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Friday, 08 October 2021 22:10

Gordon Children's Academy in Medway sees teacher turnover at over fifty per cent last year, part of a pattern.

New Query: Why has the New Horizons Teaching School Alliance website been closed, along with the item on the TSAT website relating to Teacher Training. Can anyone help? In my own view, the article below sets out good reasons why the whole thing should be scrapped before any more potential teachers are disillusioned.  

The Gordon School Children’s Academy in Strood saw 15 of its 25 teachers leave last year, part of a list I have of over 50 names departing in the past four years.  I have been sent several sets of grievances from different staff which add up to a consistent pattern and may go to explain these startling facts but, without corroborating evidence, it is inappropriate to quote these. The astonishing turnover of headteachers at the school, with seven in seven years, is also indicative of the pressures under which they are placed to deliver results. However, the enclosed letter sent to all teachers earlier this year is indicative of the style. The use of non-disclosure agreements for some Gordon managerial staff who have left the school has not been helpful with regard to this article. The turnover of other staff, especially Teaching Assistants is also very large. The pattern of demanding ever higher standards across the Trust's Medway schools appears common, whatever the cost to teachers and their careers or, in the case of the grammar schools of pupils who may struggle, and through the selection procedures. The high turnover of headteachers is also common in at least three other TSAT schools.  

The headteacher of Gordon, Mrs Murphy, is in her second year at the school, having transferred from the New Horizons Children’s Academy where she was succeeded by her husband. She may not remain there as she is also Principal of the new Maritime Academy, also in Strood, opening next September, although I am not aware of her secondary school background. In the meantime, New Horizons Children's Academy also appears troubled, with 11 of its 24 teachers (two part-time) having left last year. I am concerned about a detailed allegation I have received about SAT performance there, but again have no verification.  

Unsurprisingly the popularity of both schools is falling, Gordon having over a quarter of its places unfilled on allocation in May this year. New Horizons which opened in 2014 had been heavily oversubscribed for some years but had 16% empty places on allocation for this year.

Concerned staff have now been blocked from talking with me, with the Trust taking disciplinary action against at least one member, despite their having had no contact whatever with me.

So what is going wrong at the Thinking Schools Academy Trust?

Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT)
I regularly use Freedom of Information Requests to inform my writing on this website usually for thematic articles, such as one in progress on school appeals across the county. I find that schools are very helpful in such matters. Occasionally I will also pick up particular issues, often raised by parents or, as in this case, school staff. A remarkably high proportion of these relate to Thinking Schools Academy Trust schools and I have written a series of critical articles about practices at both Holcombe Grammar School and The Rochester Grammar. These have also led to four of the complaints I have lodged with the Schools Adjudicator's and Information Commissioner’s offices in recent years being upheld, out of a total of eleven across Kent and Medway,  all of which have been successful. The previous CEO of the Trust left after a scandal that made the national media. Both Holcombe and the Trust’s third secondary school, Victory Academy, have their own pattern of rapid turnover of headteacher. The other two primary Children’s Academies, All Saints and Cedar both in Strood, appear to be running smoothly. TSAT has recently taken over Goodwin Academy in Deal and also runs several schools in Southampton.

In order to confirm the turnover figures, I submitted my standard template FOI asking for the information. TSAT is the only organisation (bar one) out of dozens I have submitted in recent years that failed completely to understand it, coming back with a hopelessly inadequate response. When I politely asked for the correct information, they sent me another mangled set of data. I then sent in a formal complaint via the Review process, which produced almost the proper data, although changing one question to minimise turnover, ‘which has been double checked by a member of our data protection team’. Unfortunately, the double-checking was not quite accurate, and it needed a further challenge by me to get what I assume is now the correct result.  

Teachers at TSAT Medway Primary Schools
In Post September 2020 25  24 (2 p.t.)
In Post September 2021 28   28 (5 p.t.)
Left 20/21 15 11

The teacher turnover at All Faiths Children's Academy and Cedar Children's Academy speaks volumes about the different approaches in the two pairs of schools, with just one resignation at All Faiths and none at Cedar.  

Gordon Children’s Academy
Whilst I heard murmurs of concern about the management of the school in the last few years, it was not until I had several staff contacts this year relating to the leadership, that I followed some of these up. The tone of the letter she sent to all teachers indicates her management style, apparently oblivious of the stress placed on teachers and the extra workload they have incurred as a result of the coronavirus epidemic, and likely to be demotivating for many hardworking staff. It is typified by the pressures placed on those who succumbed to the virus, and which may well have contributed to the exceptional turnover for the past year. Mrs Murphy moved from New Horizons Children’s Academy to Gordon in September 2020, replacing the previous Head of School who first of all transferred to Victory Academy and then left teaching. Whilst TSAT does use transfers within schools in the Trust as a tool, presumably allowed as part of their contracts, and some of the 50 departures may well fall into that category, it hardly contributes to continuity or confidence in the school.  Mrs Murphy was succeeded at New Horizons by her husband as headteacher. She is described as Director of Education, Strood on the letter above, for the four local TSAT primary schools, and is also described as Principal of Maritime Academy, an 1100 pupil secondary school opening next September,  on the latter’s website. On the Gordon website she is Executive Headteacher, but now has a reduced Leadership Team of four from the previous five in 2020, with the Acting Head of School having been moved on, so clearly needs a very hands-on role at this school. One of the four primary schools, Cedar Children’s Academy just has an Acting Head of School, so presumably needs more support from Mrs Murphy, who surely has plenty of issues to sort out back at home in Gordon.
I am told that the issue of staff retention at the school has been raised at Trust level several times, without any observable outcome. 
Final Thoughts
I have little idea what parents think about all of this apart from my looking at takeup figures for places at the two schools this year, and but a major concern is for the teachers of the schools, and for those who have left or been forced out. Every teacher I know has been working flat out dealing with the fallout from Coronavirus, and it is very sad to read about Gordon that 'Staff off with covid are constantly phoned to ask if they are well enough to work from home'. We don't know how many of the teachers at these schools, unable to cope with the pressures on them to achieve even higher standards and the high workload demanded, have left the profession. What we do know is that the education service needs all the good teachers there are, and schools need to support their staff especially the Newly Qualified Teachers, rather than operate a policy of survival of the fittest. Especially, spare a thought for those who believed they had a vocation to teach and have been disabused in this way.
Last modified on Wednesday, 10 November 2021 07:55


