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Thursday, 21 February 2019 18:45

Meopham School Outstanding Ofsted - And then there is Holmesdale

 Swale Academies Trust (SAT) has secured a second Ofsted Outstanding school, after Meopham was found Outstanding in January (published earlier this week). This makes KCC’s decision to block SAT from taking over the failed Holmesdale School for most of 2018 look even more shocking as the school blundered from bad to worse under its control during the year. 

Meopham School had suffered from poor leadership for as long as I can remember, culminating in 2012 when it was placed in Special Measures. An ‘Anywhere but Meopham’ cry was regularly made to me by parents seeking advice on how to avoid the school. SAT took it over the following year. It has rapidly improved ever since, with a ‘Good’ Ofsted Report just two years later, followed by a Short Inspection last year. Meopham has been delivering excellent GCSE results for its pupils for the past three years, being the second and third best performing non-selective school in the county at Progress 8 and in the top seven for Attainment 8 in each year. Rightly it has now seen last year’s Short Inspection converted to Outstanding. Not surprisingly, it has become heavily oversubscribed with 224 first choices for its 140 places for September. A new Chair of Governors was appointed last September, Diana Choulerton, an Education Consultant who until recently was one of Her Majesty's Inspectors. Swale Academies Trust doesn't take chances!

By contrast, after Holmesdale School was placed in Special Measures a year ago, the school and its pupils were disgracefully hung out to dry by Kent County Council. KCC refused to hand the management of the school over to SAT even though it had been selected as the Sponsoring School when Holmesdale was served with an Academy Order and left it devoid of proper support until grudgingly yielding it to SAT at the end of November.

As well as further details below, I also look at the performance of Swale Academies Trust in an attempt to see why KCC was so strongly opposed to them being involved with Holmesdale School. 

Meopham School now has the additional advantage that it is housed in a completely new site, opened a year ago at a cost of £14 million. One of the skills of SAT appears to be its ability to use expertise to the full to attract capital funding for its schools.  

Ofsted Report
The Report glows with praise about every aspect of the school describing a remarkable transformation: ‘School leaders, supported very well by the trust, have worked tirelessly to successfully establish an exceptional team of staff who share leaders’ vision for excellence in every aspect of the school. All who are involved with Meopham School have worked highly effectively together to sustain and develop the rapid school improvement that started when the trust took responsibility for the school in 2013; These leaders now support colleagues at other trust schools.’  The school has been classified Outstanding in five categories and Good in 16-19 study programmes.

Amongst other highlights:  Pupils in key stages 3 and 4 make excellent progress across the curriculum. Standards in English, mathematics and science are particularly impressive; Teaching overall is inspirational, fuelling pupils’ desire to learn and to demonstrate their learning; A vivid sense of cooperation and purpose permeates the school; Pupils’ behaviour is exemplary. They demonstrate a joy in learning; Pupils are rightly proud of the inclusive culture of the school; Progress and attainment in the core subjects of English, mathematics and science is exceptionally strong across the school.  Pupils with SEND make impressive progress from their starting points; Disadvantaged pupils make better progress overall than pupils in other schools due to the high-quality teaching and support that they receive. 

The only issue identified is in the Sixth Form, where even so: The leadership of the sixth form is good and the requirements of the 16 to 19 study programmes are met in full. However, the curriculum offer is limited to a narrow selection of subjects, so it does not cater for all Meopham pupils who would like to stay into the sixth form. Leaders are acutely aware of this and trying hard to balance a good quality of provision with the economic challenges of small classes. Yes, indeed it is increasingly financially difficult to provide a  viable Sixth Form curriculum for a small school.

I first highlighted Meopham’s excellent performance in my article on GCSE outcomes in 2016. I featured it again in 2017 when it rose to second highest Progress 8 (the government’s preferred measure of performance) for non-selectives in the county, behind only Bennett Memorial in Tunbridge Wells, a heavily oversubscribed school that selects on religious grounds. In 2018 it was again third highest, on all three occasions being edged out of top places by oversubscribed church selective schools.
Swale Academy Trust
The Trust has a bruising reputation for achieving its aims but, as a result has the best Ofsted profile of any Academy group in the county, building on some very low outcomes whilst its schools were under KCC control. 
Swale Academy Trust - Kent Schools -
Ofsted Outcomes Pre-and Post Acquisition
by Trust 
Holmesdale Foundation 11/2018 Sp.M. 2/18
 Meopham Academy Outst 1/19  2013 NTI 2/12 
 North Community Good 9/17  2014 Sp.M. 12/13 
Sittingbourne  Academy Good 11/17   2012 Satisf 2/11 
Westlands Academy Outst 1/12  Longterm Outst 2/08 
Whitstable Academy Good 2/17 2017   R.I 3/15
Beaver Green Academy Good 9/17   2014 Sp.M.  12/13
Istead Rise Academy Good  9/18  2017 Sp.M.   3/13 
Regis Manor Academy Good  3/18 2011 Good 6/08
SouthBorough Academy Good  1/18  2015 R.I 10/12 
Westlands Academy Good  5/15 2010 Satisf 3/09
+ 6 Sussex Schools and 1 nursery

