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News & Comments - Kent Independent Education Advice

News and Comments

The latest news posted by Peter J Read; just click on a news item below to read it in full. Feel free to subscribe to the news via the email link to the right or the RSS Feed at the bottom of the page. Please note that the over 1500 regular subscribers who receive each news item directly are not included in the number of readers recorded below the item, who have gone beyond the headlines to look at the full article.  If you have a view on any item posted, please leave a comment.

Some more specific items appear in Peter's Blog, so its also worth checking there.  

Please feel free to suggest items of news, or areas where comment is needed to: peter@kentadvice.co.uk.

 
News items below appear below as and when I have time in a very busy life.

I have discovered that the Governing Body of Fairview Community Primary School has been served with two separate formal Warning Notices about its disgraceful conduct by Medway Council. These along with other correspondence supplied to me by a Freedom of Information Request leaves no doubt that Medway Council needs to take urgent action to dissolve the GB.

The first Warning Notice, issued in January, considered that: ‘In the council’s view there has been a serious breakdown in the way the school is managed or governed.  The second Warning Notice, three months later, contained:  'I am writing to you as the significant concerns to which I referred in the warning notice I issued on 4 January 2021 have not been adequately addressed by the Fairview community primary school governors'. The second also formally warns the Governing Body that if its tough requirements are not met within a strict time limit, Medway Council will ‘consult on the authority’s intention to provide for governing body to consist of interim executive members’, i.e. sack the GB.  The correspondence demonstrates a GB attempting to carry on regardless of these two official notices.

Fairview Community 

It is difficult to comprehend the arrogance of these people, few with any educational background, who wish to keep control of Fairview Primary when they clearly do not have the competence to do so.  The appointment of an assistant caretaker as the staff governor (with no disrespect to him personally) and no other candidates put forward surely reflects the contempt of the teaching staff for the GB.

I have never in my sixteen years of advising families and others about education issues in Kent and Medway seen anything like the litany of failure described in the second Warning Notice about the conduct of a school Governing Body. 

The Pre-Appointment Hearing covered many issues relating to the role of Chief Regulator of Ofqual but for Kent families, those relating to Dr Saxton’s leadership of Turner Schools between  2017 and 2020 were particularly relevant and illuminating. The questions posed about that leadership by the Labour MP, Kim Johnson were clearly based on my previous article about her appointment here. This looked objectively at Dr Saxton's performance as CEO and focused on three key themes I had raised: Finance, Discipline and the Haemorrhaging of Pupils, which I explore further below. Her performance began and ended with 'I am incredibly proud of the things that the team and I achieved at Turner Schools'.

Update: As well as the four primary school inspections listed below, Ofsted are today (9th July) inspecting Oasis Academy, Isle of Sheppey.

Lynsted and Norton Primary School, in Swale, has been found Inadequate by Ofsted in May in a Report published this week, one of just three Kent primary schools inspected and reported on since the end of lockdown. This follows a remote monitoring inspection in January that found that ‘Leaders and those responsible for governance are taking effective action to provide education in the current circumstances’, which suggests that the remote inspection was itself inadequate. 

Four months later the new Report reads, ‘the curriculum for all pupils is not fit for purpose. It is jumbled and does not set out what knowledge pupils will learn. Some teachers do not have the subject expertise to be able to take confusing plans and turn them into learning that develops and builds pupils’ knowledge, skills and understanding successfully. Standards are lowSome teachers’ expectations are low. Assessment has relied on commercial schemes that are not linked to what pupils have studied. As a result, staff do not have a clear understanding of what pupils already know or need to learn next. 

Lynsted and Norton Primary (2)

The previous headteacher left suddenly in February after 'Trustees recognise the need to improve their oversight of provision. They have acted robustly since identifying the issues in February 2021' according to the Ofsted report, but clearly too late to avoid this outcome. The school's previous three Ofsted Inspections have all been 'Requires Improvement' and it has changed headteachers after each. A new headteacher has been appointed who will be the seventh in eight years. Not surprisingly, the school is not popular with families, having failed to fill even half of its Published Admission Number of 20 places in any of its Year Groups. Year Six currently has just four pupils and Year One six.  

