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Wednesday, 29 January 2014 13:22

Is this the worst school in the country, run by the worst academy chain? - Tree Tops Academy

Could Tree Tops Academy, a primary school in Maidstone run by the highly controversial Academies Enterprise Trust, be the worst school in England for the period of its existence over the past decade? And is it currently being run by the worst Academy Group chain? (although there is plenty of competition for both titles!).

 Tree Tops Academy 1

It has now: failed four OFSTED Inspections in ten years including the most recent one in December; seen Monitoring Inspections record damning verdicts; come fourth lowest in the country in last summer’s Key Stage Two assessments; and been issued with a pre-warning letter by the Department for Education in November, warning that standards are low and likely to remain low. The letter makes clear who is responsible: It records “Financial issues have prevented the Principal from ensuring staff have the right resources to support their teaching. The sponsor has not acted to provide resources even temporarily to resolve this issue”.

UPDATE - 4th February

Molehill Copse Primary School

Molehill Copse Primary School, Federated with Tree Tops Academy, referred to below as one of just 36 primary schools in the country to receive a Pre Warning letter from the the Secretary of State for Education, who considered that "the standards of performance at Molehill Copse Primary School are unacceptably low and are likely to remain so". The letter was sent on 16th September 2013 and recorded the very low standards reached. The letter concluded that "the school is at risk of being judged as inadequate at its next inspection if teaching and pupils' progress do not improve significantly". Nearly three months later, on 3rd December, the school was inspected again, the Report, published today  failing it on grounds of Serious Weaknesses. The Report does note there have been some improvements recently, and it appears that since the Pre-Warning letter,  AET has belatedly realised it does need to do something about the school and has put in a new Management Board to bring about improvement. This is the third OFSTED failure for Molehill Copse, previously in 2006 and 2010, but it escaped with a "Satisfactory" Grade in January 2012, just in time to be taken over by AET, under whose leadership it has clearly sunk again. 

 Academies Enterprise Trust (slogan: to make our best better) is one of the largest academy groups in the country, and is running 10 of the 36 academies which have been sent pre-warning letters from the DfE warning about low standards, along with Marlowe Academy in Ramsgate which it was effectively running at the time of the letter (see below).......


I have provided a brief history of the troubled school below, summarising the evidence for the case, followed by a paragraph about Academies Enterprise Trust. However, one must not forget that at the heart of this are children who have spent their whole primary school years in a badly failing school, enduring a dismal start to life in the real world, let down by all in authority. No one can recompense them for the loss of a decent education.  

History of Bell Wood/ Tree Tops

Bell Wood before Academisation

Bell Wood Community Primary School was created in September 2004, from the amalgamation of an Infant and Junior School. In November 2005, whilst under the control of Kent County Council, the school failed its first OFSTED Inspection, being given “Notice to Improve”. The Report stated: Significant improvement is required in relation to the achievements of pupils in English and mathematics, the quality of leadership provided by senior and middle managers and the expectations teachers have of how well pupils can achieve”. It identified the key problem, that whilst “The school contains a wide social mix but most pupils come from highly deprived backgrounds”. From the start KCC allowed a poor situation to develop and “Despite the good leadership provided by the headteacher, other managers do not have sufficient expertise to support her in the drive to raise standards”. A monitoring inspection in 2006 found satisfactory progress but criticised the Local Authority’s Action plan. In November 2006, OFSTED found the school to be ‘Satisfactory’. By November 2009, it plunged into ‘Special Measures’, the lowest possible Grade. ‘For too long, the attainment of pupils at Bell Wood has been low and their progress inadequate’. ‘key issues raised at the last inspection remain as concerns’. However, by this time KCC were at last on the job, and a Monitoring Inspection of May 2010 found that: ‘Before being put into special measures, Bell Wood was already receiving a range of external support. Since September 2006 the school has been in the Intensive Support Programme and the Raising Attainment Plan, with a focus on literacy and numeracy. Additional help was provided to improve attendance and to strengthen support for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities. The local authority’s statement of action following the school’s being put into special measures meets Ofsted’s requirements and is thorough and realistic’.  By November 2009 however, the long suffering headteacher had gone, and in a second Monitoring Inspection: ‘There have been substantial changes in the school’s leadership and management since the previous monitoring visit. Consultation about possible federation with a neighbouring primary school is almost complete’. A further monitoring Inspection in March 2011 saw the amalgamation through, with  an Executive Head of the two schools in charge. This proved a disaster, and yet another Monitoring Inspection in November 2011 found progress  inadequate. Attainment was poor, and Inspectors criticised lack of continuity in staffing: In 2010-2011, for example, one class had six different teachers, which contributed to pupils’ low attainment and slow progress’ . This was followed up by a full Inspection in February 2012, which once again failed the school serving it with ‘Notice to Improve’.

