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Thursday, 05 November 2015 06:03

Problems in Secondary Schools in Kent's Coastal Towns

 Updated: 8th November

Nine headteachers from the eighteen non-selective secondary schools situated in towns around the Kent coastline, that is half the total, have lost their jobs over the past three years  with eight of the schools achieving less than 30% 5 A-Cs at GCSE including maths and English in provisional results for 2015. The schools to have lost their headteachers are: Astor College, Dover ; Castle Community College, Deal; The Charles Dickens School, Broadstairs; The Community College Whitstable; Folkestone Academy; Oasis Academy, Isle of Sheppey; Pent Valley Technology College, Folkestone; St Edmund's Catholic, Dover; and Ursuline College, Margate. Another two schools have closed - Marlowe Academy, Ramsgate and Walmer Science School. There are particular issues in Thanet. I look at further details of all these cases below.One wonders which school will be next to lose their headteacher, and who is going to be attracted to such high risk posts in the future? 

A Report by the Future Leaders Trust highlighted on the BBC website last month has once again focused on the difficulties of many schools in England’s coastal towns across the country to be able to flourish. The charity, which “works for fairer opportunities in schools”, says there is a culture in "which students are given limited experience beyond their own town and where they see little value in academic qualifications”. 

Education Secretary Mrs Morgan, last week announced a National Teaching Service of 1500 'elite' teachers to support struggling schools by 2020. Coastal towns and rural areas are seen as a priority in an attempt to reverse generations of underachievement in some places but, starting with a pilot of 100 teachers in the West of England it is difficult to see this having a positive effect on Kent schools any time soon. 

The original version of this article led to a BBC SE item which focused on the departure of the four headteachers who lost their jobs in 2015.....

