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Wednesday, 10 June 2020 17:58

More drama at Turner Schools

Update 24 Jan 2021: Mrs Sowden-Mehta, who left at no notice from her role as Executive Primary Head, below, is now headteacher at Meopham Community Primary School.
Update in blue below., about Jo Swash, Vice Principal vanished 'in the night'.  
Since its arrival in Folkestone at the Easter of 2017 under the leadership of CEO Dr Jo Saxton, Turner Schools has indulged in an ad hoc adventure: appointing and removing staff at short notice amidst a flood of changing job titles, along with other multiple changes of direction; low academic standards and unpopular schools; and a massive variation in exclusion rates, at its peak the highest number of any school in Kent. Headteachers have come and gone in attempts to fix the problems, six at Folkestone Academy and another half dozen at Martello Primary, along with a multitude of other senior leaders as changes in the structure become bewildering in their frequency.

Dr Saxton has now moved on to advise Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education in March this year (see below) and Seamus Murphy, her successor as CEO, is wasting no time in making his mark on Turner Schools. Having arrived in April 2019, he is now on his fourth role in the Trust.

One of his early actions on taking on full responsibility has continued the Turner Schools tradition of creating a high turnover of senior staff, with the Executive Principal of the two Trust primary schools departing at very short notice on Friday last, after just one week of Term Six. Monday’s letter informing parents of the decision can be found by a link on Facebook but is well hidden. It is also very short on detail about Mrs Sowden-Mehta who has been at the school for three years, having been promoted twice. In spite of this success, she has very suddenly ‘decided to leave Turner Schools to pursue new opportunities’, a time-honoured phrase used to cover leaders who have been forced out of their schools. The previous Principal of Folkestone Academy has also recently vanished after first being demoted. 

Update July: Jo Swash, Vice Principal has left Folkestone Academy suddenly, my correspondent says'mysteriously'. When I checked this recently here, he was present in the photographs but has now gone, but is still present on the list of all staff, below

Seamus Murphy
Mr Murphy was appointed to Turner Schools in April 2019 as Deputy CEO, in order to free up Dr Saxton to follow her main interest of curriculum, a strange priority for a CEO in a small academy Trust and on a very high salary of £149,783 last year. In January Mr Murphy became Executive Principal of Folkestone Academy as the previous Principal, Wesley Carroll was first demoted and then has recently vanished from the school. There is apparently no longer being a need for a Deputy CEO or Executive Principal of Folkestone Academy, so Mr Steve Shaw has been internally promoted to Head of School. In March Mr Murphy was appointed Acting CEO of Turner Schools. I am now losing count of the changes at the top of Folkestone Academy (and Martello Primary!), and haven't tried with the turnover of Vice Principals, with another going around the end of June, Joe Swash, described as 'leaving under mysterious circumstances'. There is confirmation on the Trust website that the CEO appointment is now permanent if you look hard enough. It is reported that Mr Murphy is keen to draw a line under the style of his predecessor, but these sudden removals continue in her tradition.
One of the many challenges facing Mr Murphy is the financial difficulties he has been left by his predecessor. In a previous article, I list some of the many headaches he has inherited, possibly the most serious being the financial state of the Trust. Indebtedness to government 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. 
There is a quote below attributed to Mr Murphy regarding primary schools which, if correct, suggests radical change is on its way and perhaps the removal of the Executive Principal is just the first stage. 
Parental Contact
The letter to parents begins: ‘I’m delighted to inform you that Mrs Moris will be taking on the role of Acting Principal at Morehall Primary from Monday 8th June’ so no regrets about the departure of Mrs Sowden-Mehta. She had been appointed Head of School at Morehall three years ago, after being one of five brief tenured heads at Copperfield Primary Academy in Northfleet, and became Lead Principal Primary last September according to her Linkedin profile, but described as Executive Head of both schools elsewhere. She was also Principal of Morehall, with Martello being led by Mr Beech, appointed as Head of School, subsequently promoted to Acting Principal, but no permanent appointment a year on! Surprisingly there is no mention of Mrs Sowden-Mehta’s departure on the Martello site, so it may that parents don’t even know (however, like most of the Turner School sites, its latest news is mainly years out of date!). She may, of course, be paying the price for the unpopularity of both schools at the top of the vacancy rates for new Reception pupils in Folkestone, the two highest rates of all in 2017-18.

