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Wednesday, 10 October 2018 00:25

Turner Schools Part 3: Folkestone Academy

This is my third article on The Turner Schools Trust which operates three academies and one Free School in Folkestone, a town described recently by a Turner Schools speaker as comparable with an American rust-bucket city.

TurnerSchools

The start of term saw Chief Executive Dr Jo Saxton addressing the staff of Folkestone Academy on the subject of the school's dreadful 2018 GCSE results. She informed them that these were the result of five years of poor teaching. It did not go down well especially as these are a sharp fall from the solid outcomes of 2017, after more than a year of Turner School oversight.  Nevertheless the school website falsely reports Folkestone Academy as ‘Celebrating an Encouraging Uptick in Students Securing Top Grades’  (uptick – a financial term relating to small increases in share price).

2017-18 saw a teaching staff turnover of 33.1%, more than twice the average of local secondary schools but in line with them, according to the Trust.

Contrary to claims by Turner Trust, the opening of Turner Free School has badly hit the Folkestone Academy intake with a fall of over a quarter in its new Year Seven numbers.

On the strength of its 'success' in Folkestone, Turner Schools is, according to yet another exclusive article in the TES, contemplating opening a university to follow on from its Sixth Forms in Folkestone. Many would argue it needs to show it can run its two secondary schools successfully before even thinking about developing this further vision.  

Turner Schools uniquely (?) refuses to follow the Freedom of Information Code of Practice about handling Requests for Information....

Dr Jo Saxton remains a very influential person in national education circles as confirmed by the recent biographical outline in the TES. This is part of a massive PR campaign to promote the Trust through local and national media, and extensive social media activity with cross-feed twitter messages giving an unremitting positive picture about the Trust and its schools. As my previous two articles demonstrate, factual accuracy and consistency appear to come way down the list of priorities, although the passion behind the project shines through. Indeed, the Trust website now tells us that Folkestone was recently ranked by The Times newspaper in the top 10 coolest places to live in the UK, quite a turn around from the comparison at the top of this article. 

Turner Schools also suffers from an obsession about ensuring I publish correct factual material on this website, although in spite of my repeated requests for examples or details of errors I have been provided with only one minor mistake about people’s titles which I immediately corrected. Unfortunately, the principle does not appear to be reciprocated.

So, in my most recent exchange about teaching staff turnover I was told: ‘We are aware that you frequently write about such matters on your website. Should you be contemplating doing so in relation to this matter, it is important that you do so accurately’.

I have now checked on the following facts with the Trust as requested, but have had no response in more than a fortnight.

Staff Turnover
Using information provided by Turner Schools, to ensure accuracy, I can report that 54 teachers, 33.1% of the staff, left the school in the Year 2017-18. In the interests of accuracy, I quote the letter from the school’s Data Protection Officer: 

‘A number of schools local to the area with similar demographics, have an annual turnover of teaching staff of approximately 13-15%. …The figures we have represented are in line with the national turnover of teaching staff and changes in staffing at the Academy are consistent with this and, in our view, it would be both responsible journalism and in the public interest, for you to inform your readers of this context’.

Presumably a problem with arithmetic, as the Folkestone Academy proportion is over twice the one quoted for local schools! However, this neatly provides the solution to the school decision to reduce teaching staff by 42 named posts without redundancy.

It has been reported that amongst the staff departing were 20 teachers in management roles. Of course it could be argued that, by replacing staff en masse, this is providing a new environment to enable Dr Saxton’s ideas to flourish. Time will tell.

GCSE Performance
The Folkestone Academy outcome of GCSE Progress 8 (the government’s preferred measure of performance) at -0.78 (Provisional) compares badly with the 2017 figure of -0.22 when the Academy was in the top half of Kent non-selective schools and places it as the fifth lowest performer in Kent. It is also the fifth lowest Attainment 8 performer in Kent at 0.31 down form 36.4 in 2017. Turner Schools has run the Academy since April 2017 when Dr Saxton was appointed its Chief Executive. It is now on its fourth headteacher in the eighteen months since then (together with an additional consultant executive head since September), which cannot have helped continuity. 
 
Before she took over 27% of this cohort had chosen to follow the English Baccalaureate, the academic curriculum championed by government and one of the larger proportions of Kent non-selective schools. The outcome of an average point score of 2.25 was again the fifth worst in Kent. 

What is clear is that what Dr Saxton rightly described as a very poor outcome and the claim that it is the result of five years of poor teaching, is completely at odds with a recent quote from  her in KentLive: The Folkestone Academy is absolutely a success story. There has been ten years of success, more than 500 young people have gone to university”, and with the 2017 GCSE performance.

Also ‘according to Turner Schools chief executive Dr Jo Saxton, both schools will outperform all schools in the south of England – excluding grammars - and provide “success without selection”’.  This hardly provides a good start but, as Dr Saxton states, there are no quick fixes. This could indeed  be appropriate if it were not for all the attempts to paper over the cracks as demonstrated over and over again in this series of articles, rather than acknowledge them.   

