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Saturday, 29 August 2015 16:04

Medway Primary Schools Worst in the Country yet again: Council Innocent of all Blame

Medway primary schools have come bottom nationally for Key Stage Two results in 2015 for the second time in four years. Medway is surely the worst Local Authority in the country in terms of primary school performance, having been in the bottom five out of 152 Authorities for every year but one since 2009, as shown in the table below. In the most recent figures available for the proportion of children in OFSTED good or Outstanding schools, Medway was also bottom in the country in 2013-14.

According to the Medway Messenger, Mr Mike O'Brien, Cabinet Member for Education, considers that a group of unpaid volunteers, "the Governors are responsible" for this perennial disgrace. He has promised to take appropriate action - and warned governors and teachers to "shape up or ship out". The consistent record of failure is apparently nothing to do with Medway Council or its failing and failed School Improvement Department, an utterly complacent and false position that has been adopted annually and recorded diligently on this website year after year......

Indeed, the the failures of the Council and School Improvement Department are highlighted in the critical Special Report commissioned by OFSTED in June this year, specifically to examine those failures. For seven years at least, Mr O'Brien and his predecessor have consistently offered excuses, blaming others, sometimes promising urgent action, with absolutely no improvement and nothing appears to have changed.

Meanwhile Kent County Council, also recognising its performance was unsatisfactory up to three years ago, has improved year on year until it is now above the national average on both measures.


     Medway Key Stage 2 Performance
% of pupils achieving Level 4 in set subjects
 Place in
152 LA's
2015   73  Bottom  80  80
2014   75

 14 from


 78  79
2013   71

 1 from


 76  74
 2012  72  Bottom  80  78
 2011  68

 4 from


 75  72
2010   67

 3 from


 74  70
 2009  65

 3 from


 72  68

Note: at the start of this period there were fewer than 152 Authorities. Some have been split since.

Individual school results will not be published until December, so we won't know whether the key responsibility for this latest debacle rests with the low performing schools Medway Council has seen converted to become academies away from their responsibility, those who have fled the appalling so called 'Leadership' of the Council to become converter academies, or those who have remained in the mistaken belief that Medway Council has something to offer them.

Cabinet Member's View
Asked by the Medway Messenger if the Local Authority should shoulder some responsibility, Mr O'Brien responded: "We've given them leadership - the reality is the schools are run by the governing bodies; it's the governing bodies that recruit the teachers". In a statement on his website  Mr O'Brien fails to even mention that the Council or its School improvement Department has a role, or why there is media interest in the KS2 results Of this, the worst performing Authority in the land. 

He believes the Council "cannot continue to promote and celebrate inadequacy", a really bizarre position for the council to have taken! He now expects "Governors of poorly performing schools to produce Action Plans to show how they are going to improve outcomes in their schools"! Is he really saying that no one has asked them to do so before?

Two years ago I wrote after publication of the 2013 results: "I consider the main issues with Medway Council are exemplified by statements from the Cabinet Member for Education to the media this week: there is a complete failure to accept how awful the position is with the same mantra that has been trotted out by the Authority for years; there is no problem, but in any case standards are improving; there was a complete change of management in the Children’s and Adult Services Department eighteen months ago which has already seen improvements in standards; and finally today’s Key Stage 2 results for Medway would bear witness to that improvement (how wrong can you be)! My own assessment is there is a complete complacency and unwillingness to accept the reality - that Medway Council is failing and has failed for years to provide an acceptable standard of education for too many of the children who have the misfortune to live in Medway".

This time last year, the Cabinet Member for School Improvement said in a press release on the improving (?) KS2 results that: "it is pleasing that results are increasing each year and that parents can be assured of a good start in their children's school life". Wisely she has given up this position, having attacked me on Radio Kent for daring to suggest that the 'excellent' School Improvement Department was in any way deficient in spite of regular criticisms recorded of it both in OFSTED Reports I have highlighted and in another targeted Inspection by OFSTED that found all five Medway controlled primary schools assessed Requiring Improvement. Medway Council continues to have such misplaced confidence in the area of School Improvement that no successor has been appointed.

Mr O'Brien does all school governors in Medway a gross disservice by his disgraceful attempt to hold them up as responsible for this long running debacle. "We've given them the leadership - the reality is that the schools are run by the governing bodies and it's the governors that appoint the teachers". Is he not aware that all governors are unpaid volunteers, the large majority without a professional background in education, and who depend on the leadership of the Local Authority and the wisdom of their headteacher, all highly paid professionals, with hopefully the relevant experience to assist them in their work? Sadly, as is regularly chronicled on this website, OFSTED too often records the failures of Medway Council to offer any form of leadership or professional expertise in school improvement.

No doubt the five governors of Hempstead Junior School, who resigned in despair after Mr O'Brien personally and publicly abandoned them after they approached Medway Council for urgent help in sorting out a staffing problem that was devastating their school, will read Mr O'Brien's words and wonder what else they could have done.

So what are other volunteer governors to do in the face of what appears a public scapegoating for the KS2 and OFSTED failures? Clearly their work is not appreciated so a mass resignation would be understandable. With the examples of Hempstead and OFSTED Reports on the failures of Medway Council in front of them, too many know they will be on their own if there is trouble. I meet and talk with a lot of school governors in my work and know how proud and dedicated the vast majority are, in the service of the children of Medway. My guess is that most will carry on, unappreciated by their Council, determined not to let the children down.

In April 2012, Medway Council published what they called an 'in-depth review', which I have described elsewhere as 'an inept report', into low standards at KS2. My article on the report included the comments: "One might expect to find a degree of introspection by the Council to reflect on why they, the only common factor linking these schools, are responsible for  failing so many of the children in their care. Not a bit of it! The first two of  twelve recommendations make clear who the fall guys are in this analysis that contains not a single recommendation on how Medway Council might improve its own performance. Recommendation number one is that governors should have compulsory training..... The second recommendation I regard as farcical, which is for all Medway Councillors to put themselves forward as school governors because... they have experience in meeting procedure". So nothing new there!  It is hardly unsurprising the Report has been buried deeply ever since, 

Whilst Medway Council is busy shifting the blame onto governors  there is a large group of  posters, on social media and elsewhere, determined to pin the blame on the children of the district and their poor....(fill in the blanks). The fact remains that by the age of 16, Medway students consistently and by a considerable margin outperform the national average for five GCSE's at Grade C or above so their ability as a whole is certainly not lacking. It is just that they are given the worst possible start in education of those in any part of the country and yet clearly have what it takes to overcome this massive handicap whilst being educated in secondary academies free from the control of Medway Council. Interestingly in yet another attempt to deflect criticism, the Council regularly tries to take credit for this performance!

The Good News
The OFSTED Special Report into School Improvement in Medway records that: "The interim assistant director for school effectiveness and inclusion was appointed in May 2014. She took immediate action to raise school leaders’ expectations of provision and outcomes for children and young people. Her actions are starting to have an impact". Clearly not yet sufficient to affect Key Stage Two results in 2015 and there is a limit to what one person can do to reverse a culture where the Council has:  "continue(d) to promote and celebrate inadequacy" for so long!



Last modified on Thursday, 03 September 2015 21:25

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