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Monday, 06 January 2020 23:18

Folkestone Academy joins the Tough Love Failures, and Other Turner School Successes

This article considers the consequences of a letter sent out to parents by Seamus Murphy, the new Executive Headteacher of Folkestone Academy. It is a revision of my original article. The letter expresses concern about the high rates of lateness and absence, the school having the second highest rate of absence of any secondary school in Kent (22nd in the country) and also of persistent absence (21st in the country). The following paragraph begins: ‘I believe that pupils need to be in school to achieve and rather than use exclusions I will be holding Saturday detentions from 9 to 11 p.m. I will expect parents to accompany their children in full uniform to school if they receive a Saturday detention for significantly failing to follow Academy procedures’. Quite understandably, many parents and local and national media connected the two paragraphs and saw them as cause and effect.
 
After several media attempts to pin Mr Murphy down, he explained in a Kentonline Podcast that the main reason for awarding a Saturday detention would be because some students were not in lessons often enough, or had missed other detentions, sometimes given for being late in school, so not a lot different! 
TurnerSchools
 Two massive and astonishing new statistics underline a fresh crisis facing the school. The October 2019 schools census shows that the school has seen both its Year Seven and Sixth Form rolls fall by over a third in two years, explored below  
 
Just to prove I don’t always find fault with the school I must heap extravagant praise on Turner Free School for the amazing, wonderful and brilliant first two terms this year – see below.
 
Previous articles here and here explain how Mr Murphy’s initial and current appointments came about, presumably as a hard man to raise the current low standards in the school, but apparently contrary to Turner Schools’ frequently declared high  principles, see below.
 
Saturday Detentions
This decision by Mr Murphy, on his first week in office, just before term started, was unfortunately not conveyed to staff beforehand, which has not gone down well! Media coverage has gone national, including the Daily Mail and The Sun, although the stated purpose has changed in an attempt to head off criticism. 
The bottom line is that in 2017-18 exclusions had hit a record figure of 1211, more than one in seven of the secondary total across Kent and was claimed by the school at the time to be necessary to achieve high standards, which have not yet materialised. This policy has now gone into reverse, presumably as it has clearly failed, the school claiming that the number of exclusions in the Autumn term had fallen to  fifty without the new policy. 
 
Meanwhile, Martello Primary, also a Turner School had the second highest number in Kent, both of these schools flying in the face of an assertion on a Turner School Training Day that ‘Behaviours that lead to exclusions happen when students perceive there to be no limits and no expectations and no rules’. Folkestone Academy is the Kent school which had a record number of 1211 fixed term exclusions in 2017-18, more than one in seven of the total across Kent and was claimed by the school to be necessary to achieve high standards which have not yet materialised.  It is starting to sound as if the new punishment is simply a way of reducing the sky high exclusion rate, and that exclusions have been occurring for minor reasons if they can now be replaced by detentions. It also appears that many of those exclusions were for lateness or persistent absence, a very counterproductive approach.

Such a Saturday detention is legal provided appropriate notice is given, but very unusual, especially in such a school where there are already major concerns about standards across the board. The school is not required to give reasons for the detention. However, in order to underline Mr Murphy’s instructions, he writes in the letter: ‘I will expect parents to accompany their children in full uniform to school if they receive a Saturday detention for significantly failing to follow Academy procedures’, although the school has no powers to require parents to accompany their children, as Mr Murphy implies.

Certainly, the school has a serious problem with absence and what is called persistent absence, defined as ‘The percentage of pupils missing 10% or more of the mornings or afternoons they could attend’. Folkestone Academy had a 10% overall absence rate and 31.3% of its pupils persistently absent in 2017-18, in both cases second only to Hartsdown Academy (where else?) in Kent. Almost certainly not coincidentally, Martello Primary, also run by Turner Schools, was itself second worst amongst the 456 primary schools in Kent, with 9.4% absence rate and 32% of pupils persistently absent (and astonishingly 16th and 15th worst in the country respectively). Indeed, the problem at Martello appears far worse with no indication of action being taken, so we await their solution
 
In order to underline Mr Murphy’s instructions, he writes: ‘I will expect parents to accompany their children in full uniform to school if they receive a Saturday detention for significantly failing to follow Academy procedures’, clarifying what these are by writing in the letter to parents:  "I am concerned about the number of students who either are late to school or absent. Currently too many students are not in school and therefore struggling to catch up on the work they missed. I believe that students need to be in school to achieve and rather than use exclusion, I will be holding Saturday detentions from 9am to 11am'. However by the time of the BBC SE news Monday evening, he was already retreating from his initial super tough ill though through approach and on BBC SE stated that Saturday exclusion would only apply to pupils who have missed other detentions, a very different criterion. A further clarification by the school sets an alternative criterion: 'as we made clear in our letter to parents, the introduction of Saturday detentions is an alternative to students being formally excluded''. 