A previous article, looking at provisional GCSE performance across the county, also explores some of these issues. 
The job loss total does not include the head of Dover Grammar School for Boys, who went after the school was found to Require Improvement by OFSTED in October 2013, having previously been graded as Outstanding. 
All eight schools with under 30% 5 A-Cs at GCSE, including English and maths have, in addition, seen a sharp fall in results over one or both of the two previous years, with changes in the rules affecting qualifying subjects penalising them disproportionately. Many of these schools, especially in the East of the county, also suffer both from decisions by London Boroughs to  place vulnerable children in Kent where coastal ex-boarding houses, hotels and seaside homes offer spacious cheap accommodation, and also from the increasing problem of refugee and asylum seeking children, often unaccompanied by adults, arriving in the county. In addition, some grammar schools are widening the scope of their admissions, selecting children who have the academic potential but perhaps not the background to succeed in the Kent Test, but diminishing the pool of talent in the non-selective schools as a consequence.
The charity, Future Leaders Trust, which admittedly has its own agenda being poised to develop the National teaching Service, notes that these problems are “compounded by a staffing problem for all kinds of schools in England - and coastal towns face particular difficulties in competing. They can't offer the attractions and good transport links of big cities and they don't have the more comfortable surroundings of the well-upholstered suburbs or shires”.
A Report by the Centre for Social Justice in 2013 looks at five case studies of coastal towns around the country, including Margate, of which it writes: Since 2000, “an in-migration of vulnerable people occurs as several London boroughs relocate their housing and care lists to Margate due to the low cost of accommodation. This leads to the establishment of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), a high density of looked-after children, ex-prisoners and people with mental health issues”. This is all before the current pressures from refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. Margate itself has just one secondary school, Hartsdown Academy, whose intake reflects all these characteristics, severely damaging its popularity amongst aspiring families, but remarkably achieved better GCSE results for 2015 than any of the four schools to the south of the District, in Broadstairs – two schools that many Margate families aspire to, and two in Ramsgate, as explained below.
National Teaching Service
Last week, Mrs Morgan, Education Secretary announced a new scheme for recruiting 1500 elite teachers to work in struggling schools, the commentary suggesting a specific target of rural and coastal areas where there is too often a culture of underachievement. The scheme is to begin with a pilot service of 100 teachers launched in the North West in September 2016 (no sense here that selective Kent is a priority as some commentators would have it), building to 1500 teachers by 2020, so no quick fix. These would be outstanding teachers and middle leaders, seconded for up to three years, not only expected to bring outstanding teaching into the classroom, but also to improve the quality of teaching and leadership right throughout the school. I found an interesting commentary on the scheme here. The problem is not primarily an outcome of the selective system as some maintain, for there are plenty of parallel examples elsewhere in the country in rural and coastal comprehensive areas: as well as parts of the North West of the country, rural Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex have also been identified as some areas of underperformance; and the case study above, looking at Great Yarmouth and Clacton-on Sea, as well as Blackpool. 
Astor College, Dover
Astor Academy has plunged in just a few years from being regularly the highest performing Dover non-selective school to a 2015 provisional 5 GCSE A-C score of just 27%. A bizarre situation surrounded its recent OFSTED Inspection, the draft verdict placing it in Special Measures, the Inspection then being placed on hold, with a fresh visit in June finding it Requiring Improvement. The Principal lost his job shortly afterwards. You will find more details hereThe other two local Dover non-selective schools both perform above the government floor standard of 40%, St Edmund's Catholic School having recovered from going into  Special Measures in December 2012 and seeing its headteacher removed as a consequence. Not included in the total is the headteacher of Dover Grammar School for Boys, whose head lost his job as the school plunged form Outstanding to Requires Improvement in October 213. Dover secondary schools are helped in general by having the best primary school OFSTED record across the board, with every recent inspection rated Good, an exception to the usual coastal pattern. 
The Charles Dickens School, Broadstairs.
The long serving and well respected headteacher of Charles Dickens retired with immediate effect at the end of term two weeks ago. In 2011 the school was rated Good by OFSTED, but was placed in Special Measures in 2014, with particular criticism being levelled at himself and governors. Originally given support by KCC and the Coastal Academies Trust, this summer’s GCSE performance at 29% 5 A-Cs at GCSE appears to have been the last straw, although it follows OFSTED Monitoring Inspections that showed some progress being made. The role of the Coastal Academies Trust appears to have vanished perhaps because of its failure to make an impact, and instead the school is now being run by an Interim Executive Head, currently headteacher of St George’s CofE School in Broadstairs.  This appears to be an interesting choice given St George’s own fall from grace over the past two years, declining from 53%  5 GCSEs at Grades A-C in 2013, to 22% in 2014, and 12% in 2015, from the same starting point but with a much sharper decline than Charles Dickens, and second only to Marlowe at the bottom of the county table. On the other hand, the school is the most oversubscribed non-selective school in Kent turning away 150 unsuccessful first choices for admission this September. Clearly, parents are flocking to it for reasons other than academic performance! Other popular Thanet schools are King Ethelbert in Westgate, 80 first preferences not offered, Charles Dickens itself with 44, and Ellington and Hereson with 25.