Tree Tops Academy

In April, along with its amalgamation partner Molehill Copse Primary School which had just got out of its own OFSTED failure, it became an academy under Academies Enterprise Trust.

OFSTED soon visited with a Monitoring Inspection in December 2012, but found ‘Having considered all the evidence I am of the opinion that at this time the academy is not making enough progress in raising standards for all pupils. This visit has raised serious concerns’. As I wrote in an article at the time about the school and the controversial Academies Enterprise Trust: “I am sure that KCC heaved a sigh of relief when the problem was taken out of their hands but, for the poor children of the area, who have been provided with a shocking standard of education for so many years, it appears there is no relief yet. One can only speculate on how many life chances have been damaged by those responsible for these children's education. It may well be that Mr Gove was right to say that such schools should be taken away from Local Authorities incapable of providing an adequate education in them, but surely the solution was to improve the Local Authority rather than hand schools over to non-accountable bodies who, even when provided with additional resources, appear to do no better”.

In the summer 2013 KS2 Tests, Tree Tops was the fourth worst school in the country, with just 15% of pupils achieving Level 4 Grades in Literacy and Maths, a result that triggered a Department for Education pre-warning letter, one of just 36 nationally in the past three years, another having gone to its neighbouring AET academy,  Molehill Copse Primary School. 

The letter records that “the Secretary of State considers that the standards of performance at Tree Tops Academy are unacceptably low and are likely to remain so”. With regard to AET, the letter records “Financial issues have prevented the Principal from ensuring staff have the right resources to support their teaching. The sponsor has not acted to provide resources even temporarily to resolve this issue” . To me this says that AET was itself the main problem with the school, but unfortunately there is no mechanism to take it away from them.

So far so bad. But OFSTED has now carried out yet another Inspection in December, published last week and guess what? Tree Tops Academy has been plunged into Special Measures yet again. Key issues include: “Pupils’ attainment is low because they make inadequate progress, particularly in reading and mathematics. Pupils’ reading skills are weak throughout the school. Significant groups of pupils do not make adequate progress in mathematics during Key Stage 2, including disabled pupils and those with special educational needs. Teachers and teaching assistants do not expect enough of pupils and work in lessons is neither sufficiently challenging nor carefully matched to pupils’ abilities. Teachers do not ask pupils enough challenging questions or regularly check on pupils’ progress during lessons. Pupils’ behaviour and attitudes to learning require improvement. In the weaker lessons, too many pupils either stop paying attention or are slow to start work. When this happens, pupils make slow progress. Recent instability in the leadership of the school has hindered improvement. New arrangements for the leadership and governance of the academy have not been in place long enough to have sufficient impact on improving standards or the quality of teaching. Subject leaders have not yet been successful in improving  provision in the subjects they are responsible for”.

Academies Enterprise  Trust

AET is one of the  largest of the Academy chains in the country,  currently running nearly 80 academies. 

An article in The Guardian last year makes clear AET’s financial interests in running its schools, along with other major criticisms of the Trust (the definition of Trust includes not-for profit). In March 2012, the Anti-Academies Alliance turned its spotlight theme onto the Academies Enterprise Trust. It makes unhappy reading. This month the Alliance also published an article highlighting individual growing problems with academies, including immediate resignations of three of AET’s headteachers last year, and the departure of its Chief Executive after problems with the chain, expected to comprise 80 academies by the Spring.

The DfE has sent just 36 pre-warning letters over the past three years, an astonishing 11 of which have gone to schools run by or associated with Academies Enterprise Trust, including both Tree Tops a federated school and its partner Molehill Copse Academy, also in Maidstone, and also the Marlowe Academy in Ramsgate, which has now terminated its connection with AET.

