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Thursday, 15 October 2020 10:43

Exclusions in Kent Schools, 2019-20: Astonishment and Predictability.

Hartsdown Academy, Thanet
Current headteacher, Matthew Tate took over Hartsdown in September 2016, and immediately established himself as a high profile tough leader, who regularly featured in the media for what I have called ‘Tough Love’ policies.

He now appears to have had a  Damascene conversion, as exemplified by the school website. Two years ago, the front page ‘Welcome’ included: ‘Excellent Behaviour, supporting children to behave in an exemplary fashion, Excellent Uniform, a commitment to perfect uniform, A ‘no excuses’ culture where excellence is the norm’, identifying clearly the school's priorities at the time. This has now gone, along with the emphasis on discipline, with ‘Core Values’ now modelled on the old Folkestone Academy Vision acronym, HEART (see below). The section now opens with: We call our core values ‘The Hartsdown Way’. It comprises the word ‘STRIVE’ and is full of glowing positives, all embraced under the slogan ‘Education for an Amazing Life’. There is no longer any mention of the 'no excuses' culture which caused such grief or indeed of discipline at all, nor clues how an exclusion free school is achieved. The table below shows the sharp contrast between the outcomes of the two styles. 

Hartsdown Academy
Fixed Term Exclusions
Year Number
Kent Ranking
by % of Roll
2015-16 255 5th=
2016-17 314 3rd
2017-18 184 6th =
2018-19 459 2nd
2019-20 1 Nowhere

 Since Mr Tate’s appointment, the school’s performance has deteriorated to the extent that its future is now at risk, and one can only hope this complete cultural rebirth saves it, for the school performs an important role in serving one of the county’s most deprived areas.

Turner Schools, Folkestone Academy
The performance of all parts of the Turner Schools academy trust was directly associated with the previous CEO, Dr Jo Saxton, who closely defined the way each of the four schools was run. I have extensively explored the consequent failures of the trust under her leadership over three years, but she left in March this year to become a Government Policy Advisor for the School System, just before lockdown, as explained here. The disastrous exclusion policies of the previous two years had already gone into reverse by then, in the face of a Trust spokesperson claiming that the sky-high rates across the Trust (see table below) were due to a need to raise standards. This is, of course, the complete opposite of a quotation which previously appeared in the TES by one of the Trust gurus on a Turner Schools training day that ‘ 'Teacher capacity and skill is (sic) the best antidote there is to exclusion of students'. One can only speculate which of these two diametrically opposite philosophies Dr Saxton is recommending to the Secretary of State for Education. I explored the 2018-19 exclusion data at the Trust in some detail here, looking at Folkestone Academy, Martello Primary and the new Turner Free School, all with very high exclusion rates. 

However, change is afoot and as with Hartsdown Academy, it is starting to be signalled by changes on the trust website, where Dr Saxton’s slogans have all been cleared away, as has the HEART acronym, setting out the Trust’s ethos.

Folkestone Academy
Fixed Term Exclusions
Year Number
Kent Ranking
by % of Roll
2016-17 445 5th
2017-18 1211 1st
2018-19 538 3rd
2019-20 128 13th

Back in January the new CEO, at that point Executive Headteacher of Folkestone Academy and Deputy CEO of the Trust wrote a letter to parents which said: ‘I believe that pupils need to be in school to achieve and rather than use exclusions I will be holding Saturday detentions from 9 a.m. to 11 a.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’, as he set out to reduce the dreadful exclusion record. He also expressed 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). Whilst that policy had limited time to bite before the lockdown, it may have played its part in reducing exclusions, although it was very unpopular with some parents at the time.

Whatever, it is clear that under Mr Murphy’s influence, exclusions across the Trust have fallen sharply as shown for Folkestone Academy in the table above. Martello Primary is down from being one of the top three excluding primary schools in the county by proportion for each of the three previous years, to having fewer than five 2019-20. Turner Free School with just two Year Groups also reduced its numbers considerably.

Last modified on Saturday, 13 November 2021 06:24

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