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Saturday, 28 July 2018 13:02

Disappearing Headteachers in North Kent

You will find a follow-up to this article here

Update Tunbury Primary School: In two letters to parents, governors have stated that the headteacher and deputy have not returned to the school in the new term and that an experienced head has been brought in to support the school temporarily. Meanwhile, at Fairview, the Acting Headteacher continues in charge temporarily, and at Copperfield Academy it is the Executive Head. 

Note: The large majority of comments at the foot of this article relate to Tunbury Primary School

This article currently has the fastest-growing number of hits of any this year, with over 5000 in less than two days, along with my 1,500 subscribers!

See new article on Copperfield, and its follow ups. 

Three North Kent primary headteachers went missing or lost their jobs before the end of term, all having had a difficult time at their schools.

The schools are: Fairview Community Primary School, Gillingham; Tunbury Primary School, Walderslade and Copperfield Academy, in Northfleet. All three heads were fairly recent appointments, the first two introducing ‘robust’ new approaches at previously successful schools. Copperfield Academy is now suffering from poor Academy Trust management according to Ofsted, having lost seven heads in the past five years at the end of nearly two decades of mismanagement.

Although it is too easy to write off high staff turnover at each school as collateral damage, these will include careers and vocations destroyed at a period when the country has a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. I have long maintained that failure to treat professionals with respect or to support and develop new entrants are the prime reasons for the crisis rather than teacher pay. The damage to the children and their education caught up in such events, with teacher after teacher arriving in front of them, is incalculable, but seemingly ignored. 

I also have reports of a fourth school in serious difficulties, in Medway, but need more information to go ahead with confidence that may be difficult over the summer holiday. 

Fairview Community Primary, Gillingham (amended August 2018)
Follow-ups here, and most recently here in 2021 (work in progress). 

Medway Council under a 2015 Policy Document ‘Get Medway Learning’ proposed to ‘Encourage deputy head teachers from already high achieving schools in London to step up into headteacher roles in Medway, to drive improvement and raise standards’. All traces of this policy appear to have vanished from the Council website and the internet. Apart from an article I wrote at the time, I am not sure how many such heads were lured to Medway, but the one I quoted in my article left under a cloud last year. An FOI I subsequently sent to Medway Council has come back with the following response: 'It is not possible to report individual numbers against a 2015 policy as these were incorporated into mainstream activity shortly after the 2015 policy was announced. Overall the Councils recruitment initiatives were successful'.  In other words, the policy was for showboating purposes and was never implemented.  

One other London appointment arrived in January at the well-performing and happy Fairview Primary School. She came with a strong record from her previous post as Head of School at an Ofsted Outstanding school in Walthamstow, determined to make a difference. Sadly there was a rapid change in culture including very tough discipline and an early decision to set by ability that went down badly, quickly leading to large and important staff resignations. It is reported that the headteacher had little understanding of how an LA school worked. Concerns were first raised with me in April and, by the second week of the new term, letters home to parents were being signed by the Deputy Head. She became Acting Head at the start of Term 6, although no explanation appears to have been forthcoming. The school confirmed to me that the headteacher had left before the end of term, and now appears to have taken up a post in Sussex. 

Tunbury Primary School, Walderslade, Kent

 A warm welcome to Tunbury Primary School
Confidence in a school comes from knowing and understanding what is happening within it.
Lead comment on school Website 

Although this school is in Walderslade, Chatham, north of the M2, it is situated in Kent Local Authority rather than Medway. This is another school where I have received concerns from staff and parents over a period of time about the robust style of the headteacher since her appointment at the beginning of 2013. She took over from a highly respected headteacher, Mrs Heather Brown. Such an appointment is always difficult, and a high rate of staff turnover can be necessary to move a school on, but even Ofsted clearly had concerns by the end of the year, although still finding the school ‘Good’ on a short InspectionYou have an unwavering commitment to making sure that the quality of teaching and learning is good despite the many changes of staff and difficulties in recruiting permanent teachers. Senior leaders closely monitor the quality of teaching and learning and offer support and guidance if your high expectations are not met. Rapid improvement is expected and rigorous performance management targets are set for staff’. Also You are acutely aware, however, of the concerns about leadership and management expressed by a number of parents. You acknowledge that you have not yet secured the confidence of these parents. Parents also, understandably, have concerns about the number of different teachers some classes have had. Your high expectations for the quality of teaching are partly, but not exclusively, a reason for many of the changes in staffing’.