Castle Community College, Deal
I have previously covered the sorry story of the closure of the failed Walmer Science College in 2013, and the dramatic decline of Castle Community College which absorbed it, with Castle collapsing from OFSTED Outstanding to Special Measures in just three years, precipitating the departure of the most recent permanent Principal in April 2014. The latest OFSTED Monitoring Inspection Report for Castle, in this week, shows a marked improvement on the depressing one for June 2015, with the school at last "taking effective action towards the removal of Special Measures", thanks in large measure to the the Interim Principal who "continues to lead the academy with unwavering passion and commitment". The distance the school has travelled since her appointment is summarised by the terse statement: "At the beginning, everything needed fixing". Probably to be renamed Goodwin Academy (after the Goodwin Sands, a long sandbank in the English Channel, off Deal), with a designated Sponsor, SchoolsCompany Trust, which has been supporting the school over most of the last three years. The College has now improved its GCSE performance from the disastrous 2013 figures of 20% 5 A*-Cs, which placed the school bottom in the county, up to 33% in 2014 and provisionally 37% in 2015, but still below the government floor level of 40%.
The Community College, Whitstable
Headteacher Helena Sullivan-Tighe was suspended from her post as headteacher earlier this week. This follows a critical OFSTED Inspection in March, although a follow-up Monitoring Inspection in June found that “senior leaders and governors are taking effective action to tackle the areas requiring improvement identified at the recent section 5 inspection”.  However, what has really caused the damage were last summer’s Provisional GCSE results, with just 28% of students achieving 5 A-C Grades including maths and English, a sharp fall on previous years, although there were still 10 Kent secondary schools with lower performances, Marlowe and Oasis Academy, Hextable since having closed. The school, in a letter to parents, notes that: "I am writing to let you know that following some on-going concerns regarding aspects of the performance of The Community College Whitstable, and especially the most recent public examination results, the governing body decided to order an independent review of provision and practice in the college. This wide ranging review took place in late September and as a consequence of the report's findings, governors have considered further the action they feel is necessary to support the college in raising achievement for all students. There is much to be done to ensure all our students receive their entitlement to the very best education”.
Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey 
Isle of Sheppey Academy was taken over by Oasis in September 2013, after its Principal, David Day, had started to turn round this school which has had a troubled past for as long as I can remember. In spite of the progress, documented by OFSTED, he was removed and has since revived the fortunes of Hayesbrook in Tonbridge, now one of the highest performing non-selective schools in the county. The new principal is quoted by The Times on his arrival in September 2014 as "head teacher who transformed a failing school has spoken of the huge challenge he faces in turning around an academy that officials said was the worst school they have ever visited" which was clearly false, as confirmed here. Originally Oasis judged the school as only needing his services half-time the reminder spent running his previous school, so they clearly did not see much of a problem! The following summer of 2014, saw the school's 5 A*-C GCSE pass rate plummet to 19%, the second lowest in Kent, although it has improved fractionally this year to 24%. For 2015 the school had 68 children allocated in March, who had not applied for it, the highest number in Kent apart from the Marlowe Academy. 
Pent Valley School, Folkestone
Pent Valley School has been a disaster with regard to parental perception for some years, in spite of its improvement to a Good OFSTED rating in 2013.  For school allocations in September 2015, 134 of its 180 places (reduced from 240 two years ago) were left vacant. It has also seen a sharp decline in GCSE performance over the past two years, from 40%, down to 15% this summer, second lowest in Kent, so it was no surprise that the headteacher ‘left’ last Easter. The school has since been run by the Swale Academies Trust, although they will have had little influence over the dire summer GCSE performance. However, one hopes the Trust will have better success than its current performance at the North School, Ashford, which it took over in 2013, after the school was placed in Special Measures, albeit with GCSE success at 42% 5 A-Cs. Since then the North has plummeted, first to 36%, then to 22% this summer. Part of Pent Valley’s problem has been the relative success of the other local school, Folkestone Academy, although it also lost its headteacher earlier in the year, but through a personal scandal rather than any school performance issue.
Royal Harbour Academy, Ramsgate
This new school  is the solution to the problem of what to do with the perennially failing Marlowe Academy, which was resolved by closing it, transferring its students and offering its premises to the popular Ellington and Hereson School which is now using the site as part of an expanded Lower School, under the aegis of the Coastal Academies Trust. Whilst the decision has proved controversial, especially amongst E&H parents, many of whom were desperate to avoid Marlowe in the first place, it makes a great deal of sense, the new school beginning with a fresh new name. However, it does have the outcome of putting together two of the lowest performing secondary schools in the county, with Marlowe at 6% 5 A-Cs and E&H at 23%. There is no doubt that the problems of coastal towns outlined earlier in this article have a particularly devastating effect on Thanet non-selective secondary schools, making up over a quarter of the 15 Kent schools at under 30% GCSE 5 A-Cs, including English and maths in 2015.
St George's CofE Foundation School, Broadstairs
The enigma amongst the low performing schools, St George's was by some way the most oversubscribed school in Kent, turning away 150 first choices in March, but see the section on Charles Dickens School above, including the second worst GCSEs in the county at 12% 5 A-Cs. However, the headteacher exceptionally appears to have a charmed life!  