  • Comment Link Wednesday, 20 October 2021 19:53 posted by Ex Member of staff

    I was an NQT at Gordon last year. I took the job with promises of support and guidance as a new teacher and what I received was far from that. I felt completely pushed out by specific members of SLT, where the only option I had was to leave. On two occasions I was spoken to like I was a child. I was berated for not having childcare during the pandemic, when all the after school clubs had ceased. The way I was spoken to should not be acceptable on any level. I had another member of SLT shout at me and two other NQTs during mental health week about a PSHE lesson on mental health because the children had not completed much in their books. There were no questions asked, just a complete dressing down where we were told we couldn't respond. That was my breaking point. There are so many issues with how they manage staff. It's a complete bullying culture from the top down. They DO NOT put the children first, which is the most disappointing thing (slightly edited to remove personalities). PETER: This is a common theme from staff who contacted me before the curtain came down. From the Gordon Children's Academy website: 'A career with TSAT has unlimited opportunity. We are passionate in supporting staff with their professional development and believe that the more we invest in our staff the more successful we will become as a Trust of schools'. What a complete betrayal of the teaching profession and a warning to any NQT thinking of taking up a post with TSAT.

  • Comment Link Friday, 15 October 2021 19:48 posted by Earnest Seeker After Knowledge

    Why has the New Horizons Teaching School Alliance website been closed? Is it because TSAT is too ashamed of the performance of its schools in looking after prospective teachers to advertise, or has the Teaching School been closed completely? PETER: I have not heard of this before. Does anyone know the situation?

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 13 October 2021 21:49 posted by Ex Teacher

    I spent my first two years of teaching at Gordon. Needless to say even though I had endured Ofsted during that period and we earned a ‘Good’ status, it was the beginning of the end. They have had some fantastic teachers and even SLT members but just badly managed by the Trust. Having progressed in my teaching career thus far, I would love to go back to the school as Headteacher and turn it around because the community deserve it.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 13 October 2021 16:40 posted by Ex Gordon Teacher

    From the Gordon Children's Academy website: 'A career with TSAT has unlimited opportunity. We are passionate in supporting staff with their professional development and believe that the more we invest in our staff the more successful we will become as a Trust of schools'. Sorry, but in my two years penance at Gordon I missed all this.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 12 October 2021 19:26 posted by Ex member of staff (Teaching Assistant)

    I am so glad that, at last, the truth of how staff have been treated over last few years is now coming out. I left, in part, because I couldn't stand witnessing the way staff, especially young teachers were treated. To see so many leave, broken because of the unrealistic expectations and total lack of support given, was devastating. I worked with many fantastic teachers, most of whom have now moved to other schools and are delivering a great education. How sad that in a supposed "child first" environment (said with tongue firmly in cheek) it is the children of Gordon that are being deprived of this teaching. Instead they are taught by stressed Teaching Assistants, desperate to help but not trained to teach or overworked teachers, already looking to move on. I really hope that this starts an investigation into staff wellbeing so that the children of Gordon get the school they deserve. Happy teachers = happy and thriving children.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 12 October 2021 17:47 posted by Gordon Survivor

    I am so glad this is finally out there for people to read. I moved to Gordon with high hopes of progressing my career but left in tears because of the poor management I experienced while I was there. The really sad thing is there are some brilliant teachers in the school, but they're horribly managed with unrealistic expectations and a horrendous workload. I hope this article is the start of change in Gordon because the children and hardworking staff deserve it.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 12 October 2021 17:39 posted by current staff member

    Why don't you mention the culture of bullying in the school? (edited). PETER: Whilst this is one of the allegations I have referred to above and which has surfaced several times in private emails to me, I don't have independent verification of it.

  • Comment Link Monday, 11 October 2021 17:50 posted by Happy Teacher

    I write as one of those bright-eyed and bushy-tailed NQTs who joined Gordon a few years back and by the end of the year had quite lost any motivation, leaving in distress. After a year in the wilderness, I was fortunate to gain a post in a lovely private school where I have been supported and built my self-confidence back. I enjoy teaching. How many other careers have been ruined by a 'spell' at Gordon, and what is being done to stop this drain on the profession? PETER: I am so sorry. I would like to think that your introduction to teaching in a state school is the exception rather than the rule, but fear there are others where survival of the fittest is the way and damn the consequences for those who would flourish with a little support. The shocking teacher retention statistics across the country reveal the truth. We cannot afford to lose talent at this rate.

  • Comment Link Monday, 11 October 2021 16:22 posted by Angry Gordon Parent (name supplied)

    Gordon Children's Academy, with its pretentious title, is an absolute disgrace. You mention the seven heads gone in seven years, some of them kicked out as they didn't fit, you mention the 50+ teachers gone in four years, some of them in tears. You don't mention the multiple supply teachers our son has endured in those four years, nor the Teaching Assistants used to fill the gaps. Higher standards- not a chance! PETER: Well said. Sorry for the omissions; my focus was elsewhere and I don't have details of the numbers to quote.

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