Both quotes are indicative of a style driven by pressure to deliver high performance. It is of course one of the reasons for high teacher turnover as teachers who see the profession as a vocation cease to feel valued. I do believe that such pressures, often leading to low morale in a school, play a greater factor than teacher pay in the high number of teachers walking away from the profession.

Miss McIntosh is clearly well regarded by those that matter, being a Kent Leader of Education supporting schools in difficulty, and an Ofsted Inspector. However, the summer term saw her absent from school for a considerable period, including a critical time when the school was flooded, and then returning for a short period in July before being suspended or sent on 'Gardening Leave', along with her Deputy. An email from governors to parents at the end of term has attempted to still the controversy, although apparently by being deliberately confusing. It rightly states that 'Our School continues to be lead (sic)and managed by our Headteacher Miss McIntosh and Deputy Headteacher, Miss Nuttall'  even though they were not in school or making decisions It also refers to: 'fictitious rumours circulating on social media', which I have not seen as I don't follow social media, but if this email is an attempt to cover up their absence, then it will have been most unwise, as this is not fictitious. Perhaps Governors would like to set the record straight? 
What is unusual in such a case is that the Deputy is involved as well as the head.  
Not surprisingly the other local school, Walderslade Primary is the second most oversubscribed in Medway.
Copperfield Academy, Gravesham
I have followed the misfortunes of Copperfield Academy, and its predecessor school Dover Road Primary for many years. My first article was from 2011 in the early days of the site, when I reported the school being placed in Special Measures again, writing that ‘it should be a matter of acute embarrassment for Kent County Council’ (it wasn’t!).

After a previous long period of stability and high standards, most recently under headteacher Llew Jones, who retired around 2001, the school was subject to repeated failure and a high turnover of headteachers, including seven in the past five years. The school rapidly fell into Serious Weaknesses (Ofsted 2003), the first of three failed Ofsteds, interspersed with several inadequate Monitoring Inspections., including one after the most recent ‘Requires Improvement’ last year. Twice there have been plans to expand this failing school to ease pressure on places in Northfleet, in spite of KCC principles that only Good or Outstanding schools should be enlarged. Both have been cancelled because of perceived but false insufficient demand, leaving Northfleet families struggling to find places, most recently this year. As a result some Northfleet families have been taxied across to East Gravesend schools as there were no vacancies locally. I have written up the problems a number of times over the past seven years, most recently here. In the meantime Ofsted has repeatedly highlighted a large turnover of teachers: 2016 ‘Each year, a large number of new teachers join the school but do not stay’; ‘Eleven new teachers took up post in September 2017’. The Ofsted Monitoring Inspection of October under most recent Head, Kevin Holmes, appointed May 2017 was critical of the leadership and oversight of Reach2, the Academy Trust which took over the school in 2013: ‘The school is not improving quickly enough. In a period of significant turbulence in staffing and leadership, standards have fallen further in all key stages since the previous inspection’; ‘’Now approaching four years since the school re-opened as an academy, by its own admission the trust has still not been successful in securing a good quality of education for pupils’.

Now Mr Holmes, who also recently had a spell running the disastrous Istead Rise Primary another school with an appalling record, and described as an experienced head by Ofsted, left suddenly without notice or explanation in June. The school is now run by Paul Voural, Associate School Leader for Reach2, whose own previous headship appears to have had its difficulties.

There were no reception class vacancies at all in Northfleet this year apart from a fruitless expansion of 30 places at Copperfield, with the school receiving 11 Local Authority Allocations to top its numbers up to 60, the only local school not full of children who had chosen it. In the meantime, nearby Cecil Road Primary, whose previous head was removed just over three years ago, has flourished to become one of the most oversubscribed schools in Kent as parents try and avoid Copperfield.