Ursuline College, Westgate-on-Sea replaced its headteacher, Mrs Tanya Utton, with an interim replacement last week, and has airbrushed her name from the school website. The reasons for her removal are unclear, but will be different from the other three, as Ursuline College GCSE performance is consistently just above the government floor standard, with a provisional 5 A-C pass rate in 2015 of 44%. The clue may lie in an emergency OFSTED Inspection carried out in June, following reported concerns about student behaviour at the college. In the event, the Inspection gave the school a clean bill of health in this respect, and praised behavioural standards. There is, however, an undercurrent and I have been approached by several Ursuline parents seeking advice about very strong sanctions relating to disciplinary and uniform issues. This is reflected by OFSTED noting the high rate of temporary exclusions and commenting that students “felt too, however, that sometimes students who are accused of misbehaviour by others have to work harder than they should to prove their innocence or to believe that staff understand that there may be two sides to the story”.

The above total shows at least nine heads out of the eighteen Kent coastal non-selective schools who have lost their jobs in less than three years (along with the head of Dover Boys Grammar School) mainly because of poor performance. Two others have closed. Just seven of the eighteen Kent coastal schools reached the 40% GCSE floor target in 2015 provisional figures: King Ethelbert and Ursuline College, 44%; Brockhill Park Performing Arts College & St Edmund’s Catholic, 43%; Sandwich Technology, 42%, Folkestone Academy, 41%; and Dover Christ Church Academy, 40%. For other parts of Kent, 33 out of 45 schools are above the floor standard. I have identified five schools away from the coast where the heads have been removed over the same period (but there may be more) and one school has closed. Last year, I wrote a series of articles about disappearing primary school headteachers, estimating that some 40 heads had lost their jobs over a period of just over a year, over 10% of the total, mainly because of poor performance in their schools. Becoming a school headteacher is now definitely a high risk career move; no wonder it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit new heads.  
Last modified on Tuesday, 07 September 2021 19:19


  • Comment Link Saturday, 07 January 2017 22:45 posted by C dodo

    I was thinking on moving to Kent with my 2 children but reading the state of the colleges on the coast of Kent I will not. It's a disgrace the report are awful. My kids are doing very well I am not going to mess up their future

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 09 December 2015 20:43 posted by Jenny Benson

    FYI - I understand that Coastal Academies Trust is due to sponsor Royal Harbour Academy on condition that they stopped supporting The Charles Dickens School. Three HMI inspections during the year concluded that 'reasonable progress' was being made at Charles Dickens (this is the best judgement possible, short of being removed from special measures') and KCC consistently found that good progress was being made in their visits.

    Your account of each school's performance is based on the Raise on Line score - which, of course, only counts first entry results. Most of the schools you refer to actually achieved better results. The DfE refuse to recognise this - but Ofsted do (sometimes). PETER: Thanks for this. I certainly did not know of this unreasonable condition which raises far too many questions for my liking. My article does of course acknowledge the part that government policy in changing criteria for exam performance has placed in this tragedy.

  • Comment Link Monday, 30 November 2015 16:30 posted by Christina Giles

    I am surprised that other school heads are still in situ despite their poor exam results and Ofsted inspections were far from satisfactory. . Spires Academy saw just 17% of its students achieving grades A -C. lower than Ursuline College Westgate. I have taught at both schools and behaviour at Ursuline was controlled, compared to Spires which at times was unbearable, out of control. Management were unable to remove offending students who would often resort to abusive, swearing, intimidating comments. I say you have removed the wrong head, bring back Mrs Tanya Utton.

  • Comment Link Friday, 06 November 2015 20:09 posted by Richard Styles

    I am writing a report on the Thanet economy and one area of interest is Thanet's relative failure in educational achievement.
    Even comparing this district with other Kent district's there is a noticeable shortfall, which is a little odd bearing in mind that they all have the same selective system; so we are not comparing selective against non selective.I am not going to enter the selective versus non selective argument, because those in favour of selection at 11 are highly vocal and not particularily open to discussion or persuasion in my experience.
    I have a hypothesis that if KCC introduce the full tripartite system of selection as envisaged in the 1944 Education Act, it might help with the problem of white working class boys failing to thrive in an academic environment.
    I don't want to suggest that they are only fit for craft skills, but instead to alter the mix so that technical knowledge is added to an academic background in such a way to increase aspiration and enable learning to be seen as of benefit to them.This has to be underpinned by greater resources for FE Colleges, which have suffered in the austerity economic lottery.
    We would still have gold, silver and iron children, but perhaps the waste in talent might be reduced.
    I would be interested to receive any comments or information you may have on the matter.

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