Supporting Families

Peter Read

This article considers the consequences of a letter sent out to parents by Seamus Murphy, the new Executive Headteacher of Folkestone Academy. It is a revision of my original article. The letter expresses concern about the high rates of lateness and absence, the school having the second highest rate of absence of any secondary school in Kent (22nd in the country) and also of persistent absence (21st in the country). The following paragraph begins: ‘I believe that pupils need to be in school to achieve and rather than use exclusions I will be holding Saturday detentions from 9 to 11 p.m. I will expect parents to accompany their children in full uniform to school if they receive a Saturday detention for significantly failing to follow Academy procedures’. Quite understandably, many parents and local and national media connected the two paragraphs and saw them as cause and effect.
 
After several media attempts to pin Mr Murphy down, he explained in a Kentonline Podcast that the main reason for awarding a Saturday detention would be because some students were not in lessons often enough, or had missed other detentions, sometimes given for being late in school, so not a lot different! 
TurnerSchools
 Two massive and astonishing new statistics underline a fresh crisis facing the school. The October 2019 schools census shows that the school has seen both its Year Seven and Sixth Form rolls fall by over a third in two years, explored below  
 
Just to prove I don’t always find fault with the school I must heap extravagant praise on Turner Free School for the amazing, wonderful and brilliant first two terms this year – see below.

In 2015 Government introduced Phase Two of the Priority School Building Programme, to rebuild or refurbish individual blocks of accommodation at 277 schools using capital grant and are scheduled to hand over by the end of 2023. 13 of these are in Kent and a further two are in Medway. This article looks at progress of the project in the local schools to benefit, which were as follows. Kent Primary schools: Barton Junior; Benenden Church of England Primary; Colliers Green Church of England Primary; & Platt Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School. Kent secondary schools: The Abbey School; Dover Grammar Boys; The Folkestone School for Girls; Hartsdown Technology College; High Weald Academy; Mayfield Grammar; Pent Valley Technology College; Simon Langton Girls' Grammar; Swadelands. Medway secondary schools: St John Fisher Catholic Comprehensive and The Howard School.

Key words in the project are: ‘using capital grant’, as the previous programme of Building Schools for the Future relied heavily on commercial loans under the now largely discredited Private Finance Initiative. Whilst many schools benefited hugely from this project, the financial implications are crippling, as can be seen in several previous articles on this site, including here, with a full analysis by ShepwayVox here.  In this second phase more schools qualify under ‘a block replacement based on poor condition.  Only in exceptional circumstances will a whole school be replaced’ . At least three of the projects described below appear to come into the ‘exceptional circumstances’ category. At the foot of this article is a list of all the previous successful BSF Schools in Kent.

 In his last action just twenty minutes before standing down as Leader of Kent County Council on October 17th, Paul Carter vetoed the proposal to build a new non-selective school in Thanet on the grounds that population numbers had not risen as fast as forecast. Instead he stated that what Thanet needed was better schools rather than additional ones, and that the financial cost to Kent was not necessary.

Preceding this decision, the Kent Schools Commissioning Plan 2019-2023 stated that: The new secondary Free School has been commissioned on the site of the former Royal School for the Deaf. The Howard Academy Trust has been confirmed as the successful sponsor via the DfE Free School Presumptive process. The School will open in temporary accommodation in 2020 with 120 Year 7 places, and in 2021 on the new site as a 6FE school. The support of existing schools will be required to provide temporary Year 7 places for 2019 until the new school is delivered.

KCC’s Scrutiny Committee on 19th November considered Mr Carter’s decision as reported here, pp 17 – 28, and I have considered it in detail below. The two key outcomes of the Open part of this meeting were: firstly it appears clear that the decision to veto the original decision was the right one even if the alternative proposed would create other problems and; secondly that KCC officers were seriously wrong in their number planning as demonstrated by KCC’s own Commissioning Plan and my simple charts below, their excuses for not noticing the population trend not standing up to scrutiny and with no one to be held accountable for this debacle. A subsequent closed session may well have looked at the data, but we don't know. 