This is only a sample area of Kent and Medway, but I would be surprised if the schools identified are alone. I see two main conclusions, firstly that quite simply there is not a sufficient pool of good potential headteachers to go round, with other evidence showing that Medway has particular difficulties attracting good candidates. I have been accused by a past Cabinet Member of adding to the problems by highlighting Medway's deficiencies, but surely it is up to the Council to improve standards as a first step. It is notable that certain schools fall into a spiral of decline, with developing a rapid turnover of headteachers and staff, which it becomes difficult to break. However, it can be done, and I would highlight Drapers Mills Primary in Thanet which had been failing long before I first began reporting on this website, but has recently achieved its first ever Good Ofsted Report. Academisation as a solution appears to make little difference. 
Secondly, what I refer to as 'Tough Love' doesn't work, although highly regarded in some quarters. The two examples here differ from the secondary schools quoted in my link in that their uncompromising demands are primarily upon staff rather than pupils as in the link. A school is a community and leaders should work to build up a team, rather than demoralise teachers with unreasonable demands which inevitably lead to high turnover of staff, driving much needed teachers out of the profession. 
As for the children, some of whom in one of these schools are reported to have faced seven teachers in the year, one can only speculate how much damage this has done to their education and development. For there is no doubt that stability and continuity with a good teacher is a vital ingredient of a good education at this young age. As schools come under pressure to fill gaps, some of the substitutes  will inevitably be less than adequate.
The 'Disappearing Heads' of the title is a nod to a series of articles, most recently in 2014, when I profiled an unwritten Kent policy to get rid of underperforming primary headteachers by improper means, eventually bringing it to a close with the removal of a maverick senior KCC officer. There is no suggestion of the same here. 
Last modified on Saturday, 29 May 2021 19:34


  • Comment Link Friday, 30 August 2019 14:12 posted by Outrageous

    Liz McIntosh isn't missing, she's popping up all over the place as an Ofsted Inspector!! PETER: And how! Presumably she got a good reference from KCC!

  • Comment Link Friday, 09 August 2019 10:00 posted by Ben

    It's a real shame to see such failings in Kent schools. It seems reading through the comments that there are a number of people with faults to play in this. I hope the newer management staff have improved things since this article was written. PETER: Fairview got rid of their head, who is now a major source of controversy at Edinburgh Primary in London. Tunbury has a new Executive Headteacher, shared with Langton Primary in Tunbridge Wells. Copperfield continues to be a disaster area, see updated link. .

  • Comment Link Thursday, 07 March 2019 16:47 posted by Mrs G

    The Head and Deputy at Tunbury are a disgrace. They forced out teachers who had received good and outstanding prior to their arrival and after they had left the school. KCC and the governors have backed them up despite the clear and awful problems they've caused. Now they've been removed, the Chair of Governors should also be removed. KCC should face an investigation and any formal grievances by either parents or teachers should be reviewed now the truth about them has finally come to light.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 18 October 2018 11:18 posted by Tunbury parent

    It looks if the parents are now taking the lead. A petition has been set up and some of the comments posted are quite disturbing. How can the KCC not take action now?

  • Comment Link Friday, 12 October 2018 20:55 posted by A concerned parent

    In less than a week Tunbury Primary will close for the autumn break. No doubt it has been a difficult start to the term as the school struggles to cast off the stigma of the SEN scandal and the aggressive turnover of staff. Recently we have been introduced to a Mr Cornelius, in the form of an Executive Head Teacher but according to the school's website, Ms McIntosh and Ms Nuttall are still very much a part of the scene. Worryingly, at a time when the school should be celebrating the new leadership and galvanising the future direction of the school, it looks as if Mr Cornelius occupies a temporary role rather than something more permanent.

