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Thursday, 11 November 2021 23:12

Exclusions in Kent and Medway Schools, 2020-21


Individual Schools
This section looks at those high excluding schools, referred to above, which were not considered at in the 2019-20 article. 
Waterfront  and Leigh University Technical Colleges
The concept of the UTC is a failed one across most of the country and Leigh and Waterfront are no exception. Plush new premises and facilities have not succeeded in attracting the numbers of eager prospective students expected, and neither school has more than half filled since their inception. You will find background to the two schools here, including the spectacular Ofsted failure of Waterfront Academy (then called Medway UTC) in 2018. The Howard School In Medway itself, lead school in the Howard Trust which now runs Waterfront, also has high exclusion rates each year, but does not quite feature in my tables, so there may be a linked approach to difficult pupils in the two. 

Both UTCs have now abandoned the original 14-18 age range, given the difficulty in recruiting pupils, Leigh UTC returning to become an 11-18 school after completely abandoning the concept of attracting students at an age when they could make mature choices, with Waterfront under the new management of The Howard Trust, now recruiting into Year Nine. Both schools are operating at well under half of their capacity, in all year groups and neither manages to retain a high proportion of students into the Sixth Form. 

The problem at Waterfront appears to be focused on Year 10, accounting for 46 out of 75 exclusions from the 163 pupils in Years 9-11  in 2020-21. In 2019-20, there were 16 out of 47 exclusions from 154 pupils Years 9-11 and in 2018-19 it was 23 out of 27 across Years nine and ten from 116 pupils. At Leigh Academy, the exclusions appear well spaced out across the lower age groups.  

The questions remain; what is it about the ethos of these two UTCs that encourages either pupils to misbehave, or staff to over react, or both, and why are they failing to attract pupils?

Victory Academy, Medway
See further article here
Is run by the controversial Thinking Schools Academy Trust, with a pattern of frequent change of leadership and practices in many of its schools, recently Holcombe Grammar (until recently managed out of Victory);  The Rochester Grammar, Gordon Children’s Academy and New Horizons Children’s Academy.

This year’s 403 fixed term exclusions comprise over a third of the total of all those in the eleven Medway N/S schools. In 2019-20 there were 129 at Victory and in 2018-19 there were 66. Parents had expressed very real concerns about the attitudes and behaviour of pupils to the extent that Ofsted carried out a special inspection in November 2020, looking at the safeguarding aspects of this. They appeared not to notice that a serious situation was developing, recording that: 'Leaders are relentless in setting high expectations about behaviour across the school.... Leaders from the trust bring specific expertise to support the school well with the management of safeguarding issues and attendance. The chief executive officer visits the school regularly to check on the culture and work of the school in person....There are also a set of well-understood incremental sanctions for poor behaviour. These include verbal warnings, detentions, pupils being ‘parked’ in another class (currently within the same bubble), internal exclusion and ultimately fixed-term exclusion. The school prioritises reconciliation....Around a quarter of pupils who completed our online survey felt that bullying was not dealt with well by the school'. And then: 'Behaviour records show that there are incidents of poor behaviour in the school and infrequently these can be of a violent nature. Records also show that these incidents are dealt with appropriately and proportionately by leaders, following the school’s behaviour policy. Sanctions such as exclusion are used where the policy deems it is appropriate, for example if a pupil is verbally abusive to a member of staff. Around 5% of pupils have had one or more fixed-term exclusions so far this academic year'. This shocking statistic reveals that around 50 pupils had one or more fixed term exclusions in two months which, if the same rate had continued,  would have pitched it into my high exclusion rate in the table above. Not only did Ofsted apparently not notice this high rate but more significantly, the leaders of the Victory Academy apparently just sat back and watch behaviour deteriorate to the extent that exclusions rocketed through the remainder of the year.  This led to more than three times as many exclusions as in the previous year, uniquely across the county? What on earth is going on? So much for Ofsted and the parents who expressed those concerns!!

The Abbey School Faversham
Like many schools, the Abbey has endured a difficult time during the pandemic, with good discipline more difficult to maintain through the pattern of disrupted schooling for all pupils during lockdowns, and further absences affecting individual pupils connected with Covid cases, or themselves being infected, which will have also played havoc with continuity in class. There is a just small rise in secondary exclusions over the past year across the county, suggesting that most schools have worked out strategies to manage discipline effectively. In contrast The Abbey School saw a sharp rise in exclusions last year, up from 114 to 186 for 2020-21.

The school appears to have been panicked by its failure to contain numbers of exclusions and created media attention when it employed yet another character styling himself ‘the strictest headteacher in the country’ to address the perceived issues. An initial article in Kentonline on 14th September explained the school’s rationale, which appeared to focus on minor disciplinary matters.  Three days later, a second article introduces the hitman of whom ‘Bosses at The Abbey say Mr Smith - who once referred to pupils as “detainees” - has been brought in to ensure children “develop good learning habits” following their return to the classroom after a disjointed year’. An internet search for his background produces a number of his controversial leadership roles, which surely should have warned the school about his methods as he deals with ‘broken schools’,  backed up by the arrogance of his Twitter Account which is worth reading. Had the current head of Abbey really allowed the school to fall into such a state, that it needed this approach at a sensitive time for the school and its pupils?

Robert Napier School, Medway
Robert Napier has for several years previously been the highest excluding school in Medway, until overtaken this year by Victory, with the school's exclusion numbers dipping to 206 for 2020-21, but still 22.5% of the statutory roll. In 2019-20 there were 243 fixed term exclusions and in 2018-19 there were 318, which was 36.1% of the statutory roll. It is regularly the highest permanently excluding school across Kent and Medway, in 2019-20 expelling nine children; in 2018-19, ten; and in 2017-18 there were seven. The fall this year to less than five is a major contributor to Medway's small total.
Inspire Free School
The school has had a chequered history in its short seven years since opening, being placed in Special Measures in 2016. It was then taken over by the Parallel Learning Trust, an organisation with less than two years’ experience of running two small Pupil Referral Units that had not yet been assessed by OFSTED. The Trust now runs seven provisions, mainly dealing with pupils excluded or at risk of permanent exclusion. In 2018 Inspire was inspected by Ofsted, when it had just 37 pupils, including some in the Sixth Form and some taught off-site, but was found to be Good. The school website brims with positive thoughts including: ‘Educationalists call this school a challenging environment – it is. We challenge students, Parents and Carers to support their young persons' growth; we challenge local authority to see beyond the initial chaos and smoke screen created by the young people in their attempt to prove that yet another school will “not keep them” and support us to break the cycle. We are confident that by the time our students reach their final year with us, they will have a growing confidence’. And yet…….Why is its exclusion record so much higher than any other ‘behavioural’ Special School across the county? 

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Last modified on Saturday, 27 November 2021 19:07

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