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Wednesday, 11 March 2020 20:54

Dr Jo Saxton Leaves Turner Schools to be Government Policy Advisor for the School System

Update 11 April: If you wish to apply for the vacant post of Head of School at Folkestone Academy, you will find details here. The 84 point Job Description defining the post-holder's responsibilities shows that Turner Schools has not lost its touch for covering all the bases.    

Update: To add to Dr Saxton's Achievements, below, the number of families putting Folkestone Academy as their first choice school for 2020 has fallen yet again, from 153 in 2019 to 127 in 2020. 23 children, probably all from Folkestone, were allocated to the school, refusing to put it on their application form.

Dr Jo Saxton is leaving her post as co- founder and Chief Executive of Turner Schools, the small Academy Trust in Folkestone, but being paid one of the largest salaries in the country for a Trust of this size. Her departure comes after just three tumultuous and underachieving years and a big vision, along with a huge number of unfulfilled promises including for the two Folkestone secondary schools the fantasy claim: both schools will outperform all schools in the south of England – excluding grammars - and provide “success without selection’.

She had already effectively thrown in the towel a year ago, when she appointed a new Deputy Chief Executive, now her successor, so that 'she could focus on curriculum matters, being the original reason she took on the Turner Schools post’, although I can find no other mention of this focus anywhere else.


The news of Dr Saxton's departure was contained in Kent Live published earlier today, 11th March. I have never before received so many emails in half a day informing me of a news item in such a small time. None of them regret her departure.

Dr Saxton is leaving to take on a Civil Service role as Policy Adviser for the School System to Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education. I suspect that her particular style will make the role a success, drawing on her experience of organising a School Academy Trust. The article on the Turner Schools website announcing Dr Saxton's departure lists her key achievements and, in the interests of balance, I supply some more below. It is unfortunate that the website article, as is sadly typical for Turner Schools, contains a number of misleading statements, similar to the many I have highlighted in various previous articles. I have published multiple articles on the Trust and Folkestone Academy in particular, which can be accessed via my website search engine (top LHS) with the simple word 'Turner'. You will also find a collection of some the torrent of slogans and promises made by Dr Saxton and her Trust here. It is unfortunate that too many of the claims by the Trust can be easily disproved.

Achievements of Turner Schools include
  • The largest number by a long way of fixed term exclusions in Kent at a single school, Folkestone Academy ever, at 1211 (more than double the next school) in 2017-18. This did fall sharply the following year after I had made this very public, to 536, but still the second highest in Kent. Martello Primary, taken on by Turner Schools in January 2017, had the second highest Fixed Term exclusion rate out of all of Kent's 463 primary schools in the same year with one exclusion for every four pupils. It was not much better for 2018-19 having the third highest percentage at 16%. Explanation by Dr Saxton: This was necessary to raise standards.
  • Fall in academic performance Progress 8 (government's key measure) at Folkestone Academy, from top half of all selective schools in Kent (2017) before Turner Schools, to fifth bottom in Kent (2018) and still in the bottom quarter (2019).
  • Fall in numbers at Folkestone Academy: Sixth Form numbers fall by half from October 2016 (337) to October 2019 (170). The school has 34% of its Year 7 places empty, sixth highest proportion in the county, with 179 pupils in Year 7, down by over a third from 287 in 2016, for its 270 places. 34% of those offered Year 7 places in March 2019, were not in the school at the census the following October. There is also a fall in numbers at Morehall Primary with the lowest Year R intake in the whole of Kent, filling just 27% of its 60 places, and Martello Primary fourth lowest intake at 34%. Every other Folkestone school is more than half full, most completely full.
  • Indebtedness to government by the Trust has increased from nothing to £1.3 million over three years. Morehall Primary is running at a deficit of £105,000 in 2018-19, up from £90,000 the previous year, due to low numbers. Turner Free School, in spite of its start up grant, has a deficit of £58,000 at the end of its first year of operation, possibly due to the overload of senior staff, with three deputies and a headteacher at the start of the year to manage 120 pupils.
  • Staff turnover has been huge, especially at Folkestone Academy which saw a third of its staff leave in 2017-18, with 54 teachers going. This did fall to 27 in 2018-19 including an Associate Principal who lasted just a month. Because of the fall in numbers, the school is in any case having to lose staff, but this high departure rate reduces the need for redundancy. The school is now on its fifth Principal since Turner Schools took over less than three years ago. Martello Primary is on its fourth. It is reported that one of the reasons for the large rate of turnover is Dr Saxton's style, in that she has a vision and knows clearly what is best for the Trust, but does not appreciate disagreement.
  • Governance was a shambles, with the Co-Founding Chairman and two other long serving Directors leaving after an emergency meeting of Directors called at very short notice and held by telephone Conference Call over two days last summer.
  • On the other side of the balance sheet, the Trust does excel in attracting funding, the previous Chairman of Directors writing: 'Jo Saxton and her team have also worked extremely hard to bring in additional funding to Turner Schools with the explicit aim of this funding supporting all four schools. The additional funding Jo personally applied for amounts to over half a million pounds, and comes from a combination of government grants as well as charitable donations'. I have taken a closer look at these here.