Wednesday, 15 January 2020 18:40

Academy and Free School News January 2020

Important Update to EKC section below with a message to all Local Authority Governing Bodies 

This article first looks at the two new Free Schools opened in Dartford in September: Stone Lodge School (secondary) and River Mill Primary. Six schools have become academies: Dartford Bridge Community Primary School; Horsmonden Primary; Paddock Wood Primary; Rolvenden PrimarySt Katherine’s Primary; and Wainscott Primary. A group of primary schools in East Kent are  proposing to academise together: Briary; Bysing Wood; Holywell; and QueenboroughSunny Bank School  in Sittingbourne has an Academy Order. The re-brokering of the failed Delce Academy; the Private Finance Initiative and academy conversion; a roundup of the names and numbers of Kent and Medway academies, and various other academy matters.

 Updated 17th December
Key Stage Two school performance for 2019 tables were published on Friday, with 68% of Kent pupils meeting the expected standard for the second year running, comfortably above the national average which was 65%. Medway was once again below average, although this year narrowing the gap, at 64%. Congratulations to Stowting CofE Primary School, Ashford, which was the top school in all the three major categories explored below: Progress, Achievement, and Proportion of pupils achieving higher grades. Also of special note is Royal Rise Primary School in Tonbridge, its most recent Ofsted placing it in Special Measures, but now taken over by Cygnus Academies Trust, and performed highly in both Progress and Achievement, to become the highest performing school in Tonbridge.  

Stowting Pic   Copy     Royal Rise   Copy

Government’s key measure is progress from Key Stage One (end of Infant stage at age seven) through to Key Stage Two, in Reading Writing and Mathematics. The best overall Progress performances were by: Stowting CofE, Ashford, 19.3; Oaks Primary (Academy), Maidstone, 17.2; Joy Lane Foundation, Whitstable, & New Horizons (A), Chatham, 16.9; Hernhill CofE, Canterbury, 16.7; St Mary of Charity CofE (A), Faversham; 16.5; and Kings Farm, Gravesend, 16.4. Six of the highest performers have been in Special Measures in the past five years which, although not recommended, appears to have acted as a spur - five after academisation. 

In Kent, five schools saw every pupil achieve the expected achievement standard set by government but, apart from Sibertswold CofE, Dover each of the others had small age groups of between seven and twelve pupils! Next came: Ramsgate, Holy Trinity CofE with 97%; St Margaret's at Cliffe, 96%; Chilton (A),  Ramsgate; and Temple Ewell CofE (A), Dover, both with 95%, again with a preponderance of East Kent schools, along with the next schools in the list.  Top performers in Medway by this standard were Pilgrim (A), Medway, and St Helen’s CofE, Cliffe, both with 90% of pupils achieving the expected standard.

There are plenty of opportunities for many schools to claim a top position in one or more of these categories, as shown in the following sections. For definitions and full details of performance consult the Government websites for Kent and Medway. The article concludes with some advice to parents trying to select a primary school for their children.....

For those who thought we had seen the last of the dreadful Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT)I enclose a copy of a letter sent by the Government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), which reports on the ESFA investigation into LSSAT.

LSSAT Logo

This tells us that the investigation concluded several months ago and that the ESFA intends to publish a final version of the report, so there is already an interim Report in existence about the investigation. The author of the letter, sent 9th October, apologises for the long delay in concluding the investigation, and records that the final Report will be published as soon as possible after fact checking has taken place. Clearly a robust process of fact checking that has taken more than two months already!

The letter concludes: ‘I cannot speculate as to exactly what enforcement action will be taken. However, I can assure you that the department will take robust action as appropriate to ensure that individuals responsible for financial mismanagement will be held to account’. In other words, some form of action will be carried out.

I posed the following education question on Radio Kent this morning to the five Tunbridge Wells candidates in the General Election:

Plans for a new six form entry non-selective school in TW have collapsed as no sponsor came forward to run it as a Free School. The three TW schools have each expanded by 60 pupils since the admission number set in 2018. In spite of this, girls from TW were allocated to High Weald Academy in Cranbrook and boys to Hayesbrook School in Tonbridge this year. For 2021-22 entry the latest KCC commissioning plan shows a shortfall of 6 forms of entry in TW. The land earmarked for the new school has been lost under government rules that state such land cannot be kept indefinitely. Suggestions?

