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Wednesday, 25 July 2012 17:13

Is this the most damning Kent OFSTED Report ever? Furness School

Furness School in Swanley is a special school which provides for boarding and day students who have behavioural, social and emotional difficulties. It has just 77 pupils, mostly boys, including 14 in boarding accommodation (one female) on site. All students have a statement of special educational needs and most students have previously experienced significant disruption to their education due to exclusion or non-attendance. Certainly Furness is a challenging school, but one that requires the highest standards for its children, many of whom have had seriously disrupted lives so far, and desperately need the stable education that other similar schools in Kent appear to be able to provide.

Kent County Council recognised there were problems back in February, and the headteacher was removed. However, in such a serious situation the consequences of losing the school figurehead need to be carefully managed, and insufficient thought appears to have been given to handling the fallout. KCC also removed the school governing body at the time, but did not follow the rules in doing so, and they were reinstated, only to be removed a second time - this time properly. The school was closed for three days in February, reportedly as it was out of control, and partially closed again later in the month. Since then KCC has been running the school directly using an interim leadership team and support from county officials. However, three months later, on May 15th and 16th, two of Her Majesty's Inspectors carried out an OFSTED Inspection which has produced the damning report published last week.  

In particular this condemns the interim management and leadership of the school installed by KCC, including the following comments:.........


 "Despite some recent small improvements, leadership and management are inadequate; the interim leadership team has begun to remedy some of the areas of weakness, but improvement has been limited. Leaders and managers have been too slow in intervening where the quality of classroom practice and behaviour management is clearly inadequate. Several new systems and procedures have been implemented recently but these have not had any significant impact in tackling the school’s underlying weaknesses, including improving the quality of teaching and students’ behaviour. The impact of professional development on improvements to teaching and learning has been limited. Similarly leaders and managers at all levels have not been effective in identifying precise, achievable actions that should significantly improve students’ experiences and personal development". What on earth have they been doing for the past three months, with unlimiteed resources of expertise to call on, or is it simply that KCC did not realise the seriousness of the situation. 

Information about the quality of the previous leadership is in the previous 2010 OFSTED Report which judged the school to be satisfactory and had many good points to make about it: "The school has undergone and continues to experience significant change since the new principal was appointed just prior to the last inspection. The vision of higher expectations of students' performance is increasingly shared by the staff through very effective senior leaders driving actions to reinforce these expectations. The appointment of qualified and specialist teaching staff, for example, has systematically addressed one of the areas of relative weakness identified by sound self-evaluation. Where lesson monitoring has identified underperformance, swift and robust action has been taken successfully to ensure that a satisfactory quality of teaching is restored quickly. The school recognises that the role of middle leaders is relatively underdeveloped and has realistic plans for improving their contribution to school improvement". Perhaps it was the partly the removal of head and governors that precipitated the rapid decline in standards, as the pupils saw an important stability destroyed. 

The consequence of the decisions made by KCC and the inadequate leadership are spelled out starkly: "Behaviour and safety are inadequate. Most students do not show respect or courtesy to others. They have poor attitudes to learning. Students experience bullying and harassment because behaviour management is inadequate. Students say they do not feel safe and lack confidence in the staff to keep them safe. Behaviour and safety are inadequate. A new behaviour policy is being introduced. However, there is a lack of consistency in dealing with a very high number of significant behavioural incidents. The high number of exclusions is resulting in a substantial amount of learning time being lost. Attendance over the last three years has been consistently low and too many students have attendance that is persistently below 85%. Poor attendance to lessons and disruptive behaviour are common. Lessons are frequently interrupted by shouting, swearing and by students entering or leaving the classroom. Inspectors observed many occasions where students showed a lack of respect for staff and each other. The use of racist, sexually explicit or homophobic terminology by students often went unchallenged. The school council says that bullying has lessened, but many students are still concerned about the amount of bullying that takes place. One student confided that the reason he is absent so often is due to bullying. Students say they have little confidence in the staff’s ability to keep them safe". 

It is hardly surprising that, in such a climate, learning is inadequate, exacerbate by poor teaching: "Teaching is inadequate because it does not meet the needs of the students and results in them making inadequate progress. Although examples of satisfactory and good teaching were observed during the inspection, teachers’ expectations are generally too low. Strategies to manage students’ behaviour are often ineffective. For example, an English lesson was consistently interrupted by frequent disruptions caused by students shouting, throwing paper and refusing to behave, despite the efforts of several different adults. Senior leaders have taken some steps to address weaker teaching. Increased monitoring of lessons and evaluation of data about students’ performance have enabled senior leaders to provide some staff with helpful feedback about their practice and offer information about how they can improve. There is a high level of staff absence and many posts are filled on a temporary basis. Senior leaders have correctly identified that lack of challenge and inconsistent use of assessment information, as well as students’ general non-attendance, impede learning".

It appears that events following the OFSTED Inspection exacerbated the situation, and Kent's Director of Education was forced to close the school for two weeks to address concerns about health and safety, following a series of horrifying events, including the summoning of the fire brigade, as described in the local Reporter newspaper and Newshopper.  Reports circulating locally indicate that five months on from getting rid of the headteacher and governing body, KCC is continuing to fail to resolve the problems of the school, with untold long term consequences for these vulnerable children. What a disgrace. 

Meanwhile the school website makes no mention of the OFSTED Report nor of any difficulties over the past six months, but identifies its philosophy as: "At Furness School we emphasise traditional standards of good manners, socially acceptable behaviour and mutual respect, whilst providing a relevant, varied and interesting education. We are in the fortunate position of being able to combine our curricular activities with very high Care Standards which enables our students to take their place in society and the workplace of the twenty-first century". It hardly sounds as if any lessons have been learned. 

However, Kent County Council now appears to have given up and handed over temporary responsibility for the school to a private contractor, Lilac Sky Schools, presumably for a large fee. 

Compare this perhaps with the OFSTED Report of schools with a similar profile of students: Harbour School, Dover - Outstanding; Goldwyn Community Special School, Ashford - Good; Bower Grove School, Maidstone - Good; Portal House School, Dover - Good; St Anthony's School, Margate - Good. The only other Special School for Behavioural Need had a Satisfactory grading. With this level of expertise in the special schools of the county, how on earth can KCC have got it so wrong at Furness?

Last modified on Sunday, 14 April 2013 07:54

1 comment

  • Comment Link Monday, 05 November 2012 14:32 posted by Joan Herring

    It's really sad to see this report. As one of the parents who fought to get the school established in 1974 and one of the founding teachers I blame the maintenance of grammar schools in the immediate area. Hextable School's early intakes were across the board in achievement and it wasn't until snobbery crept back in and children were directed to the Dartford grammars schools that the intake began to approach the old Secondary Modern school standard. The increase from two to four grammar schools meant that the entry level for those schools fell in order to fill the places and Hextable school suffered. PETER: I have sympathy for this comment; as one can see from my own views above, I feel the school has been criticised harshly on the basis of low attainment of incoming students. I also remember Hextable in its heyday, and its not so long ago I was handling appeals for what was a popular and oversubscribed school. On this basis, Orchards Academy, the other 'comprehensive' in the area must be even more at risk, as schools in Kent and elsewhere polarise under government policy which gives its rewards to the powerful.

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