My most recent article, entitled Annual School Report for Turner Schools: Serious Weaknesses covers several of these items, amongst other matters, and is based on the Turner Schools Annual Accounts for 2018-19 as submitted to Companies House.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System
The post holder, to whom Dr Saxton is presumably accountable, is currently Baroness Berridge of The Vale of Catmose. As Baroness Berridge, a barrister with no obvious background in education, she will presumably be heavily reliant on Dr Saxton. She was preceded in the post by Lord Agnew (2017-2020) and Lord Nash (2016-2017), both associates of Dr Saxton through various influential educational organisations, as well as the Future Academies Trust, where Dr Saxton was CEO. They are no doubt both confident the Department is in good hands. Its areas of responsibility include ; academies and multi-academy trusts (so Turner Schools and Folkestone Academy should be safe); free schools; independent schools; school improvement; intervention in under performing schools (plenty of experience here); school governance (Turner Schools experience should be invaluable); and school capital improvement. It might be well to be aware of the work of Ed Hirsch (whose approach to curriculum delivery appears to sideline many pupils with SEND) and Doug Lemov (also quoted on this site in articles relating to Turner Schools), two American educational gurus whose philosophies Dr Saxton espouses, as these will now presumably influence the British school system.  
What Happens Next:
Turner Schools took on Mr Seamus Murphy as Deputy Chief Executive last Easter, from Swale Academies Trust, so that 'she could focus on curriculum matters, being the original reason she took on the Turner Schools post’. In January he then took on the post of Executive Principal at Folkestone Academy (probably in conjunction with Deputy Chief Executive) after the previous Principal was downgraded to looking after the Year 11 GCSE Group (although still in the Senior leadership Team). In practice Mr Murphy took over much of the role during the Autumn. Now with Dr Saxton's departure, Mr Murphy takes over as Acting Chief Executive whilst also having the capacity to continue as Executive Principal of Folkestone Academy - this is a small Trust after all. Somehow I suspect he will move into the post permanently, as the leadership of the Trust would otherwise again be overstaffed as it is now.
Last modified on Tuesday, 05 January 2021 07:30


  • Comment Link Saturday, 14 March 2020 13:00 posted by Former PV Staff Member

    I am not surprised by this to be honest. Because of your website I have been able to keep up to date with what happened to my former workplace.

    It worries me the future of this school as I personally know staff members there.

    Also one thing I have never quite understood is how can a academy chain be allowed to run both non selective secondary schools in the same town. If this was the competition commission that would not be allowed in any case (example where I used to live there where two petrol stations. One of the companies acquired the franchise for the 2nd site (two of the same company) and were told by the competition commission to give up the other site). It does make me wonder if this has happened elsewhere in the UK? PETER: I don't know the answer to if it has happened elsewhere. What I do know is it feels very wrong. If one school flourishes, as here temporarily, it can be at the expense of the other. The child who falls out with one school cannot expect a fresh start at the other,. I could go on. However, friends in high places trumps this!

  • Comment Link Friday, 13 March 2020 15:29 posted by DBE

    I hope some of the ideas introduced at the F A are not inflicted on all schools - Pivotal Education, handshakes(!!!!), the teachings of E D Hirsch, the closure of the sixth form restaurant and hair and beauty salon, the collapse of A-level mathematics and science [which I introduced],....

  • Comment Link Friday, 13 March 2020 08:22 posted by Sea very little change

    Lots of rejoicing at the news in East Kent. One wonders why someone would move from a very well paid job with very little to show for it?

    I feel for the pupils and talented teachers who have suffered at the hands of this person. Once again, no accountability within the Academy system.

    Just as well this person has lots of friends in high places. Government adviser? May the Lord help us all.

  • Comment Link Friday, 13 March 2020 04:46 posted by A.Reilly

    I am sorry you have been so pusillanimous. Dr SAxton has never shied from saying what she thinks about people.

  • Comment Link Friday, 13 March 2020 04:42 posted by Peter

    I am afraid I have deleted most proposed comments on this subject as they have become too personal.

  • Comment Link Friday, 13 March 2020 00:01 posted by FA Worker

    There is great rejoicing over the news here, as you would expect. However, we are being selfish. The national canvas is a far bigger worry.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 12 March 2020 23:58 posted by Ex-Martello Employee

    I find it difficult to believe that the DfE's checks on suitability for the post did not uncover your posts summarised in the check list above. However, with Lord Nash as referee, presumably any problems would be swept away.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 12 March 2020 23:52 posted by Victim of Turner Schools

    I suppose having a fantasist as Policy Adviser in the Department for Education makes sense!

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