The article on the school website designed in an attempt to boost the image of academic success this summer is headed ‘Folkestone Academy Celebrates Encouraging Uptick in Students Securing Top Grades’ . Never having heard the term ‘Uptick’  I checked it out and it is defined as ‘A small increase or slight upward trend’ used in financial circles to describe movement in selling prices of shares. Why on earth use such a deviation from normal language? Who is it designed to impress? However, the claim is in any case effectively rubbished by the key government measure of scoring at least Level 5 in English and maths, where it has dived from 37% to 13% in twelve months. 

The article explains that Students at Folkestone Academy are celebrating an increase of 75% in the number of top grades achieved, with two pupils even receiving the new 9, equivalent of A** a grade awarded only to the country’s very best students. Last year saw the introduction of the new exams in English and Maths, but students this summer sat the new tests across virtually all subjects’. The key to the Folkestone ‘success’ lies in the fact that the expansion by 28 subject areas of the new Grading system allows many more opportunities to achieve the new top grades, so an uptick is hardly ‘reporting accurately’ as I am so often urged to do. I await the public explanation for the considerable fall in performance with interest. None of this detracts form the hard work of those students who have delivered in spite of the turmoil around them.

Pupil Numbers at Folkestone Academy
Turner Schools has not challenged my understanding that there are just 200 pupils in Year Seven at Folkestone Academy with a PAN of 270, as a result of the opening of the Turner Free School. As expected, the March allocation of the full 270 pupils with 18 first choices turned away has collapsed, although Dr Saxton in correspondence with me utterly unrealistically, but explicitly, claimed that there was no cross-over between applications for the two schools, writing in June that: ‘No family has accepted a place at Turner Free School and at Folkestone Academy’. This apparently could be confirmed by the Local Authority which was handling all applications to the two schools. I did not believe it then and I don’t believe it now. Interestingly, and to be confirmed as KCC has provided me with doubtful data, there were just two admission appeals to Turner Free School, both upheld, in spite of the very lengthy waiting list claimed by the school. Why did no one else on the list appeal for a place?
 
University of Folkestone
 In yet another TES 'exclusive' entitled: 'Academy trust wants to set up university'  Turner Schools floats the idea to offer 'cradle to career provision' .  Dr Saxton  is quoted as saying: 'With my university experience and my chairman, who’s a university vice chancellor, we are thinking how we get into further and higher education, so we would love to have Turner University at some point'. This is a project that has clearly just reached the drawing board, so one does not expect detail, but there are as always plenty of sound bites which will chime with some. Some way back Dr Saxton was at pains to persuade me that her Chairman, Professor Carl Lygo, had left his post as Vice-Chancellor of a private profit making university in 2017.  Interestingly, his Wikipedia  entry describes him as 'founding Chairman of Turner Schools, a multi academy trust charity set up to help disadvantaged children in Folkestone', a description presumably approved by him, a different take on the role of the four schools in the Trust. 
 
Freedom of Information
The refusal to follow the Freedom of Information Act Code of Practice relating to my FOI on staff turnover is explored in the attached document, as being of limited interest to most browsers. In the end the Trust ‘voluntarily’ provided the above information on staff turn-over, knowing that it would eventually be forced to by the Information Commissioner. It has just rejected another FOI again without offering an Internal Review or equivalent, claiming it is under no obligation to do so. Whilst it is required to do so by the FOI Code of Practice, the Trust apparently can ignore the Code as this does not have Statutory Authority (although I have been unable to find another institution following the same dubious practice). As a result, I am required to complain to the Information Commissioner, a process that will take many months, presumably the aim of the exercise. 
Last modified on Tuesday, 30 October 2018 23:03

2 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 12 October 2018 19:57 posted by Puzzled Parent Pauline

    Peter, what you appear to be saying is that Turner Schools demand you be accurate and can produce no evidence to the contrary. On the other hand you have demonstrated falsehoods the Trust has published on a regular basis, but there has never been an apology or a retraction. Something wrong here.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 11 October 2018 18:02 posted by Genuine Friend of Folkestone

    Thank you Peter for your continued updates on Turner Schools. The blasé nature with which the trust has dealt with the lives of the staff and students at Folkestone Academy demonstrates their arrogance and absolute lack of understanding of education in the real world. I am starting to lose faith in journalism as the TES repeatedly publishes advertorials for Jo Saxton, without ever investigating the true reality of what is happening in her schools. Equally as disturbing is Jo Saxton’s refusal to publicly acknowledge Turner’s mistakes and continue to promote herself in the media.

    It took 10 years to build a dedicated staff body at the Folkestone Academy, to build a respected leadership team who teachers wanted to work hard for, to build a culture of learning and respect amongst students, and this was brutally dismantled in a number of weeks. Anyone who has ever worked in a ‘challenging school’ understands that stability is key, and this can only happen when staff are respected and allowed to use their knowledge and skills without interference from those with ideals but who have little experience of the realities of building communities in such deprived areas.

    Real ‘Friends of Folkestone’ are devastated by the drop in standards and feel a genuine anger at the Turner promotion machine. We can only hope that the Department for Education steps in to look at this trust.

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