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Saturday, 26 June 2021 19:15

Mistaken Claims in Press Release by Turner Schools

The comment below from Former FA SLT is well worth reading to understand the sentiments of those caught up in the issues created by Turner Schools at Folkestone Academy. 

My previous article about Dr Jo Saxton and her nomination as the preferred candidate to be the new chief regulator of Ofqual has clearly struck home at Turner Schools, with the Trust issuing a press release explicitly attempting to refute my evidence of its problems. Unfortunately, this is factually wrong on most points, which is strange as in his accompanying letter to staff the CEO warns that ‘disinformation and falsehoods are being spread about our schools’ (I have never seen any of this).

In particular, quoted data about school exclusions is wrong according to official KCC figures, whilst the statement about the number of pupils joining Folkestone Academy in September appears to be based on a false manipulation of the data to hide the fact that fewer families than ever before want to join the school, or else the school simply doesn't understand how the admission system works. 

The press release covers my themes about  GCSE performance, stability in leadership teams, and finance, all central to the concerns I expressed in the article. It also wrongly claims that a number of Folkestone schools had been failing for many years before Turner Schools took over. Whilst I remain unaware of any of the claimed disinformation or falsehoods being spread about Turner Schools, t am completely bewildered as to why the Trust seeks to go down this route. As pointed out before, I am always more than happy to make corrections to any factual errors in my articles if they are pointed out.

I look at the press release section by section below, although many of the claims are already refuted with the relevant evidence in my previous article, which sparked this all off.
 
Jo kickstarted a programme of school improvement for a number of Folkestone schools that had previously been failing for many years.  Turning around schools that have been struggling for years takes time.
This can only apply to two schools rather than the more expansive ‘number of’,  Folkestone Academy (FA) and Morehall Primary (MoP) as the other two schools are only a few years old each. Perhaps the Trust has not noticed that two years before it took over FA, the school had been awarded a ‘Good’ Ofsted (although with Seamus Murphy, now CEO of the Trust, reportedly shadowing the Inspection in his then role as HMI it would be surprising). Whatever, it was hardly failing, in contrast to subsequent outcomes under Turner Schools, below and in my article. Morehall Primary did indeed achieve its first ‘Good’ Ofsted under Turner Schools in 2019, up from ‘Requires Improvement’ in 2013, but its failure was as long ago as 2011.

The third school, Martello Primary (MaP) only opened in 2015, just two years before being taken over by Turner, with an Ofsted Inspection Report of ‘Requires Improvement' in 2018, so clearly doesn’t fall into the category of ‘previously failing for many years’. The only other school, Turner Free School (TFS) opened as recently as 2018.  Other examples of the failures to make school improvements are in my previous article and below.  You will find considerably more data and information about FA in my Individual Schools section here.

The 2019-2020 Annual Report of Turner Schools posted by Companies House claims that ‘Currently only one of the academies is not graded as ‘Good’ but has rapidly improved over the last eighteen months’. Sadly, this is yet another example of sleight of hand. MoP is graded as Good. Turner Free School has not yet had an Inspection. Presumably,  MaP with its Requires Improvement Ofsted is the school not graded as ‘Good’ although it is unclear how the rapid improvement is measured. That leaves Folkestone Academy with half as many pupils again as the other three combined. As a member of Turner Schools, it still has not had an inspection, so whilst the headline is technically correct, it would be equally true to write ‘Currently only one of the academies is graded as ‘Good’ !   

In the early days when expectations on behaviour were being re-set exclusions were high. Having changed the culture within these schools, we’ve seen a seven-fold reduction in children being excluded – down from 790 in Folkestone Academy and 21 in Martello in 2017/18 to 106 and 3 respectively in 2019/20.
I quoted the KCC official figures for exclusions supplied to me by FOI, in my previous article, which are very different from these new Turner Schools claims. As I have reported many times, Folkestone Academy had 1,211 fixed-term exclusions in 2017/2018 (not 790 as claimed), including five in the primary department, by far the largest figure in the county ever since I have kept records. At MaP in 2017/18, the figure was 32 (including five in Year One, 11 in Year Two, five in Year Four and 10 in Year Five), not 21 as claimed. My figures were widely reported in the media at the time, based on two articles about them, including in Kent Live which also wrote: 'The trust spokesman acknowledged the high number of suspensions at Folkestone Academy, saying they were a result of “high expectations for behaviour”. The figure of 1,211 has not been not challenged by the Trust then or since until today, so one can only speculate where the figures in the Press Release came from.  
 
