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Sunday, 13 September 2020 19:36

Turner Schools: Update

For the last three and a half years, Turner Schools has been one of my most prolific themes for articles on this website, aided and abetted by its CEO and founder Dr Jo Saxton, whose passion for promoting the Trust (named after her grandmother) and making fantastical claims for its performance and future prospects was simply breathtaking. She departed the Trust in March, after just three years, to become a Political Adviser to Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, whose subsequent gaffe ridden career is well documented, but presumably is coincidental.

Her successor, Seamus Murphy, has wisely not sought headlines in the same way but has still made his mark. Subsequently, school leaders in two of the four Turner schools have bitten the dust, both controversially. Teacher turnover has continued unabated at a high level, well over twice the national average for the past three years. There has also been a high turnover of Trustees and Members of Turner Schools, the two distinct bodies responsible for governance. Mr Murphy still has to manage the legacy of a massive financial deficit left by Dr Saxton.

The EKC Group, which runs Folkestone College, has sensed an expansion opportunity and has opened the Folkestone Junior College this month. This offers a full-time alternative to the Turner Schools monopoly of non-selective education in Folkestone, in Years 10 and 11, surely a major challenge to the Trust.

My three previous 2020 articles, Annual School Report for Turner Schools: Serious Weaknesses, Dr Jo Saxton Leaves Turner Schools to be Government Policy Advisor for the School System and More Drama at Turner Schools bring the kaleidoscope of events at Turner Schools up to the beginning of June.  This article moves it on. 

The good news is contained in a well-hidden U Tube message on the Trust website (see below) from the CEO Seamus Murphy, that contains a sensible, level headed, upbeat message to parents, a mile away from the extravagant hype of the previous leader. 

Folkestone Junior College
Folkestone College has itself had a chequered past, failing under different organisations until taken over by the successful and expanding EKC (East Kent College) in 2014. Since then it has flourished, no doubt profiting from the failures of the Folkestone Academy Sixth Form, as students sought the main alternative route to progress their education (apart from the grammar schools). It is now taking the challenge to Years 10 & 11 having set up Folkestone Junior College this September to follow its Broadstairs equivalent five years ago.  Broadstairs Junior College (already run by EKC), 'was established in 2015 after the government allowed learners aged 14+ to leave school and enrol in full-time education at local education colleges. Only colleges rated Good or Outstanding are able to have a 14–16 provision. The vision and intent of the EKC Group refer to preparing young people for career and industry. The 14–16 provision allows suitable young people the opportunity to be career-ready two years early, therefore bettering their skills, work experience and opportunities for when they turn 18’. Being well-established it has a wide-ranging curriculum, whereas the courses at Folkestone are initially limited, probably to see what the market is. 

For Folkestone Junior College we learn that Folkestone Junior College delivers a curriculum with key focuses on Creative Industries, Enterprise and Business and English and Maths’. This includes Level Two BTECs which will qualify students to carry straight on to Level 3 after GCSE. I can see this being a popular option which will hit Folkestone Academy numbers further in Years 10 and 11. I am awaiting figures via an FOI.

Staff Turnover
One of the biggest concerns at the Trust must be the rapid turnover of staff and their job insecurity. At Folkestone Academy (secondary), more than a third of the teaching staff left in the year 2017-18, but this did not stop the rot. The dramatically falling rolls have seen teacher numbers fall from 116 to 72 over the two years to September 2020, with more than half the teaching staff having left in this period, others seeing their status reduced, as explained here, updating the ‘achievements’ of  Dr Saxton, co-founder of Turner Schools, recorded here. That list included six Principals of Folkestone Academy in less than three years, with Martello Primary adding many more. The current leader of Martello is Mr Wayne Beech, who is still described as ‘Acting Principal’ after some 18 months in post, but having suddenly lost his Executive Head in the middle of the last term must still be wondering about his future. However, perhaps Martello needs some of the PR expertise still around, with its main features being advertised as: free breakfast, hot lunches; and a location beside the sea. 
Dr Saxton’s regime has left Mr Murphy with a budget deficit of £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, had a deficit of £58,000 at the end of its first year of operation. This is an enormous handicap to the operation of the Trust, and although the government is likely to waive part of it, as it does for other Trusts in financial difficulty, Mr Murphy is going to have to make significant economies. 
One oddity (not unusually for TS) is that the 2018-19 Accounts were published through Companies House on 31st January 2020, as explained here. These appear to have been withdrawn and replaced with another set on 11th May 2020. 
Whilst this is not a priority issue for families, membership of the two groups of Members and Trustees (which in the case of Turner Schools are also the Directors of the Trust) are indicative of the health of the organisation. I wrote an article a year ago about the meltdown amongst the Board of Directors, including the departure of the second co-founder Professor Carl Lygo along with four other Directors, with no acknowledgement whatever of their contributions. The website has a list of former Trustees but manages to omit five of them. It does include James Booth-Clibborn who was acting Chair for a short period after the departure of Professor Lygo. Four of the seven current Trustees have been appointed subsequent to last year’s meltdown.

There are also Members of the Trust, who have a formal role in the Trust, with no active role as explained here.  Three of the six members were appointed earlier this month, two at least being extremely puzzling. Meirion Alcock is head of online retail commerce at BskyB; Jonathan Fingerhut is Managing Partner at Strategic Marketing for Schools and an accredited Mediator. The puzzle is that as Members, neither has any role in applying their very obvious talents to the benefit of the Trust, only being able to: To change the Articles; To appoint/remove members and Trustees by special resolution; Direct trustees to take special action, when approved by special resolution; Appoint and remove auditors; Receive the annual report and accounts; Review Trustees performance'. They meet once a year at the Trust AGM. They meet just once a year. The other three Members are a hedge fund manager, director of an international executive search firm, and a retired Dean of Guildford. On the surface, an amazing waste of talent, with the Regional Schools Commissioner recently criticising a Kent Trust for allowing Members to get involved in Trustee matters. Why not appoint them as Trustees instead?

Turner Schools Website
For a very PR focused organisation, the Trust website is a major disappointment, being very outdated in places. Yes, it does open with a few of the pretentious slogans from the large range here. According to its history, nothing has happened since 2017. According to the News, only one event has occurred in 2020, 'Turner Schools Chief to take up appointment as Adviser to Education Secretary' providing a powerful statement of priorities now she has gone. For 2019, there is the impressive  'Folkestone Academy wins secondary school of the year',  although a closer look identifies this as a Shepway Sports Trust award! Other highlights include a report of a profile in the TES of Dr Saxton,  although she now has no apparent connection with the Trust. I have looked elsewhere at a news item about how Turner Schools is helping Kent meet the growing secondary school population,  although the Trust now reports that primary school numbers are shrinking, to explain the falling rolls in the two Turner primary schools. Apparently, School Results are to be published soon.  There is a bizarre page that lists every possible salary payable to Turner Schools teachers (excluding London and the Fringe??) for the past two years, including the last two years, and the payments to the those on the 38 Leadership spine which may well replicate the national scales. Another, headed Teacher Payscales (Support),  so they do not apply to teachers (!) gives every possible range for the 14 support staff bands, along with comparisons to the Kent scales, for both years showing that some are slightly higher and some slightly lower, and ranging from £15,839.48 to £164,425.07. I could go on... and on! 
Lastly: Political Advisors
Political Advisors in the Department for Education are paid a salary of around £40,000, a far fall from the £150,000 that Dr Saxton was paid as one of the highest salaried CEOs of a small struggling Academy Trust in the country. Perhaps there was another reason for the change of role? 
Last modified on Saturday, 19 June 2021 19:35

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