Shockingly, not one of the candidates knew there was a problem, let alone the crisis that is currently upon local families looking for non-selective schools in TW. Several could only respond about the shortage of grammar school places, which is completely irrelevant to this crisis, or the abolition of selection at 11, with grammar schools not mentioned in any party manifesto. Conservative candidate, Greg Clarke, the previous Member who was also Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government, had never heard of the issue or the collapse of the land deal, although it is explicitly described in the KCC Schools Commissioning Plan for 2018-22 (below).  He suggested I must be mistaken! Several candidates talked of long term plans for expanding school places in general without reference to Tunbridge Wells, presumably from the magic money tree on offer from all sides. In no way does this solve the local problem of short and long term need described by KCC whose solution is: ‘the strategic response to this demand is a proposed 6FE expansion of an existing school or a new school from 2021-22’. This after each of the three local non-selective schools has increased their intakes for 2019 entry by 60 places since the Planned figure for 2018, with no sign of where the additional capacity is coming from.

In other words, don’t expect any help from whoever wins tomorrow!

 

The number of children leaving Kent schools for Elective Home Education (EHE) in 2017-18   continues to increase sharply year on year, now up by 70% to 1310 over the past four years. Medway has seen its first fall in numbers for five years, to 226 families opting for EHE down from 278 in the previous year.

The figure of 830 Kent ‘Children Missing from Education’ (CME), with no known destination is way down on the 2292 of two years ago,  with larger figures in some areas caused by families returning to their homeland, notably in Gravesham and Thanet, both home to large numbers of Eastern European families, and by Traveller families.

The four highest EHE schools are the same as in 2017-18, and are four out of the top six the previous year, yet no-one appears to question what is going on in these schools. They are High Weald Academy, losing 4.8% of its statutory aged population (11-16); Hartsdown Academy 4.1%, Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey, 3.6%; and New Line Learning Academy 3.4%, all losing on average more than one child from every class last year to home education. There were no schools in Medway losing more than 2% of their statutory roll to EHE.

The following article may not be of direct interest to families but it identifies the chaos and machinations at the top of Turner Schools and as such I consider it is an important testimony. The consequences for schools operating under this chaotic level of leadership cannot be good.   

The mystery of the resignation of the Chairman of Directors and Founder of Turner Schools, Professor Carl Lygo, along with Dame Susan John and four other Directors continues to deepen in what appears to have been a meltdown amongst the Board of Directors back in  May. Amongst other developments below, the Trust has quietly announced the appointment of Mike Buchanan as the new Board Chairman in the middle of an article about building works, although completely forgetting to mention why another Chairman is needed, or to give any mention or credit anywhere to Professor Lygo, Dame Susan John, or Jenny King amongst others for their important contributions to the Trust.

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Since I wrote my previous article, Folkestone Academy has had another set of poor GCSE results. Although it has improved on its record of awarding more than one in seven fixed term exclusions for the whole of Kent in 2017-18, the 2018-19 performance of being the third highest percentage in Kent is nothing to be proud of, nor are the high exclusion rates at Martello Primary and the Turner Free School. 2017-2018 had seen a mass exodus of staff, another large swathe going in July this year. Folkestone Academy has got through five headteachers since Turner Schools took over. Sixth form numbers have slumped, as has intake. The Trust has made multiple false claims about its ‘successes’ over the past two years to cover this record up. There is more to come before Christmas.

Following on from this article Schoolsweek has explored the situation including a reply from the KCSP which contains some very strange ideas, see below.
 
 
The Kent Catholic Schools Partnership,  an Academy Trust which runs 19 Roman Catholic primary schools, has instructed all these schools not to provide facilities for their children to sit the Kent Test in their own school. This means that those children will be disadvantaged by not taking the Test in familiar surroundings like other Kent children, and will have to travel to another venue arranged by KCC which could be miles away from their homes. This move to sectarianism would appear to be just bloody-minded to many. For the Catholic Church as a whole is clearly not opposed to academic selection, supporting three Catholic grammar schools in other parts of the country and providing many private Catholic academically selective schools for those Catholics and others who are wealthy enough to pay, both in Kent and elsewhere in the country. These two categories are also operating in clear contradiction of ‘the church’s social teachings’ as set out  below.
 
 KCSP Logo
However, as the following analysis shows, the only children this decision will actually affect are those frightened off from taking the test because of social disadvantage or lacking the confidence to take on the church, or else who fail the Kent Test solely because they have been disadvantaged by taking it in unfamiliar surroundings. How proud the Catholic Church must be.
 
This story was first aired by Radio Kent and I was happy to contribute. 
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