Friday, 02 July 2021 20:11

Academy and Free School News July 2021

The biggest news since my previous round-up of academy news in February is that the conversion of The North School and the sponsorship of The Holmesdale School, both to join Swale Academies Trust, is now set to happen for September as all obstacles to academisation have been removed. It also signposts the freedom for all of the other eight PFI schools to convert if they wish. These include Royal Harbour Academy in Thanet, a maintained school despite its title, for whom government approval to proceed has now been given under the sponsorship of Coastal Academies Trust.

In March, Worth Primary School joined the Deal Education Alliance for Learning Trust. In April, Chartham Primary and St Stephen’s Infants in Canterbury came together to create the Inspira Academy Trust, Sandwich Infants joined Aquila, the Diocese of Canterbury Academy Trust, and Fleetdown Primary in Dartford joined the Galaxy Trust, all five as converter academies. These take the proportion of Kent primary schools having academised to 43%, with the government proposing to put more pressure on schools to convert (see below). Mundella Primary School in Folkestone has had its application to join the Verita Trust in Deal approved and it is proposed that Will Adams Centre, an Alternative Provision School in Medway will join the Alternative Learning Trust.  Approval for the controversial new Free Secondary School in Thanet is further delayed.

Other items look at: Halling and Fairview Primaries in Medway; the proposed merger of All Hallows and Stoke primaries on the Hoo Peninsula; Kent Catholic Schools  Partnership; other recommendations by the SE and South London Headteacher Board; Copperfield Academy's Good Ofsted; and expanding academies. 

The article concludes with a look at new government policies working towards seeing all schools becoming academies, with several local mentions.

The comment below from Former FA SLT is well worth reading to understand the sentiments of those caught up in the issues created by Turner Schools at Folkestone Academy. 

My previous article about Dr Jo Saxton and her nomination as the preferred candidate to be the new chief regulator of Ofqual has clearly struck home at Turner Schools, with the Trust issuing a press release explicitly attempting to refute my evidence of its problems. Unfortunately, this is factually wrong on most points, which is strange as in his accompanying letter to staff the CEO warns that ‘disinformation and falsehoods are being spread about our schools’ (I have never seen any of this).

In particular, quoted data about school exclusions is wrong according to official KCC figures, whilst the statement about the number of pupils joining Folkestone Academy in September appears to be based on a false manipulation of the data to hide the fact that fewer families than ever before want to join the school, or else the school simply doesn't understand how the admission system works. 

The press release covers my themes about  GCSE performance, stability in leadership teams, and finance, all central to the concerns I expressed in the article. It also wrongly claims that a number of Folkestone schools had been failing for many years before Turner Schools took over. Whilst I remain unaware of any of the claimed disinformation or falsehoods being spread about Turner Schools, t am completely bewildered as to why the Trust seeks to go down this route. As pointed out before, I am always more than happy to make corrections to any factual errors in my articles if they are pointed out.

Update from Pre Appointment Hearing (24 minutes in) for the Post of Chief Regulator of Ofqual: In answer to a question about criticisms of her leadership of  Turner Schools: 'I am incredibly proud of the things that the team and I achieved at Turner Schools' In terms of specifics: Finance - we saved many thousands of pounds.  Problems were all down to a temporary move of the Sixth Form into temporary accommodation (£10 million); There was a year of particularly high exclusions in one of the secondary schools when there was a serious behaviour difficulty. They stopped. That was a temporary measure to reset behaviour for learning. In response to a question about Folkestone Academy hemorrhaging students. It was a very challenging school when I found it that had really lost its way. Working with the Local Authority we agreed to open a new school nearby and would balance them to be two schools of equal size, one putting pupils on a pathway to apprenticeships and vocational learning, and the other success without selection, more conventional approach. So absolutely no hemorrhaging of pupils. In answer to 'so everything is hunky-dory in Turner Schools'. 'I am incredibly proud of everything the Turner Schools have achieved'.     