Last word 

Allegations are currently being made in the national media that the Secretary of State for Education wants to take the OFSTED Inspection regime away from the academies, and set up a new inspecting body. Ignoring the children whose life chances are damaged by the repeated failures,  and given the number of academy failures recently, this may be a wise strategy to reduce them and avoid stories like this - or am I being cynical? 

Last modified on Sunday, 10 November 2019 20:04


  • Comment Link Tuesday, 21 April 2015 22:21 posted by Michelle

    The school has now been removed from Special Measures with a Good for Leadership and Management. I doubt this would be given if the decisions made were inappropriate. The HMI involved, I am lead to believe, is not a push over and would not have made this decision lightly.

    I don't pretend to know everything what goes on in the back ground. But I do trust the professionals to make the right decision for my children.

    The teachers at the school have always shown my children care and attention. There are easier schools they could work in, but they have chosen to stay and see the school through all this. I don't think they should be criticised for this - but praised. Not everything is great, but give them a break! PETER: I can find no published OFSTED Report (22/4/15) that gives anything other than the Special Measures verdict of December 2013. If there is one on the way it will be down to the takeover by Leigh Academy which happened in February 2015, long after this article was written and AET had been forced out of responsibility for the academy. I would be delighted to report that the children are at last getting a good deal if this is the case.

  • Comment Link Friday, 19 December 2014 18:50 posted by Lisa B

    I am absolutely fuming.

    They have let go the best thing in the education system since sliced bread!

    Did anyone notice that the head teacher did not turn up to school today?

    That is probably because Thursday when we got the letter informing us she was leaving the school got bombarded with phone calls.

    I have spoken to many parents whom are not happy and they are wanting the head sacked.

    Will everyone please speak with the governors and ask them to re-employ Ms S.

    My son is now refusing to attend school next year.

    I am not happy :( PETER: Having seen the greatly improved KS2 results last summer I am minded to ask if she was in charge of a Year Six class last ýear. If not there appears at lest one other good teacher!

  • Comment Link Saturday, 06 December 2014 08:03 posted by Donna

    I found this website when using the internet in the library.

    My son and daughter and their 4 cousins attend TreeTops.

    They and their parents cannot say a bad thing about Mrs S.

    She has improved everything to do with their education and the school standards, children and their cousins and their parents say so.

    Things are going up, the woman puts in lots of extra help unpaid.

    I like what I have read.

    She (the teacher) I sometimes see shopping in Maidstone, though she lives in West Malling, I will give her a big hug and a thanks for everything.

    I don't want to put my real name incase the school read this.


  • Comment Link Friday, 05 December 2014 18:20 posted by Lisa B

    Wow, I just heard, she is leaving.

    I cannot believe they have someone that good and let her leave.

    The school governors and the head teacher should be gotten rid of.

    I am not happy, best thing worth weight in gold and she is leaving.

    If she moves to a closer school I am removing my child and finding the school she goes to even if it means travelling a lot of miles.

    Lisa B

  • Comment Link Thursday, 04 December 2014 17:11 posted by Chrissy L

    I agree with the above.

    She has been at the school for only six months.

    Big improvement in my son too.

    He is autistic and think she is good at that.

    Don't want to lose her.

    Been meaning to leave a comment here for long time :)

  • Comment Link Monday, 01 December 2014 10:32 posted by Lisa B

    My child is a pupil at this school.
    A new teacher took over my sons class end of last year and now this school term 2014.
    She is amazing, well educated, works hard and the total improvement is great.
    I don't have to argue with my son to attend school, he is always ready, in the evening he wants to stay at school and all he does is talk about how much he enjoys school now.
    He is in the 'LEGO' club which the teacher paid for all the LEGO herself and he really has fun.
    He has stopped fighting, he has made friends and it's the best thing that has happened to him.
    TreeTops Maidstone would be a heap better if teachers like her were employed, as most of them don't give a hoot.
    Teacher is a Mrs or Miss S.
    I hope she stays till the end of the year 2015.
    I hope she stays all the time as my daughter is going to be a pupil in 2 years. PETER: I am delighted to hear there is a t least one good teacher at the school to set an example. I hope for the sake of all the children at Tree Tops that the academy can attract others of the same calibre.

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