    Frustratingly, Kent County Council and the Governing Body have yet to convinced us that they have taken significant action to remedy the ongoing situation of leadership that has and continues to affect our children. Many of us have expressed our concerns over how we have been treated and how our children have missed valuable years waiting for the school to take their needs seriously. Call me pessimistic but over the years I've learnt that when people go quiet, when they fail to keep you apprised of the situation, it's rarely that they are too busy to share a positive. Usually it's because they have is bad news and bad news can wait. Is the bad news that in order to depose a notable Head Teacher it would require an admission of guilt by those who provide oversight, an admission that they were asleep at the wheel? If so they need to acknowledge their error in order to restore confidence and move forward. To have Ms McIntosh and Ms Nuttall return with nothing more than a slap on the wrist would be unforgivable.

    Now more than ever, a school's stock rises and falls on the opinion of those that judge it. As parents we may disagree with curriculum, policy, procedure and leadership but inevitably if our kids are happy and the school generates consistently good results, we will take the rough along with the smooth. However, there are a significant number of parents that have children at Tunbury that are not happy and that makes who is at the helm extremely important.

    Yes, Ofsted reports are valuable but so is our opinion. KCC and the Governors would not ignore a bad Ofsted report so why should they ignore us? Speak up, speak to each other; just don't wait for someone to speak up on your behalf. If you have a child currently at Tunbury that has been let down write to KCC and the Governors now. Be heard, demand answers. These are our children and they only get one chance at this.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 06 September 2018 21:12 posted by A concerned parent

    Is anyone else getting a bad feeling about this? One week into the new term and we are still in the dark as to the future direction of Tunbury Primary School and who will be at the helm. The optimistic part of me wants to believe that the delay in keeping parents informed is due to the powers that be working hard to ensure this mess we find ourselves in will never happen again. The pessimistic part of me is troubled that it is proving so hard to remove the people who have failed us.
    Why do our Governors, who work for us, the children and community keep us at arms length? I understand the matter may well be more complex than it appears but nothing is being said or done to allay our suspicions, concerns or worries. Where are Kent County Council in all this? All communication to date, what little we have had, has come from the Governors. It concerns me that KCC have chosen the easy way out by hiding from parental scrutiny.
    In my last post I expressed my fears that KCC may have decided to close the book on Tunbury by brokering an academy deal without parent consultation. Peter agreed that this may well be the case and urged parents to speak up now before it's too late. You only have to skim read the reasons as to why academies are not necessarily the long term ideal solution for our children. Unfortunately, by the time we come to realise what a bad fit this may be for our school it will be too late. KCC can blame the Governors and they can in turn blame a couple of rogue elements.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 01 September 2018 22:42 posted by Anon

    I agree that we should be told what's going on. Parents are obviously concerned due to how theyve been treated over the last 5 or so years. Staff will be (as usual) kept in the dark and will be the ones dealing with concerned parents when the children return.

    Thank heavens the children had so little to do with macintosh and nuttell- they probably haven't even noticed that they were gone for the last week.

    Come on KCC, give the parents the information and please confirm that these 2 individuals will not be back.All the time information is kept back, it just makes it worse for all concerned.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 01 September 2018 14:15 posted by A concerned parent.

    The situation at Tunbury is really worrying for us parents. How long does it take for someone to be found guilty or innocent?
    The Head and Deputy teachers have obviously been accused of something significant as rumour is they were escorted off the premises. Are they sacked, suspended or on gardening leave? Who knows? Certainly, nobody intends to tell us! Talking to other parents you get the impression that many have become increasingly frustrated with the attitude of the management and the council. Having endured years of being shut out, ignored and fobbed off I'm amazed that as we approach a new school year we have no idea of who will be running the school or the direction it will be taken.

    As the situation drags on, there is growing concern amongst the parents that Kent County Council are looking to save face by sidelining the management into posts elsewhere whilst washing their hands of the school and offering it up to an accademy. I worry that our children have become sacrificial pawns that people hide behind while furthering there own causes rather than appreciating that they are the entire reason they exist in the first place. PETER: Your fear of academisation should be very real. This is still surely an essentially good school, but governors and KCC may choose the easy route out. Parents need to be asking urgent, direct and hard questions about this or decisions will be taken over your heads. Sorry.