See Press Release from Turner Schools challenging the facts put forward below, and my riposte, here

Dr Jo Saxton, erstwhile Chief Executive of Turner Schools, the struggling Academy Trust set up by her in Folkestone, is Gavin Williamson’s preferred candidate for the key national education post of Chief Regulator of Ofqual. On the surface, she is an ideal candidate with a powerful background of holding important positions, so the chasm between her rhetoric and the outcomes at Turner Schools may fit in with the DfE’s needs in the role.  

It is hard to know where to start a performance analysis of her time in Folkestone, but this article concludes with links to the eighteen articles I have written about it, which are replete with startling factual material about the Trust and its four schools. My final article on her period in office begins: For the last three and a half years, Turner Schools has been one of my most prolific themes for articles on this website, aided and abetted by its CEO and founder Dr Jo Saxton, whose passion for promoting the Trust (named after her grandmother) and making fantastical claims for its performance and future prospects was simply breathtaking, as demonstrated in my incomplete collection of slogans, mottos, motivating messages and false claims.

You will find a list of Turner Schools ‘achievements’ during Dr Saxton’s leadership here, with some of the most striking repeated below and others in the list of news items at the foot of this article.

There is an immediate crisis of accommodation in the three Sittingbourne non-selective (N/S) schools, which are overwhelmed with families trying to access them and avoid Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey. I gave a summary in my article on 2021 admissions to Kent N/S schools here, but now have further detail. For families, the chilling news is that by 2023, even when all of the vacant Oasis places are filled with Sittingbourne children, there won’t be enough Year Seven school spaces for local children across the area. KCC’s vague solution is to ‘continue to press for access to the North Sittingbourne (Quinton Road) development to establish a new 6FE secondary school to meet the future need from the population growth and new housing developments’, but with no sense of urgency nor sign of achieving anything.

I am now told that KCC forgot to allocate some children with Education and Health Care Plans to Swale schools before allocations were made this year, which is the correct procedure, but instead gave them to the Sittingbourne schools afterwards. The result is that numbers became even more swollen, especially at Fulston Manor which received eleven extra pupils in this way. Unsurprisingly with these pressures, not one of the 68 appeals heard for a place at Fulston Manor was successful and, looking at the tremendously strong appeal defence for Westlands, I doubt if there will be much more success there, or indeed at The Sittingbourne School.

The article concludes with a look at the delays in setting up England's first Secure School, to be run by Oasis in Rochester. 

Tuesday, 08 June 2021 20:20

Simon Webb: Kent County Councillor

Many in the education service will still remember Simon Webb, newly elected County Councillor for  Maidstone Rural West in the recent Council elections, from his previous roles working for the Council. He was Area Education Officer for North West Kent for 13 years, and then became Principal Primary Adviser for the Council in April 2013, having been, in the words to me of a senior Officer, 'moved to where he would do less harm'. In fact, his brief tenure of this post was even more controversial, only partly because of the way he publicly marched headteachers who he considered were underperforming, out of their schools into suspension or gardening leave, without notice. It was no surprise when he suddenly 'left' KCC service eighteen months later, taking up a temporary part-time role as Consultant to Jane Porter, Headteacher of Whitehill Primary School, having previously supported her at various schools with which she was involved. She installed him in an office in the school although staff were not clear of his purpose in being there, but she was later permanently banned from being a teacher because of professional misconduct. I was able to follow Mr Webb's later advisory roles in Suffolk and Essex before he became Chief Learning Officer at Connected Learning, a small primary school academy trust also in Essex on a salary of £95,000. He left this in January this year after just under four years in post.