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Monday, 26 September 2016 04:39

Buyer Beware: Four Private Schools failed OFSTED Inspection

Kent and Medway have many excellent private schools, for those who can afford it and wish for an alternative to a state school, but do not assume that private is best, as the experience of a number of local schools warn.

OFSTED now inspects the smaller private schools, although there are limited powers to take action on those that are failing. In the last year four of these, all promoting their ability to get children into grammar school, which can serve as a main reason for their existence, have been found Inadequate by OFSTED or in the case of one, had its Action Plan to show the route out of failure rejected by the DfE.

The schools are:St Joseph’s Convent Independent Preparatory School, Gravesend; St Christopher’s School, Canterbury (follow up to previous Inadequate Report); Shernold School, Maidstone; and Bryony School, Gillingham, which have all been found Inadequate by OFSTED.

New Definition of a Non-Selective school (see below)
A school where parents can send their children if they have £8,500 taxed income to spare. The school will then prepare the child for a very good grammar school as an investment, in order to save three times as much  on secondary private school fees. No entrance test, but you are not advised to send the child if the money will be wasted. .

Most larger private schools have different inspection arrangements, being assessed by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), which many regard as a much more cosy arrangement, with other private school teachers carrying out the task. An article in the Guardian perhaps catches the climate. To qualify for an ISI Inspection, a school needs to belong to an association of private schools which is a member of the Independent Schools Council.

St Joseph’s Convent Independent Preparatory School, Gravesend
Update: Please see comment at foot of article  by new Headteacher, which suggests a robust response to these criticisms.
The school was found Inadequate following an Inspection in May, down from Good in its previous full Inspection, but the decline will not have come as a surprise for some parents. Back in March the school made the local media with a report about a child armed with a knife, the headteacher’s reported comment on allegations of bullying being part of a PR disaster: “ Peer relationship issues are part of growing up and learning how to handle them is part of the formation of a child”. It appears the school did not respond to concerns at the time and the Report hammers the leadership of the school, including issues about safety, failure to create a school culture where effective learning takes place, and where over a quarter of parents would not recommend the school to others. Regular assessment does not take place so that the school does not know which pupils are falling behind, governance is not effective, etc. etc. Not surprisingly the headteacher has disappeared and there is now a Consultant Headteacher. At the OFSTED follow up meeting, led by members of the Catholic Education Commission one question went: “Q: Parent of Y4 Child ~ How will the School address the behaviour issues highlighted in Year 4? Response: Children must learn how to moderate their own behaviour”. So no acceptance yet that the school has any responsibility. 

Many, if not most, parents send their children to the school (annual fees up to £7,755 for the 141 children) to try and secure a grammar school place, but 3 successes out of 9 for Kent will not please them (one out of two in Medway), and will certainly have increased the reported dissatisfaction with the school.

St Christopher’s School, Canterbury
Back in 2014, it was found Inadequate, failing in Leadership and Management, Behaviour and Safety of Pupils, and Early Years Provision. The school was required to submit an Action Plan to the DfE, explaining what it was doing about this, but the Plan was found to Require Improvement, and so a Monitoring Inspection was carried out in March 2015. This found that the failings had been rectified, but was a clear warning that the school was under scrutiny.

 However, three months later in an Emergency Inspection, Leadership was found to be weak, with serious and significant divisions between staff, a ‘family’ ethos blurring professional boundaries (the mind boggles), a culture of mistrust meaning there was too little focus on the welfare of pupils. The headteacher, the only senior member of staff, and the owner of the school, did not always demonstrate appropriate professional conduct, staff not held to account for the quality of their work, the governing body was not effective, etc., etc. This was certainly another clear warning the school was under scrutiny. Nevertheless, an Action Plan submitted by the school to the DfE showing how it would tackle issues was rejected in September!

Unsurprisingly, and as a direct result of this, a progress monitoring inspection was carried out in January this year to monitor the action the school was taking to implement the action plan. Yet again the school failed this inspection with “Independent School Standards still not being met!”. The report notes “The headteacher has reflected on his leadership and recognised the need to set high expectations for the behaviour of staff” although there is no indication the need has been fulfilled. Amongst the requirements still to be met, the school is required to: “Ensure that persons with leadership and management responsibilities at the school demonstrate the skills and attitudes appropriate to their roles; Ensure that leaders demonstrate high standards of professionalism; Establish appropriately professional relationships between all staff at the school Effectively ensure that safeguarding policies and practices are consistently applied by all staff Establish effective governance at the school; Ensure that leaders at all levels actively promote the well-being of pupils in all of their actions, policies and procedures.” I believe that any state school which consistently and flagrantly ignored OFSTED requirements in this way, would have been closed down long ago.

Amazingly, the school is now in trouble from a different direction, having been instructed by the Advertising Standards Authority to remove false advertising from local buses, which publicly proclaimed that the school was achieving a percentage of grammar school passes higher than the reality, betraying what I believe is the fundamental reason why parents send their children to this dreadful school. The school claimed on the buses that 94% of its pupils passed to grammar school for 2016 when in fact it was 82%, or 14 of the 17 who sat the Test this year, including five Headteacher Assessment passes, so just over half passing automatically. Another child was successful on appeal. I have several times in recent years been approached by parents to support their children at appeal, but have only once taken a family on, for I found the too frequent attitude of “my child has been to St Christopher’s; I am entitled to a grammar school place”, intolerable. One St Christopher’s family still sticks in my mind, telling me as part of their case for appeal, that their son had been unfairly treated as he had missed going over the Kent Test the day before it was taken, as he was ill! They may have been mistaken, but naturally I reported this possible maladministration to KCC. 