The popularity of the academies is also increasing, with an additional 50 Year 7s joining Folkestone Academy this September. Martello has also seen a significant increase over the last couple of years.
This one really puzzled me, as Folkestone Academy’s popularity has been nose-diving ever since being taken over by Turner Schools, as covered extensively on this site. The Sixth Form is now far less than half the size it was when Turner Schools took over, down from 374 students according to the October 2016 census to  127 in October 2020.  Year Seven was down from 287 pupils to 154 over the same period. And yet the school claims its intake for the coming September is up by 50 pupils, reversing the nose-dive.  

As far as I can see this figure is obtained as follows. Take the 213 pupils offered a Year Seven place in March, which shows an increase of 59 pupils over the 154 pupils actually in Year Seven in October, and so is consistent with the Press Release claim. However, the table below shows that there is usually a falling off in the number of children offered places in March and taking them up in September. 

Folkestone Academy Year Seven Intake 2018-2021
 
Offers in
March
First
Choices
Local Authority
Allocations
Year Seven
Roll in October
2018 270 198 0 198
2019 186 155 9 179
2020 184 127 23 154
2021 213 102 51 ?
 
The large fall between offers and those taking up places in 2018 is explained by the opening of the new Turner Free School, for which applicants applied outside the KCC admissions scheme. Since then the number of first choices has fallen by a third. In 2020, 23 children were allocated places at the school who hadn’t applied through it, via the Local Authority Allocation process. Not surprisingly, the number of children taking up places also fell, by more than the number of LAAs. So what will happen in 2021? The number of LAAs has shot up to 51, the fourth-highest number in Kent.  The number of first choices has fallen to 102, by some way the lowest number ever. The number of families offered a place who applied for one amongst their preferences has fallen to 168, again by some way the lowest ever. Clearly, there will once again be a number of children who will have found places in other schools or opted for Home Education rather than send their children to Folkestone Academy, although it is impossible to estimate this figure. It is simply inconceivable that there will be no fall off, as claimed by the Trust. Is it that they don’t understand the process, or that they have deliberately chosen to misrepresent the facts? Neither is an attractive option.
Outcomes are also on the up, with  the proportion of students securing five good GCSEs having increased from 24% to 42%– we are seeing an overall improving trend which we expect to continue this year. Folkestone academy is making huge strides to becoming a securely good school in it's own right.
I am unable to comment on this claim as GCSE results were not published for 2020 and won't be for 2021. Unfortunately, Turner Schools has made incorrect statements about performance before, including here.  However, a look at the performance table in my Individual Schools section shows that there was a decline through 2018 and 2019 with Turner Schools in charge. It may be that they have turned the corner.  
 
There is also much greater stability in the leadership teams, having initially had to rely on interim arrangements whilst the Trust found the right leaders to take the academies forward.
My series of articles shows that the turnover of Leaders is much more than a reliance on interim arrangements. The summary in the most recent only touches the reality. Four Principals of Folkestone Academy dispatched with varying degrees of brutality, although it was not obvious that any of these were part of an interim arrangement. The senior leadership team changed its personnel with similar regularity and I am sure that staff at FA were amazed to read this fiction. The Executive Headteacher of Morehall Primary was dispatched summarily just a year after Morehall was awarded its Good Ofsted Report.
 
Finally, in terms of finances, the Trust has saved £1.5m over the last two years and is in a financially stable position. The DfE loan related to the need to find temporary accommodation for our sixth form, having had to move out of the previous building at short notice in 2018. There is a clear repayment plan with the DfE which we are on track with.'
According to the 2019-20 Company Accounts, the DfE Loan totalled £889,000, a remarkable sum for temporary Sixth Form accommodation three years previously, especially with a sharply falling population. 
 