The letter does briefly mention the Ofsted ‘Good’ of last year in the second paragraph. The other four paragraphs are about Mrs Moris who has become Acting Principal. There was no warning before she left that Mrs Sowden-Mehta was on her way out, the website still opens with an introduction by ‘Mrs Sowden-Mehta, Executive Principal, Martello Primary and Morehall Primary’ and the last school newsletter at the end of Term 5, sent less than two school weeks ago makes no mention of it, although she signed it.

Martello Primary 
The lopsided nature of the two schools can be seen on the Martello website, which mentions her just once, in the Staff Team list. The parallel Term 5 Newsletter is signed by Acting Principal, Mr Wayne Beech, and one can only hope his faith is rewarded with it being made permanent: ‘Term 5 was my one year anniversary of leading the most fabulous school in Folkestone, anyone that has been drawn into a conversation with me about the school will attest to just how much I love every aspect of Martello. I am Martello and I am proud, our little school on the hill makes me proud every single day’. However, he has lasted more than a year so far, one of the longer terms of office of Martello headteachers. From the Trust website:  'He has been in post since April 23 and has quickly developed a strong working relationship with Michele Sowden-Mehta, Executive Principal for Martello and Morehall Primary'!
Amongst the walk-on characters in this drama is Linda Pickles, currently KCC Principal Primary Adviser for Primary School Improvement at 'The Education People' who was appointed Chair of the Challenge and Community Committee on the Local Governing Body for Martello and Morehall, by Dr Saxton. I have written several times of the dreadful record of The Education People, so wonder what she has added. 
Gavin Williamson
Gavin Williamson is one of the less regarded members of the Cabinet, but his Department has been very busy over the past months. Recently, he has been bombarding schools with multiple changes in policy for their operation during coronavirus. Not only did he send out 41 school opening guidance documents in a single week before June 1st, “Something comes in on a Friday, 70 pages, it’s updated on a Monday and it’s another 70 pages, often without clear indication of what’s changed”, an approach familiar to Turner Schools staff and their previous CEO, Dr Saxton. See article in SchoolsWeek.
Last modified on Sunday, 24 January 2021 20:08


  • Comment Link Saturday, 13 June 2020 17:29 posted by Turner Schools employee, just

    Turner Schools was unfit for purpose under Dr Saxton. We had hoped it would move on when she left. However, apart from the fact that it now appears financially broke, it appears to have the the same old failings. If in doubt, reorganise, sack and try someone new, or promoted from the inside for safety, but who is inept. John Wallis Academy in Ashford is partly to blame for unloading all their rubbish staff on us.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 10 June 2020 23:23 posted by James

    I agree that Martello has struggled to attract pupils, however Morehall hasn't it's 50% below in mainly due to the poor decision by Dr Saxton to apply for two form entry even though the actual building and the staff level had no ability/capacity to ever accommodate this volume. There are or were plans to build a whole new school for Morehall. With the takeover by Mr Murphy it's unlikely this will go ahead as he has been quoted as stating primary schools are a money pit and should not be part of the turner schools vision. PETER: A fascinating insight into Turner Schools, the Morehall capacity has always puzzled me; and Mr Murphy's quote suggest there is more radical change to come.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 10 June 2020 21:06 posted by James

    it's also interesting to know that a senior leader left Folkestone academy only a few weeks ago. PETER: If it is additional to Wesley Carroll, can someone let me know who please.

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