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Saturday, 10 July 2021 17:25

Pre-Appointment Hearing for Dr Jo Saxton's New Appointment: Education Select Committee

Warwick Mansell, on his Education Uncovered website, looked extensively at this appointment, including Dr Saxton's 'impeccable' political connections as a qualification for the post. He also drew on several of my articles, to illustrate her unsuitability for the post.

The parliamentary Pre-Appointment Hearing for Dr Jo Saxton as Chief regulator of Ofqual covered many issues relating to the role but for Kent families, those relating to her leadership of Turner Schools between  2017 and 2020 were particularly relevant and illuminating. The questions posed about that leadership by the Labour MP, Kim Johnson were clearly based on my previous article about her appointment here. This looked objectively at Dr Saxton's performance as CEO and focused on three key themes I had raised: Finance, Discipline and the Haemorrhaging of Pupils, which I explore further below. Her performance began and ended with 'I am incredibly proud of the things that the team and I achieved at Turner Schools'.

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'.

You will find the questioning about Turner Schools begins 24 minutes into the recording

 ‘We saved many thousands and the outstanding amount to the Department for Education on the record is for an emergency loan following needing to move out of Sixth Form accommodation which was privately owned back into the school to temporarily expand the facilities of the Sixth Form’. This pulled back somewhat from a claim by the Trust in the Press Release issued following my previous article, that the Trust had saved £1.5 million in the past two years. The financial situation of the Trust is complicated by the arrival of Turner Free School, although the best comparison I can make is that total assets of the trust at the end of 2018 according to Companies House was £31,462K and in 2020 it was £31,353, so it is difficult to see where either claim comes from. I am happy to be corrected by someone who can read accounts better than I. This covered a period when Folkestone Academy (secondary), with over half of the pupils in the Trust, wasted away from having 1684 pupils when Turner Schools took over, to 1212 last October, the main fall having come in the Sixth Form with over half its roll vanishing. Morehall Primary is carrying a deficit of £164K,  deliberately incurred to achieve the only Good Ofsted achieved by a Turner School, as acknowledged in the 2020 accounts, which might be regarded as money well spent, although not a route available to everyone. This was despite falling rolls, a further three staff made redundant this year and one of the highest vacancy rates of any primary school in Kent (along with Martello) over the last four years.
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’. Actually, as I have recorded here, there was only one Turner secondary school at the time, and there were 1211 fixed-term exclusions in 2017-18, more than double the number in any other Kent secondary school since I have been keeping records, apart from Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy with 786 in the same year. The TES recorded just before this story broke that ‘‘Saxton agrees with Lemov that a structured approach to behaviour is a way of reducing exclusions’ and then goes on to quote Professor Lemov, an American guru running a training course for Turner teachers ‘“Teacher capacity and skill is the best antidote there is to exclusion of students…. Behaviours that lead to exclusions happen when students perceive there to be no limits and no expectations and no rules’. Just over two years earlier, before the Turner takeover, Ofsted reported in an inspection that found the school ‘Good’:Pupils behave well. They are friendly, polite and ready to learn’  as confirmed by the angry teachers I have spoken to about events at the time, who strongly disagree with Dr Saxton’s claims.
In response to a question about Folkestone Academy haemorrhaging students. ‘It is not. It was a very challenging school; I found it that had really lost its way. It was at the time the largest school in Kent with over 300 children in every year group, Working with the Local Authority we agreed to open a new school nearby and would re-balance to provide two secondary schools of equal size  So absolutely no haemorrhaging of pupils’. It was only the largest school in Kent by virtue of being all-through with a primary section! The claim about all year groups being over 300 pupils is false. The records show that not a single year group was of this size. The Sixth form, unaffected by the opening of Turner Free School which has not yet worked through to that age group has more than halved in size from 374 students according to the October 2016 census to  127 in October 2020. You will find a full analysis of what I have described as a ‘nose-dive’ in popularity at age 11 here, but in summary September 2021 has seen the lowest number of applicants for the school ever, even after four years of Turner school operating, and the school has fifty pupils allocated by KCC, who did not even apply for it. That is haemorrhaging!
Folkestone Academy's new Role
Dr Saxton volunteered in addition that 'Folkestone Academy now puts its pupils on a pathway to apprenticeships and vocational learning' as agreed with KCC. This will come as a surprise to parents and staff, especially given Dr Saxton’s emphasis on boosting the entry of FA pupils to top universities three years ago! The new Turner Free School in contrast would offer ‘success without selection, a more conventional approach’. In other words, parents should choose their child’s school at the age of 11 by the path they wish to follow, a new form of selection. It is unfortunate that the FA website makes no mention of this change of direction, although the limited range of academic subjects in the Folkestone Academy KS4 and KS5 curricula underlines it.

Her final answer to 'so everything is hunky-dory in Turner Schools?'. 'I am incredibly proud of everything the Turner Schools have achieved', again. What a fantastical series of claims!

Not surprisingly, the Education Select Committee voted 6-3 in favour of the appointment, on strict party lines, and Dr Saxton has now been appointed to be the new Chief Regulator of Ofqual. 
Last modified on Sunday, 21 November 2021 06:25


  • Comment Link Monday, 12 July 2021 17:48 posted by Fiat Lux

    The only challenging thing about the schools was the CEO. End of discussion.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 11 July 2021 17:43 posted by David Peterson

    What is the point of a pre-hearing committee apart from being an advertising podium for the appointee. If there is no cross-questioning of candidates answers then nothing will be learned. Imagine if that were the rule for all job interviews. Well done Peter on your brilliant exposé of the dishonesty of Turner Schools and their founder.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 11 July 2021 08:18 posted by Janet Downs

    The Tory members of the committee had obviously done no research into Saxton or they would not have voted for her. How can we trust her with England's qualifications when her hype around Turner Schools was brazenly untrue? That doesn't matter, apparently, because Gormless Gavin endorsed her as his 'preferred candidate' - a system ripe for stuffing supposedly independent groups with party supporters.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 10 July 2021 19:47 posted by Beyond angry

    ‘It was a very challenging school; I found that it had really lost its way.’

    You know what, Jo Saxton? Yes, it had lost its way. From 2007 to 2017 it became hugely successful with improving exam results, improving attendance and was heavily over subscribed. Students loved going there and staff loved working there.

    And Turner schools came along and destroyed everything we had achieved. The point at which it lost its way was when Jo Saxton, with no experience of running a challenging school, failed to listen to experienced leaders and the school deteriorated rapidly beyond that point. Good luck to all your new colleagues at OFQUAL.

    How dare you state that the FA had lost its way. I am beyond angry that these claims are still being pedalled. And the reward? A nice new job.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 10 July 2021 19:43 posted by David

    I was surprised by her claim that EDF and Eurotunnel weren’t employing locals until she intervened - if I heard correctly

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