate; or who are ill in large numbers. 
  • The School Admissions Code of Practice requires Admission Authorities to ‘take all reasonable steps to inform parents of the outcome of selection tests before the closing date for secondary applications on 2nd November so as to allow parents time to make an informed choice of school’.
  • The five thousand out of county children who normally take the Kent Test each year still need somewhere to sit it where it can be independently invigilated. In the past this has taken place in obliging Kent schools.   
As of today (19th May), Kent County County Council has provided no further information about the date of Testing. This is not a criticism as I don't see how they can with the current uncertainties. Registration for the Kent Test remains for a month from 1st June.

 This article looks at Kent and Medway primary school Ofsted outcomes for the current school year. The headline news is the strong improvement in Academy levels in the past few years, both in Kent and Medway, whereas at best Kent County Council Local Authority (KCC) schools are standing still, with 22% of those inspected seeing a drop in level since September.



Just one local school, Ightham Primary in Sevenoaks District, has been classified as Outstanding since September and none found Inadequate. 

I look at all the changes in primary school Ofsted assessments across Kent and Medway below, along with the performance of The Education People, responsible for performance in Kent Local Authority schools. .

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