  • Comment Link Friday, 31 August 2018 12:49 posted by Tunbury newbie

    Is there any further update on the situation at Tunbury? My child is about to join and we haven't heard anything more about whether the head or deputy will be returning at the start of term or whether they will remain suspended/on gardening leave. PETER: Not yet I am afraid. This is obviously a very difficult time for the school, and there will be legal issues around the school making any ongoing situation or action public. Any further news would be welcome.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 18 August 2018 13:24 posted by Brenda

    I can't comment on Copperfield or Tunbury but you describe Fairview as "well performing and happy". What you don't describe it as is "outstanding" which is what I want for my kids education. The school brought in a head with the experience of running an outstanding school. Setting by ability may not be seen as modern and trendy but it was the norm in my days at school. Maybe that was how they did things at the head's previous school and how it was that they came to be outstanding. PETER: You don't say if you are a parent, and if so were you happy with the number of senior staff resigning soon after the new headteacher took over, or the sharp drop in morale, and unhappiness about the the new tough disciplinary regime introduced, not normally associated with Outstanding schools.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 31 July 2018 20:15 posted by Karen Smith

    I am very angry about the sacking of Kevin Holmes at Copperfield Academy. We have put up with change after change of teacher for our daughter who is bewildered by the different teaching from each one and the rubbish teaching from some. Mr Holmes at least tried to sort it out, but his face didnt fit with the Trusts failed ideas. Help us please, our daughters future is at stake. PETER: I only wish I could. Both Labour and Conservative governments have pushed the idea of the non-accountable academy, but KCC didn't do any better when they were in charge. However, as you say it is your daughter's future at stake, and you probably don't care which political model is used. You just want her to have a good education. That shouldn't be too much to ask.

  • Comment Link Monday, 30 July 2018 20:02 posted by Angry Copperfield Parent

    Copperfield Academy - I have had four children pass through this dreadful school. It failed them under KCC. It is failing them still. Every comment here appears to be about Tunbury Primary. Does anybody out there care about us, or is Northfleet written off again. I have tried but there is no one else with room. Thank you Mr Read for trying but I don't expect any improvement. PETER: I have massive sympathy for you. You have every right to be angry. Under KCC I used to think the school was being propped up politically for no good purpose. It looks as if Reach 2 simply doesn't care after five years in charge. No, I am sadly afraid I don't know what to suggest.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 23:13 posted by Sheila B

    Parents of SEN children have complained to KCC for years about the Head and Deputy i/c SEN with nothing done whilst children's futures are blighted. What has happened to make them take us seriously?

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 19:41 posted by Anon

    Tunbury is staffed by dedicated, caring staff who have been deceived, blamed, overruled and intimidated. Credit to them for sticking it out despite the rubbish they have endured. I'm sure the Sen provision has been damaged massively by the deputy Miss nuttel but have faith that now they've gone (hopefully not to any kind of educational career) things will improve. Sadly, the 5 years damage caused to children let down can not be claimed back. They should hang their heads in shame!

    I think the fact that governors have been visible during miss Mcintosh's most recent spell of absence, says a lot. Most days they have been visible to wave off and welcome back, 6 classes of children that have had to be bussed to wouldham school since the school flooded.

    I'm guessing (and hoping) that the email from them was all they could tell us at the time. PETER: My reading is that no decisions have yet been made about the future. In either explanation for the absence, it is not clear that either member of staff is subject to disciplinary action and so there may be no obstacle to their returning.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 19:28 posted by Karen

    Fairview Parent: Peter, I know you are very critical of Medway Council but in this case they took prompt action in seeing off the head. Reading the Tunbury comments one has to ask why the head was allowed to continue so long without challenge. Presumably it is difficult to take action against an Ofsted Inspector and Kent Schools Leader. Tunbury parents need to ask why the Council did not see what was going on for so long. PETER: An excellent question

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 19:10 posted by Tunbury parent

    About time. Perhaps the Sen children will now get the help and support they need.

    The School Head and Deputy both ******** to us and tried to force our child out of the school.

