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Thursday, 29 March 2018 19:00

Holmesdale School - Ofsted Special Measures, down from Good

It will come as no surprise to regular browsers of this website that Holmesdale School in Snodland has plunged from Ofsted ‘Good’ in 2014 to Special Measures, in four years. I have tracked its declining standards over this time, most recently reporting on the -0.7 measure in GCSE Progress 8 for 2017, classified as ‘Well below Average’, and also liable for government intervention.

The Report is withering, although acknowledging that the latest headteacher is now able ‘to accurately identify inadequacies in leadership, teaching and pupils’ outcomes’. She has been in post for over a year, and in the school for longer, so slow progress! A new governing body, appointed in January 2017, presumably as an action to improve matters, has failed the students of the school according to the inspection, with every single Ofsted measure found inadequate.



My own key finding was that the current year 11 cohort has lost over a third of its pupils since Year 7, presumably as dissatisfied parents found alternatives, a percentage way above any other school in the county, utterly unacceptable and surely sending out the loudest signal of all.

The big question is, if so many of the indicators of poor performance were obvious back as far as 2015, when GCSE performance plummeted to a 29% A-C pass rate, and has never recovered, why was robust action not taken earlier, rather than just getting around to identifying weaknesses in the last few months.

The Report
A flavour of the criticism comes from the key findings, including: safeguarding is ineffective; leaders have failed to secure an acceptable quality of education; nor are they held to account. Teachers expectations of what pupils can achieve are too low; pupils do not know what they need to improve their low standards, with work often incomplete and poorly presented; Pupil Premium funding is not used effectively to support disadvantaged pupils who make inadequate progress across all key subjects; the leaderless sixth form fails to meet requirements.

Every Report has to identify some positives, the leading one being that ‘The support offered by Brook Learning Trust has helped the headteacher to accurately identify inadequacies in leadership, teaching and pupils’ outcomes’. I have reported previously on the failure of the Brook Trust to raise standards in its own schools, and reporting is not the same as assisting to go forward. Also, 'pupils feel safe in school', although the report makes clear amongst other issues that safeguarding problems are often not acted on quickly enough so that some pupils may have been put at risk. The Inspection did identify an improving culture and ethos, noting that many parents are positive about the difference the new headteacher has made.

Not surprisingly the Report recommends an external Review of governance: 'The governing body, appointed in January 2017, has been too slow to act. Consequently, the positive changes needed to support pupils and students have been delayed.  Recent frank discussions at governors’ meetings with leaders from the Brook Learning Trust and the headteacher have helped governors to understand that the quality of education provided for pupils is not good enough'.

The school was half of the Malling Holmesdale Federation formed in 2007, the then successful Holmesdale being partnered with the struggling Malling School, presumably to support it. Since then the situation has completely reversed, with Malling successful and heavily oversubscribed for 2018, quite probably because of a large number of Snodland and Cuxton families looking that way. January 2017 saw the Federation dissolved, quite possibly as Malling was standing on its own feet.

The headteacher of Holmesdale at the time of the 2014 Ofsted left the school at short notice at the end of 2015, having been temporarily moved to another school, and was succeeded by Mr Hannaway, the Executive Principal of the two schools, who also took on the role of Principal of Holmesdale (one wonders what he had been doing before to have such capacity). He left with immediate effect at the break up of the Federation in January 2017, by which time Holmesdale was spiralling down out of control.

Tina Bissett, then senior deputy head at the school, was appointed to succeed him as interim head. She had joined Holmesdale the previous year, after Oasis Academy Hextable where she was previously Principal, closed down after poor standards led to parents removing their children in large numbers. She became substantive head of Holmesdale in November 2017. She has now been in post for 14 months, but the Ofsted Report finds little indication of positive actions as distinct from intentions ‘due to a lack of capacity in school leadership’.

The headline figure should be that 34%, or over one third, of the current Year Eleven cohort left or were taken away from the school since joining it in Year 7. This is by some way the highest figure in Kent, second being Ebbsfleet Academy with 24%, after which percentages fall away fast.

