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Saturday, 19 June 2021 04:50

Dr Jo Saxton is the preferred Candidate to be new chief regulator of Ofqual

Warwick Mansell's Education Uncovered analysed Dr Saxton's appointment, drawing extensively on KentAdvice articles. 

Update from Pre Appointment Hearing (24 minutes in) for the Post of Chief Regulator of Ofqual: In answer to a question about criticisms of her leadership of  Turner Schools: 'I am incredibly proud of the things that the team and I achieved at Turner Schools' In terms of specifics: Finance - we saved many thousands of pounds.  Problems were all down to a temporary move of the Sixth Form into temporary accommodation (£10 million); There was a year of particularly high exclusions in one of the secondary schools when there was a serious behaviour difficulty. They stopped. That was a temporary measure to reset behaviour for learning'. In response to a question about Folkestone Academy hemorrhaging students. 'It was a very challenging school when I found it that had really lost its way. Working with the Local Authority we agreed to open a new school nearby and would balance them to be two schools of equal size, one putting pupils on a pathway to apprenticeships and vocational learning, and the other success without selection, more conventional approach. So absolutely no hemorrhaging of pupils. In answer to 'so everything is hunky-dory in Turner Schools'. 'I am incredibly proud of everything the Turner Schools have achieved'.     

See Press Release from Turner Schools challenging the facts put forward below, and my riposte, here

Dr Jo Saxton, erstwhile Chief Executive of Turner Schools, the struggling Academy Trust set up by her in Folkestone, is Gavin Williamson’s preferred candidate for the key national education post of Chief Regulator of Ofqual. On the surface, she is an ideal candidate with a powerful background of holding important positions, so the chasm between her rhetoric and the outcomes at Turner Schools may fit in with the DfE’s needs in the role.  

It is hard to know where to start a performance analysis of her time in Folkestone, but this article concludes with links to the eighteen articles I have written about it, which are replete with startling factual material about the Trust and its four schools. My final article on her period in office begins: 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, as demonstrated in my incomplete collection of slogans, mottos, motivating messages and false claims.

You will find a list of Turner Schools ‘achievements’ during Dr Saxton’s leadership here, with some of the most striking repeated below and others in the list of news items at the foot of this article.

Quote from Schoolsweek: 'In the past, being a policy adviser to the secretary of state would be seen as a straightforward disqualification for a non-ministerial departmental role like this'


Turner Schools came into existence in 2016 with a powerful set of governors and a typically big agendaJo Saxton, Ph.D. is founder of Turner Schools, a new MAT dedicated to improving outcomes in East and North Kent, initially taking over Martello Grove Academy ( now Martello Primary, MaP) and Morehall Primary School (MoP) from the failed Lilac Sky Schools Trust. The Trust later added  Folkestone Academy and the new Turner Free School, replacing Pent Valley also in Folkestone, which had closed. Several other schools have had Turner Schools proposed to them as partners, but none have taken them up. Sadly, there have been few signs of improvement either, with the three established schools all deeply unpopular with parents, and a long list of performance failures below, the sole bright spot being a Good Ofsted rating by Morehall in 2019, who didn't notice the large number of empty spaces in the school (the Principal was sacked at short notice a year afterwards). 

For the school year 2017/18 Folkestone Academy (FA), topped the Kent exclusion table by a considerable margin, with 1211 fixed-term exclusions, equivalent to 88% of the pupil roll, with Martello Primary second amongst primary schools with 25%.  The Trust justified the high number of exclusions, by stating that they were ‘necessary to achieve high standards’ although before and since Dr Saxton has agreed with one of her gurus that ‘“Behaviours that lead to exclusions happen when students perceive there to be no limits and no expectations and no rules’. Indeed, she claimed that ‘prior to joining Turner Schools, Folkestone Academy was the highest excluding school in Kent', which it wasn’t!

According to Dr Saxton writing about FA and the new Turner Free School (TFS), both schools will outperform all schools in the south of England – excluding grammars - and provide “success without selection”. Whilst pupils at TFS have not yet reached GCSE age, Folkestone Academy has delivered some of the lowest GCSE results in the county, so Dr Saxton would have experience of such matters in her Ofqual role. The school saw the Sixth Form more than halve in numbers in three years, following policies such as the removal of vocational subjects, a fall unparalleled elsewhere in Kent in my experience. There has also been a sharp fall in admissions to the school, and it is now undergoing a further round of redundancies. Morehall Primary and Martello are regularly at the top of the Kent primary school vacancy table, with MOP having 75% vacancies in Dr Saxton’s last year, more than any other of Kent’s 433 primary schools, with MAP ninth.

All this in a kaleidoscope of structural and staff changes, especially Head and Senior Teacher levels, with FA getting through five Principals in less than two years, along with a high proportion of Senior Leadership members, and over a third of the teaching staff in 2017-18 with many more the following year. Directors also appeared to be dispensed with in characteristic abandon.

Dr Saxton was one of the highest-paid Trust leaders in the county in her time at Turner Schools, apart from some of those at the five largest Trusts, on a salary of £149,783. This was for her work at an underperforming small Trust of three schools with a fourth (TFS) just beginning, and shortly after she changed her role in the Trust to focus on Curriculum Matters, a strange decision for a CEO on such a salary. Quote: ‘I’m very well aware that I’m well paid, and it’s a real privilege to be CEO of Turner Schools. Salaries of the most senior people in any organisation are rightly scrutinised, and ultimately the test of anyone’s worth is whether they deliver what they promise’. 