This should all be a very serious matter of concern amongst the leadership of an Academy Trust that two years ago had ‘an ambitious plan to turn Folkestone Academy into the best school in the south of England’! Instead it is still limping along at the floor, with: GCSE Progress 8 at -0.62 (Well Below Average); Exclusion rates still through the roof; Absence and Persistent Absence rates second highest in Kent; over a third of Year Seven places empty this October, the Sixth Form having fallen in size by over a third since this time last year, and its Governance in disarray. 

When Mr Murphy was initially appointed to Turner Schools it was as Deputy CEO to Dr Jo Saxton who had co-founded the Trust and exerted a strong authority on events and people up to that point. At the time, his appointment was explained as enabling Dr Saxton to focus on curriculum matters across the Folkestone Academy and the other three small schools of the Trust, surely not the role for a CEO on a £140,000 salary. Her co-founding Director of the Trust, along with several other Directors of the Trust left shortly afterwards at short notice and without any public acknowledgement or recognition of their services. Mr Murphy has now taken over as Executive Head of Folkestone Academy, the fifth school leader in the nearly three years that Turner Schools has been responsible for FA, so it is not clear who is now running the show.
 
The Saturday detention scheme certainly appears at variance to Dr Saxton’s philosophy (see below) and appears fraught with difficulties. Given the high level of absence and persistent absence, probably brought about because of the poor ethos created by the school’s kaleidoscope of leadership styles, as explained in several previous articles, the detentions currently doled out for lateness will now turn into Saturday detentions, which could be a minefield.
How for example will the school punish children who don’t turn up for Saturday in full school uniform with their parents, having been late for school or for a lesson, because they or their parents think it unreasonable, as I do? A stronger sanction will be needed, and we are soon back into the realm of exclusion and its oddity as a punishment in such cases. Folkestone Academy has certainly joined the other three Kent Tough Love Academies, here and subsequent articles, all of whom have failed the students who have been subjected to Tough Love! Apparently, this is all in the ambition of securing high standards. 
 
An article in KentLive states that: there was 'Too much focus on punishment' at the time of writing (February 2018) 'Chief executive of Turner Schools Jo Saxton said: “We now want almost every conversation to be about learning, and what we could hear from staff was that too many conversations used to be about punishment. Before, there were 52 school rules for pupils.”' In practice this did not do much to affect the 1211 exclusions that same school year, one seventh of all exclusions in Kent. Further the School Behaviour Policy is almost wholly about punishment and not even mentioning the Saturday Exclusion Policy!
 
The Turner School Philosophy
As I wrote in a previous article: The heartbeat of Turner Schools is the torrent of slogans, mottoes and motivating messages with varying themes it pushes out at every opportunity. I have published a collection of them here (and am always happy to add to the list, even though it is very lengthy already) which should which give a flavour of the school . I can find just one reference to behaviour in the pages of positivity, self congratulation and fantasy ambitions in that collection 'Saxton agrees with Lemov that a structured approach to behaviour is a way of reducing exclusions’ which I don’t think includes tough love!' It is almost as if, with the departure of her co-founder Professor Carl Lygo, Dr Saxton has handed over control to the Tough Love brigade, against all her principles. 
 
Pupil Rolls at Folkestone Academy
As the table below shows, Folkestone Academy has been losing pupils at an alarming rate since Turner Schools took over management of the school at Easter 2017, and then became a Turner School Academy in January 2018. It has not been helped by the self destruct decision to expand the Turner Free School, its new secondary school in Folkestone from the original 120 pupils to 180 this September. Folkestone Academy was the most expensive new school in Kent when the new buildings were opened in 2007 at a cost of £34 million, for an intake of 240, and designed by the prestigious Norman Foster Group. The new Turner Free School Buildings will be opening next year, planned for an intake of 180 pupils. There is going to be a great deal of surplus space. 
 