    Our fear is that they will be allowed to quietly move on and ruin another school.

    Check out Ofsteds report for the Poverest - Miss Mcintoshs previous school appointment. Makes interesting reading and a previously very good school had a decline during her appointment, large number of staff leaving and above average number of pupils leaving. It would be interesting to find out if she forced the Sen children out of that school too! PETER, Sorry I have edited one phrase of your comment.. Your interpretation of the Povorest Ofsteds differs from mine. At the start of Miss McIntosh's headship in 2008 the school was Inadequate and under her leadership improved to Requires Improvement in 2013. However, there was great improvement after she left in 2014, with considerable criticism on what had gone on previously.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 18:37 posted by Chris Fitz

    Tunbury Parent

    Its a shame it took the authorities so long to realise what many parents have been saying for a very long time, the head and deputy constantly displayed a level of incompetence and whenever you had a complaint or dispute they always blamed someone else. The schools Governors also have a lot to answer for in defending them and denying there were issues, when it was widely known what was happening, even before they were sent on gardening leave they were really at the school anyway !! They have destroyed the reputation of the school and driven away many many good teachers. I hope they never get positions of authority in the school sector again

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 18:35 posted by Anonymous

    SEN children have been massively let down by the HT's drive for outstanding. The deputy HT who was also the SENCo failed children with SEN, she failed to act on parents concerns, failed to give the correct support unless guided by outside professionals, failed to think ahead if things were going wrong, failed to recognise that she was wrong and failed those students that simply do not fit into 'the box'. SEN children do not and should never be forced to fit into 'the box'. Rather than support these children they and the parents were made to feel it was their failt and that they needed to adjust or move on to another school placement. It was a constant battle.

    This is not how educational professionals should behave.

    It is too late for my child with SEN at this school but I hope that no other vulnerable child is subjected to these failings. PETER: Encouraging SEN children to move elsewhere, on the grounds that another school will offer them a better deal is sadly not uncommon. It works wonders for performance targets.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 18:32 posted by Mrs almond

    I have and my son has been totally let down by the school and the sen department, I have had to pay for all my sons tests to be done privately as I was told the sen department didn’t have the funds to do this!!!! When I wrote to complain the head teacher did approach me and stated it would be better if we resolved this matter “in house” now it make sense!! But unfortunately I’m still waiting over 4 months later with no response from the school!
    The headteacher has massively let this once great school down, lots of amazing teachers left and now the school just feels very unfriendly and don’t get a good community feel, such a shame so glad my son is in his final year.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 18:14 posted by Anon

    Peter, you may wish to adjust your article slightly to clarify what is rumour and what is confirmed as factual. There is at least one point in this article which you are incorrectly implying as fact (what you've stated is the rumour, but is not actually correct). As a result, your article is being quoted/ referenced on social media as the truth and evidence that "parents have been lied to", when they haven't. By not including this clarification, I believe the reaction to your post means you are skating rather close to being guilty of defamation of character. PETER: Not a helpful comment, in that it gives no clue as to what you think is rumour or what you think needs clarification. If you could contact me by email and inform me of your concerns I can respond if they stand up. To the best of my knowledge, the article is based on reliable information.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 16:56 posted by Diane knapp

    Both headteacher and deputy should be struck off. Both my boys are Sen and both badly let down by Tunbury. One now in secondary and one starting last year at Tunbury, bit late for my boys but now hopeful for the future of the school. I have been ***** and fed rubbish by deputy who was also head of Sen. So many long standing good teachers have left in their droves due to head. Here’s hoping they never come back PETER: Sorry, I have edited out one phrase.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 15:36 posted by Anonymous

    Tunbury parent.
    The awful treatment of staff and neglectful care for SEN pupils at Tunbury has been appalling over the years, by both the Head and the Deputy HT. I’m glad their true colours are starting to come out, although too late to save many fantastic teachers. The irreparable damage on SEN children is unforgivable. They should both be struck off.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 July 2018 12:28 posted by Ex-Tunbury Teacher

    Tunbury Primary: Slightly amended article spot on!!

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