The school has just 45% of its Year 7 places taken up according to the most recent schools census, the second lowest figure in the county. 59% of the places would be filled on allocation for 2018, before 22 children were placed there by KCC, who did not apply to the school. The census suggests most, if not all, of those placed by KCC will go elsewhere before September if they can find an alternative. The 23 Medway children offered places at Holmesdale must now be regretting having applied for the school when for boys at least there is a good school in Greenacre Academy, Medway, that could accommodate some of them. 

Academic performance is dire; GCSE 5 A-Cs were amongst the worst in Kent in 2014 and 2015, GCSE Progress 8, the key government measure for 2016 and 2017, was third worst in Kent for 2016, and fourth worst for 2017.  Ofsted: ‘In 2017, pupils’ attainment in GCSE English and mathematics examinations rose, but pupils’ overall progress declined further and too many pupils underachieved’.

2014 180 117 49
2015 180 109 55
2016 180 123 46
2017 180 67 75
2018 180 75 52

 By the time of the 2017 census, the 75 potential vacancies had expanded with just 81 children in Year 7. A school less than half full is on a rocky path as finances reduce and the school can go into a vicious spiral.  

  Progress 8 Attainment 8
% 5A*-C (inc
Eng and Maths)
2014 n/a n/a  35
2015 n/a n/a 29
2016 -0.78 41 n/a
2017 -0.7 36.8 n/a
Special Measures and Academisation
Holmesdale is currently the only Kent secondary school in Special Measures, although two others, Charles Dickens in Broadstairs and Swadelands have had the classification cancelled on conversion to academies. Of the other schools placed in Special Measures in the past six years, two have closed and three have improved (two after becoming sponsored academies).  
Like Charles Dickens and Swadelands, Holmesdale is the ultimate responsibility of Kent County Council, although its Foundation status keeps KCC at arms length, the school being its own employer and responsible for school admissions. This seriously begs the question of what KCC has been doing in the face of the considerable evidence that the school has been in serious trouble for some years.
The academisation programme has left KCC with just 22 schools out of 99 that are not academies, of which 9 are grammar schools. Another seven, including Holmesdale, were built under the flawed Private Finance Initiative created with money borrowed by KCC. The county has rightly resisted these schools becoming academies on the disputed grounds that if all title passes to government on academisation, they should be freed from the financial obligation. So far they have won the battle with all such schools bar Ebbsfleet Academy which slipped though early, but if Holmesdale is now forced to become a sponsored academy, as seems inevitable, this would create a precedent.  
Its near neighbour, the underperforming Aylesford School, has recently become an academy sponsored by nearby Wrotham School. 
Last modified on Monday, 24 December 2018 06:53


  • Comment Link Saturday, 31 March 2018 11:14 posted by Happy Malling Parent

    Three cheers for Malling School. What a great place it has become since breaking with Holmesdale.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 31 March 2018 11:08 posted by Geraldine

    We managed to take our son out of Holmesdale in Year 9, after bullying and poor teaching, and place him in Greenacre, a good school in Medway. He has never looked back and what he hears from his friends still there knows when he is well off. This OFSTED Report proves it!
    Why was nothing done about this school years ago.

  • Comment Link Friday, 30 March 2018 21:04 posted by O. D

    Peter, do you think Academy's are a Government project that is severely failing our children, and sponsorship is a is an attempt towards privitisation of education? PETER: The law of unintended consequences. The original concept of 'academy' was of high profile expensive new schools, built in urban areas of social deprivation. Knole Academy and Skinners Kent Academy, shows that social concept was perverted. Then it was to give good schools the opportunity to branch out with freedom to develop their own ideas. And then weak schools to be placed under protection of strong (Holmesdale and Malling so not just academies!). We now see reality as idealism gives way to politics and commercial gain. Weak leadership,and greed to often bring idealism crashing down. Too many children are failed, but to many failed under Local Authority control. Sponsorship is now too often commercial greed - Lilac Sky, SchoolsCompany, etc.

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