Notes: Outst -Outstanding; Sp.M - Special Measures; NTI - Notice to Improve (inadequate); Satisf - Satisfactory (predecessor to R.I. - Requires Improvement)

Along with the two Outstanding schools, the remaining nine to have been Inspected are all Good, building on five schools Inadequate (Special Measures, or Notice to Improve) under KCC control and four Requires Improvement (previously Satisfactory). Remarkably both of Westlands and Istead Rise primary schools have three Outstanding Categories out of the five in their Ofsted Assessment making them close to Outstanding overall, whilst Beaver Green has one. I have followed the dreadful fortunes of both Istead Rise and Beaver Green for many years with frequent mentions on this site.  One article featuring  Beaver Green, written in 2014, is particularly poignant. It lambasts KCC and its School Support 'services' which were heavily criticised in the third Monitoring Inspection after being placed into Special Measures. The difficulties at Istead Rise go way back before 2013 when was not only placed in Special Measures, but also failed its subsequent Monitoring Inspections, as I reported in an article which also heavily criticised KCC's failure to support schools in difficulty. It then fell under the control of the notorious Meopham Community School Federation where it continued to fail until being bailed out by SAT.    

All of this continues to underline the unanswered question of why KCC so desperately tried to stop SAT taking over Holmesdale, even though it was the designated Trust to sponsor Holmesdale after it received an Academy Order. And even when it grudgingly allowed SAT to manage the school from 26th November 2018, it then tried unsuccessfully to block the Trust from deploying the staff they considered necessary to run it. All this is reported in two previous articles, most recently here
In passing, the ‘Anywhere but Meopham’ cry quoted above from a few years ago was frequently followed up by an enquiry about how to get into Holmesdale, when the latter had a good reputation. How times change! 
Final Thought
As I wrote about 'The Education People', set up as an independent company from KCC's education support services, although failing hand in glove with KCC officers over Holmesdale: 'It makes claims on its website about its support for secondary schools: ''The support we provide to schools and colleges is of exceptional quality such that, in Kent, 92% of establishments are now rated good or outstanding by Ofsted''. This is false, and the Kent secondary school improvement record is far from exceptional as shown below; arguably it is inadequate'.
However, turning round a failing school is not easy, as families at Istead Rise discovered not only with KCC in charge, but with the Meopham Community School Federation. Then there was Lilac Sky! With Martello Primary and Morehall Primaries passed over to Turner Schools following the scandal it looks like a case of out of the frying pan! Goodwin Academy, failed by KCC then by SchoolsCompany. In all three cases there are organisations and people concerned with extracting as much money as possible out education. I could go on for there are plenty more examples on this site. Children's education and futures are so important they should not depend on a lottery of who takes charge. It is all very well for The Education People to boast that '92% of establishments are now rated good or outstanding by Ofsted', too many of the other 40 are failing their children and many more before, and it is clear that academisation for all is not the answer. However, for some schools being failed by KCC, a route such as the one being taken at Holmesdale appears to offer the best chance of redemption. In the interests of balance, I would also cite Aquila, the Anglican Diocese of Canterbury Trust as having an excellent record in rescuing failed KCC schools, with St Mary of Charity and Reculver, both recently judged Outstanding, up from Inadequate under KCC, and both quoted in an article that contains several other examples of good and bad practice.  

Last modified on Friday, 31 July 2020 17:38


  • Comment Link Thursday, 07 March 2019 03:53 posted by Disappointed

    I can't understand this Meopham grade. When we visited the school in October, we found it clinical and lacking in joy set in what appears very much like a cardboard box. PETER: This may be true but many others have a different view. 224 first choices for 140 places for September is going to leave many disappointed.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 24 February 2019 22:57 posted by Elaine

    Whose responsibility is to apologise to this long list of children who have been failed and had their education blighted by KCC?

  • Comment Link Saturday, 23 February 2019 14:33 posted by Despairing Kent Parent

    Peter, Surely your article is not about Meopham, nor about Swale academies Trust but it is all about the failure of Kent County Council and the 'independent' The Education People and its predecessors.

    Children failed right, left and centre. There ought to be an investigation - but don't hold your breath.

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