However, the biggest concern must be the enormous loss of Sixth Form numbers at the school, showing a lack of confidence in the school by older students, and partially created by the decision of Turner Schools to cut out most vocational Sixth Form courses for October 2018, in the drive for academic purity. In 2018 the school boasted of its 100 students going on to university. That is clearly not going to happen again in the near future, the recent meaningless claim to have a High University Standard being just that (see below).   
 
 
Folkestone Academy Pupil Numbers
  Oct 2017 Oct 2018 Oct 2019
Year 7 267 198 179
Year 8 277 266 194
Year 9 279 262 267
Year 10 280 265 263
Year 11 278 267 268
Year 12 131 101 86
Year 13 143 104 83
 
 The fall in pupil numbers will have a considerable effect on the school's finances, with an inevitable knock on for staffing numbers.  It may be that, as in previous years, the number of staff choosing to leave may enable the school to balance its books, although it is Outstanding in attracting finance which may be an alternative strategy. .
 
The Absolutely Fabulous 'Turner Free School Christmas News Letter'.
This is not an important section, but another interesting insight into the non stop message of brilliance at Turner Schools. It begins: ‘It has been another wonderful term at TFS with our exceptional scholars’, and then goes on to use the adjectives: incredible; fantastic; amazing; tireless; amazing  (again); unceasing dedication; incredible (again); inspirational; fantastic (again); dedication; wonderful; incredibly (again). These all come together to  form a full on panoply of praise to demonstrate the powerful education on offer at the school, in just 414 words. Oddly there is no mention of the controversial departure after six weeks of newly appointed Deputy Head, Bob McKay, which left an unpleasant taste in the mouth. 
The Trust also offers a digital Christmas Card whose purpose, unusually, rather than spreading Christmas cheer is produced solely to promote yet again the successes of 2019. I was so struck by this that I felt impelled to view it. In a five minutes showing it demonstrates the key successes of each of the four Turner Schools, headed by a slide that shouts ‘What a fantastic year for our schools’. The video contains a large number of glossy slides with two or three headlines for each school revealing a very thin diet of success including slogans where there appears nothing to go on. The headlines are as follows:
 
Turner Free School:
Oversubscribed for the second year in a row –so what about the three spaces in Year Seven according to the school census, and an expansion that has seen numbers in Folkestone academy plummet. 
Stunning 26 months each gained in reading ages per pupil – I agree this is an astonishing claim to be achieved  for every pupil in the school. Unbelievable is another word.
Bespoke multi million new building and planning permission secured - not exactly a success of the school. This was agreed in principle before it opened.
‘Best School Ever’ Turner Free School Parent definitely scraping the barrel
 
Morehall Primary School
Ofsted Good for the first time ever Congratulations, but spoiled by second claim.
Met/Exceeded National Average in all the Key Attainment Measures – well, yes score of 101 in English and Maths Attainment is fractionally above average, but Maths Progress is below average, the key government measure. There is also a very low 4% of pupils achieving at a higher standard in English and Maths
 
Folkestone Academy Primary
Brilliant Early Reading   perhaps
Best Ever Phonic Results perhaps.
No mention of KS2 Results including all Progress Measures Below and Well Below average – the government Key Measure.
 
Folkestone Academy Secondary:
Strong vocational results, meeting National Standard for Progress. In other words average.
High University Standard whatever that means. See comment above, reporting on the fall in University numbers as Sixth Form rolls plummet. 
Secondary School of the Year Folkestone Sports Trust Awards. And that just about sums it up (see the school's other records in the first section
For some reason, one of the glossy slides features children from Stella Maris Primary!
 
Martello Primary School (as the slide states, although its name is actually Martello Primary)
Best KS2 Progress made in the Trust. Yes, but the other two Trust schools listed above had Poor Progress grades enabling Martello’s average to be best! Hardly a success
Inclusive practise improving learning for all (Misspelling of practice) Another fine slogan
 
In other words, the Christmas Wishes video to boast the successes of Turner School, has hardly any genuine successes at all to boast of! Turner Schools needs to forget about the propaganda and start to deliver on its many promises. Happy New Year!
Last modified on Monday, 20 January 2020 23:26

1 comment

  • Comment Link Monday, 20 January 2020 23:26 posted by Despairing staff member

    We are not allowed to comment on this website on pain of dismissal. It is worth the risk to thank you for exposing the bullying by Turner Schools. Surely someone with authority is listening and will bring them down at last.

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