Footnotes
The Mystery of the 51 Local Authority Allocations at Folkestone Academy. 
It is very difficult to see where these LAAs are coming from if they are not simply Folkestone families who are doing whatever they can to avoid Folkestone Academy.  The two other schools in the area, Brockhill Park and Turner Free School are both heavily oversubscribed with first choices, and there is no obvious alternative school for local families to choose, although they had up to six spaces to select FA on their application forms and, on top of the LAAs it still had 57 vacancies. These give a total of 40% of its spaces empty before LAAs, one of the highest percentages in the county. Further afield, Marsh Academy just filled and the Dover N/S schools had spaces. It is difficult to believe that KCC would have placed Ashford or Canterbury families this far afield. 
 
My local Connections
Having lived and worked in the town for fifteen years, leaving as Acting Head of The Harvey Grammar School,  I have followed its fortunes closely ever since. Eight years ago I sat on an Admissions Appeal Panel for the heavily oversubscribed Folkestone Academy, which turned down 16 of the 19 appellants, so fierce was the competition to secure a place at the school. How times change. 
 
What an indictment of the current situation and what a problem for the unfortunate families caught up in it!
 
Last modified on Saturday, 10 July 2021 17:25

5 comments

  • Comment Link Monday, 05 July 2021 17:37 posted by Matthew Reid

    I see that the Labour Party considers: 'Gavin Williamson’s nominee to head Ofqual not qualified for job', according to the Guardian. The question is, will sanity triumph, or will this just make her more eligible for the post in Gavin's eyes

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 30 June 2021 23:50 posted by Rachael P

    Question: If the CEO of an Academy Trust knowingly makes false statements about the Trust and its performance, what are the consequences?

  • Comment Link Sunday, 27 June 2021 21:12 posted by Fiat Lux

    Here, here.

    The anger is still felt by many. A shocking appointment that will have a negative impact on potentially thousands of young people. Just another example of how corrupt Government is. She must have some serious info on Williamson or Johnson to have got this job.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 27 June 2021 19:10 posted by Former F A SLT mathematics

    Thank you former F A SLT and Peter

  • Comment Link Sunday, 27 June 2021 18:08 posted by Former FA SLT

    I wish I could express clearly enough the damage that the events at FA caused to many of the staff who were happy, successful, and loved working at FA prior to Turner Schools arriving. I read these articles and I feel sick. I’ve been wanting to comment on your other article for over a week but I haven’t been able to focus my thoughts to articulate the damage that this whole situation caused to so many, and the fear that this appointment could cause to the entire education system of this country.

    You express the facts so clearly, Peter, thank you. However I guess your readers cannot understand the raw emotion that many of us still feel, years after our amazing, vibrant, fun, successful Academy was brutally taken over by someone who had no place and no right to do so. Some of us have not recovered and this story just brings back the hurt that we felt to see our community torn apart.

    Following Turner Schools arriving at FA many talented staff left: some to other teaching jobs, some to teach abroad, and unfortunately some left the profession entirely. This was a result of mismanagement and at times deliberate behaviour to remove the old regime. The whole ethos of the successful Academy disappeared, and all at the instruction of someone who did not understand the area and the needs of the people. This appointment will have far reaching consequences for the entire nation, not just a small pocket of Kent, and I absolutely dread the day when Jo Saxton becomes part of framing the education of all children in this country.

    Those of us who have worked hard to have good careers look at another appointment to a senior position of someone who clearly doesn’t deserve it and wonder why we bother. The unfairness makes me feel sick, however I know that I bother because I care about all children, no matter their background or ability, and I will continue to educate all those students to ensure that one day this world will change and people who deserve to be appointed to these positions will be, rather than those who just know someone or who went to the right school or university.

    I still haven’t succeeded in expressing my anger clearly, I just feel thoroughly upset at this injustice and just wish someone would listen to our opinions. Here’s to all of us who Turner Schools touched, and to our ongoing recovery. PETER: A sentiment shared by many who have ocntacted me offline over the last few years.

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