Some private cramming schools specially prepare work in September in an attempt to improve chances at Headteacher Assessment (or Review in Medway) in case the child is put forward for this. This would give their pupils an unfair advantage, possibly regarded as part of the service for which they are paying. The fees at St Christopher’s for the 101 children are £8,595 per annum. You will find the impressive figures for admission to grammar school here, the reason why many parents will choose to ignore all the above. Indeed, the school is quite explicit about this and boasts on its website: "If parents care enough about their children’s future that they are going to fork out £8,500 from taxed income, then they probably care enough to help their children by reading with them, and giving them support along the way. Many see it as an investment. We can’t afford to send our child to a secondary private school where the fees might be three of four times those of St Christopher’s, so we’ll do our best to make sure that their child has a place at a very good grammar school". What an arrogant statement, but sadly this article may produce even more applications for the school from such parents. 

Shernold School, Maidstone
The school was found Inadequate by OFSTED after an Inspection in April. Leadership and Management, Personal Development and Welfare and Early Years Provision were all failed. Amongst criticisms were: “Governance is ineffective because the sole proprietor (and governor) does not hold school leaders to account; there is no strategic oversight; Leaders do not have an accurate view of the school’s strengths and weaknesses; No one has overall responsibility for leading the school - Although there is a ‘headteacher’, her role is limited to ensuring effective teaching and learning; Many parents contacted the inspection team to report their deep frustration regarding the leadership of the school.” But “Ineffective leadership is not having a negative impact on the good quality of teaching in the school. This is because individual teachers are very self-reliant”.

A few years ago, Shernold School had its Kent Test results annulled, because of allegations of improper preparation by the school, but this decision was subsequently reversed. Last year 8 out of the 15 pupils taking the Kent Test were successful, another 4 being allocated places by Headteacher assessment. School fees for the 143 pupils are up to £7,425 for the oldest children.

Bryony School, Gillingham
The school was found Inadequate in its OFSTED Inspection, carried out in May, failing in Leadership and Management, Welfare and Safeguarding, and Early Years Provision, although quality of teaching, and relationships are good and “Pupils achieve well and make good progress from their starting point.”, so many families will be happy. “The proprietors, one of whom is the headteacher, have not ensured that pupils are kept safe at all times. Leaders have not conducted the required pre-employment checks or checks on current staff to ensure that they are suitable to work with children; Leaders’ evaluation of the school’s effectiveness is overgenerous. The quality of teaching is poorly monitored; Teaching is good despite inadequate leadership, this is because teachers are committed and highly experienced; Almost all pass the examinations needed to attend grammar schools; Governance is not effective. It consists of just the two proprietors, one of whom is the headteacher, there is no systematic challenge to the school; Those responsible for governance have not acted to address the areas that need to be rapidly improved; arrangements to ensure pupils‟ physical well-being are inadequate; The junior school premises contain potential hazards to pupils‟ safety.”

14 out of 17 pupils who sat the Kent Test were found of grammar school ability, including 5 from Headteacher Assessment. 18 out of 23 were assessed grammar by the Medway Test (most will be the same children taking both tests) including one from Medway Review. Fees for the 181 children are up to £6,103.

Last modified on Wednesday, 10 March 2021 18:38


  • Comment Link Thursday, 06 December 2018 23:13 posted by Mark

    Please note Bryony School is now regarded by Ofsted as a 'good' school in all areas. The teaching at Bryony has always been regarded by ofsted /hmi inspectors as good or better. There is no such thing as a perfect school. You have not find what is perfect for you. Bryony is perfect for many children and parents.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 07 February 2017 08:16 posted by Mrs Elizabeth Hill

    Dear Peter, I note comments in your blog referring to the “inadequate” OFSTED report last May regarding St Joseph’s Preparatory school. I am delighted to update you on our recent successful OFSTED inspection November 2016.

    The full report can be found here
    A quote from this report.
    “The current work of the most able pupils so far this year is of a high standard across the curriculum. The quality of writing seen, for example, was beyond typical age-related expectations. Most-able pupils reported that they feel increasingly challenged by the work that they are set, saying that they have to think hard in most lessons. They say that teachers help them to do their very best and have positive attitudes to making and learning from mistakes. Most-able pupils are more often prompted to deepen their understanding through answering questions that require them to explain, compare or make inferences”
    Also the DFE letter dated 16th January 2017 quotes
    “I refer to the inspection by Ofsted that took place on the 23rd November 2016.
    I am pleased to note that the school has met all the regulatory standards and I confirm that there is no further action required of the school by this department”

    We are all delighted with the continued progress from our children, parents and staff.

    Best wishes
    Elizabeth Hill
    Head Teacher

  • Comment Link Monday, 26 September 2016 22:19 posted by Felix and Marzia

    And what about the large turnover of teachers at St Christopher's - those serious divisions between staff coming home to roost.

    We are ex-parents; it being made clear that our son would not get to grammar school, and so we were wasting our money. Selection operating.

  • Comment Link Monday, 26 September 2016 10:00 posted by Chris H

    What a disgrace. Shouldn't St Christopher's be investigated by the Council, or shut down. Same for St Joseph's.

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