I don’t know how many visits Duncan Harrington, the National Schools Commissioner pays to schools, but he certainly found time to visit Folkestone Academy where strangely he was reported to have been impressed with its progress. This underlies Dr Saxton’s chief successes, which appear in various of my articles, that of attracting funds and influence, possibly drawing on her excellent links to ‘the establishment’ (see here), along with an ability to promote the Trust, oblivious of the facts. By the time she had left the Trust, it also owed £1.3 million in loans from the DfE, mainly to support an unfulfilled ambition to expand, and with falling rolls will have difficulty in paying it back.

In her current role, Dr Saxton has been charged with responsibility for Academy Expansion, amongst her other responsibilities. This may be why a number of schools have had Turner Schools proposed to them as suitable Trust partners, although significantly and to the best of my knowledge none have taken this up. 
She will not be forgotten in Folkestone, as evidenced by the messages I have received since this news was announced, expressing shock and disbelief over the recommendation from some of those who have paid a heavy price for being associated with Turner Schools.
Folkestone Academy has still not lost the gift of using its website to try and promote its brilliance through yet another collection of slogans, oblivious of the obvious target audience, Folkestone families. The current version is probably the most family-unfriendly school website I have seen. I particularly liked the 'Who We Are' page listing just the three key staff members, headed up by the Director of Finance & Operations and the Director of HR, Governance & Compliance! Elsewhere there are details about a consultation to reduce the Published Admission Number from 270 pupils to 210, down further from the 310 when Turner Schools took over. The legacy continues. 
Articles about Turner Schools 

Turner Schools: Update (September 2020)

More drama at Turner Schools (June 2020)

Dr Jo Saxton Leaves Turner Schools to be Government Policy Advisor for the School System (March 2020)

Annual School Report for Turner Schools: Serious Weaknesses (February 2020)

Folkestone Academy joins the Tough Love Failures, and Other Turner School Successes (January 2020)

Turner Schools and Folkestone Academy: High Turnover of Teachers, Directors and Administrators continues unabated (November 2019)

Less 'Sea Change' more troubled waters at Folkestone Academy and Turner School (October 2019)

Academies in the News: Turner Schools; Delce Academy; Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey (August 2019)

Turner Schools: More Self Promotion (July 2019)

Turner Schools: Fresh Blessings from on High (April 2019)

 Turner Schools: Failed Attempt to Counter Negative Publicity (March 2019)

Turner Schools: What were they trying to hide? (January 2019)

 Folkestone Academy - Further Troubles (November 2018)

 Fixed Term Exclusions at Turner Schools 2017-18: Folkestone Academy and Martello Primary -An appalling double record  (November 2018)

Turner Schools Part 3: Folkestone Academy (October 2018)

 Turner Schools Revisited (July 2018)

Turner Schools: Folkestone Academy, Turner Free School, Martello Primary and Morehall Primary. (May 2018)

Together with two  sections from Lilac Sky Academy Trust: The end of the Road outlining the birth of Turner Schools (July 2016)











Last modified on Sunday, 21 November 2021 06:24


  • Comment Link Sunday, 27 June 2021 23:19 posted by Jerry Lord

    This week's scandal about Mr Hancock and his lady love reminds us all about how the inside circle looks after its own. Take a look at Jo Saxton's background, and see how she would appeal to those above the common herd. Did I hear the words 'Dido Harding' who is another insider, and 'Test and Trace', ? Now she has failed at that job, she is eminently qualified to become CEO of the NHS. Sounds familiar?

  • Comment Link Monday, 21 June 2021 23:35 posted by Helen Hubert

    So can we expect Ofqual to become the headquarters of slogan city?

  • Comment Link Monday, 21 June 2021 08:09 posted by Janet Downs

    Another government friend is in the frame for a supposedly 'independent' post. Dame Rachel de Souza, linked to Inspiration Trust (set up by Lord Agnew before he became schools minister) and the supposedly grass-roots association The Parents and Teachers for Excellence (PTE), is now Children's Commissioner. Now Jo Saxton, formerly of Future Academies, formerly linked to (PTE) is in the frame to become Ofqual chief. Two more unsuitable candidates it's hard to imagine.

  • Comment Link Monday, 21 June 2021 04:19 posted by Richard Miller

    Appalling. It looks as if this might have been the game plan all along. Saxton left Future Schools, with its politically powerful owners (but see your articles on Pimlico Schools!) where the staff partied on her departure, to briefly collect Brownie Points at Turner Schools. This proved a complete washout, but never mind, it's only children's education down the pan. Then a brief session in the DfE before emerging ingloriously in a major national role, no doubt given a leg up by her political friends. Its now up to the Select Committee to see sense. I encourage you to lobby the chair, the Rt HonRobert Halfon MP about this disgraceful appointment

  • Comment Link Sunday, 20 June 2021 23:49 posted by Suzanne P

    As ever, a super article that gets to the point. Turner Schools are now having to make redundancies. Not a surprise given they have too many staff for falling rolls, but further proof that the schools they are running are not succeeding. Thanks

  • Comment Link Sunday, 20 June 2021 09:05 posted by Fiat Lux

    A tremendous reward for tremendous failure. She is all set to pour misery into people on a much larger scale now. This is a disgraceful appointment. However, not a surprise given how this government acts. I wonder how people across the country will react to her bullying tactics?

  • Comment Link Saturday, 19 June 2021 22:59 posted by Angels

    How on earth do we stop this dreadful miscarriage and reward for failure? PETER: I am afraid I don't know. All I can see is that we should spread the word about her performance in Folkestone, and i have begun

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