Both schools have been issued with tough letters from the Regional Schools Commissioner, threatening to remove them from their current sponsors, REAch2 in the case of Copperfield Academy in Northfleet, Gravesham, and Rainham Mark Education Trust in the case of Twydall Primary in Gillingham, Medway.
The letter for Copperfield is rightly the more brutal for I have recorded the misfortunes of the children of this school many times on this site, first in 2011, although a more recent article traces them back to around 2003 and there is currently no let up. This letter notes that: ‘the persons responsible for leading, managing, or governing the school are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement in the school’ and sets five specific conditions for improvement, including: that pupil performance improves by the end of 2018/19 (the recently taken SATs); that the next Ofsted Inspection removes the Inadequate label; and that no other REAch2 school from the 13 in the local region fails its Ofsted.
The Twydall letter was written in November 2018, before the 2018 Key Stage 2 results were published (see below), which show the school making rapid improvement from a troubled history that was topped off by a Serious Weaknesses Ofsted Inspection Report in June 2018. A Monitoring Inspection Report in April 2019 is wholly positive.
You will find more details about Copperfield and Twydall below
Each letter spells out several steps to go through and, if the schools fail to deliver the very specific requirements laid out in the letters with a sense of urgency, they will then be issued with a Termination Warning Notice. The last one previously posted locally, was to Elaine Primary School a Medway academy in the Williamson Trust in 2017. The school was subsequently taken from the Trust and awarded to the Inspire Partnership Academy Trust. The Williamson Trust was then effectively closed and handed over to Leigh Academy Trust in its entirety.
For each school, follow the links below.
When I was a Gravesham headteacher, I knew Dover Road Primary School well, back in the day when it was run by Llew Jones, a big personality who ran a strong and successful community school until he retired around 2003. It then deteriorated under a number of short term headteachers, several rated by KCC who even took one away to support other heads whilst Dover Road sank further. The Ofsted Inspection Report of 2011, placing the school in Special Measures, reported on poor achievement dating back at least five years. My article describing the Ofsted decision explains how a KCC officer rejected the idea of a new school in the area, for fear Dover Road would lose numbers and be forced to close (explicitly quoted in local newspaper). Instead the solution (?!) was to expand this failing school to take in children who could not find a place elsewhere, completely against KCC policy, the additional pupils to be taught in temporary accommodation, all almost guaranteed to take it down further. This is explained in my subsequent article in 2012 after the school was found to have made Inadequate Progress in a Monitoring Inspection. I visited the subject again early in 2013, after yet another failed Monitoring Inspection also reporting on the excessive staff turnover figures and the departure of yet another headteacher.
Unsurprisingly the school was required to become an academy in 2013, sponsored by REAch2, a rapidly expanding Trust, currently running 58 schools in SE England including four in Kent (also Tymberwood in Gravesham), with another new school in Gravesham having been awarded, which must now be in doubt. It was given an Ofsted free break by virtue of schools being excused an Inspection for the three years after becoming academies, in order to settle down. Sadly, Copperfield did not respond and in 2016 Ofsted published a highly critical ‘Requires Improvement’ Report that appeared to avoid being rated Inadequate because a ‘New senior leadership team has a very clear view of the improvements that are required. Leaders have wasted no time in developing ambitious plans which focus on the most important things first’ . This is a recurring theme. Unfortunately, this was only part-way through another recurring theme: a rapid turnover of headteachers since academisation, that saw a total of seven (at least, for it is difficult to keep up with the changes) having had a go (and then departing!). I highlighted the school in an article on Disappearing Headteachers last July as another headteacher bit the dust. The Report also highlighted a perennial problem for the school: ‘Leaders have not been able to retain teachers. At the beginning of each year, a large number of teachers join the school but do not stay. This term, almost three quarters of the teaching staff are new, with most at the beginning of their teaching career’. Or, in more detail: In September 2016, 13 new teachers joined the school, of which five are newly qualified teachers and six are new to the English education system’. As always in this story, pity the poor children.
If it were possible, matters went from bad to worse and a year later, in October 2017, an Ofsted Monitoring Inspection reported that ‘Senior leaders and the trust are not taking effective action to tackle the areas requiring improvement’, noting that ‘The school should take further action to make sure that everyone understands the urgency of the required improvements. The report describes a horrendous context of massive changes in staffing, management and governance in the previous year, concluding with ‘Eleven new teachers took up post in September 2017’ (there is currently a total of 19 class teachers, along with the Executive head and two Acting Deputy Headteachers). As a result ‘In a period of significant turbulence in staffing and leadership, standards have fallen further in all key stages since the previous inspection, including for disadvantaged pupils’. Not surprisingly and with echoes of previous Reports: ‘The new regional director and the trust have identified correctly that standards have further declined since the previous inspection. However, this candid self-evaluation is yet to lead to demonstrable improvement’.
KCC then compounded the disaster by producing false data to show that another new school in the area, which had already been approved by government, was not needed for September 2018. It considered that Copperfield Academy could be expanded again by 30 places to admit 90 children to cater for local demand (again in temporary accommodation), in the full knowledge that the school was already failing its pupils. In the event, with every other Northfleet school filled, it offered places to 65 pupils including 11 Local Authority Allocations (LAA – not having applied for the school), mopping up all new arrivals locally so that the school had 71 pupils in Year R in September. This is explained in more detail here.
No matter, in September 2018 yet another Executive Head, Simon Wood joined the school, who led it into Special Measures again in January 2019, once again having made improvements in several areas (but presumably not others) that have not yet had an effect. For a school that should have been in the spotlight for too many years it is appalling to read that:‘Trustees and governors have not acted swiftly enough to halt a significant decline in the quality of education and standards since the last inspection. Teaching, learning and assessment in key stages 1 and 2 are inadequate. Teaching is poorly planned and does not meet pupils’ needs. Weak teaching of spelling, punctuation and grammar across subjects is impeding improvements in writing. The curriculum is narrow and unbalanced in key stages 1 and 2’. Astonishingly, given the school’s record and events to follow: ‘It is recommended that the school may appoint newly qualified teachers’.
Only the six months earlier, another REAch2 school, Sprites Primary Academy in Ipswich, was also failed by Ofsted, concerns including the turbulence in staffing. This was also followed by a ‘Mindful to Terminate’ letter, identifying failure by the Trust to take appropriate action and requiring them to raise standards across the region.
Given the repeated failures of REAch2 to provide an adequate education for the children of Copperfield Academy over the past six years, it is hardly surprising they were issued with the Minded to Terminate letter from the Regional Schools Commissioner, one of just two in Kent and Medway in the past two years. He writes:
EXCERPTS FROM MINDFUL TO TERMINATE LETTER
On 8 March 2019, I received an Ofsted report confirming that Copperfield Academy was judged to be inadequate and requires special measures. Principally, because the academy is failing to give pupils an acceptable standard of education and the persons responsible for leading, managing, or governing the school are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement in the school. Of particularly serious concern are Ofsted’s conclusions that: Over time, the trust has not been effective in supporting the school to improve · Teaching, learning and assessment in key stages 1 and 2 are inadequate · Pupils, including pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND), do not make enough progress in reading, writing and mathematics · Disadvantaged pupils in key stages 1 and 2 make weak progress because additional funding is not spent effectively.
There are five specific conditions of improvement which, if breached, will cause the Department to consider formal termination of the academy’s supplemental funding agreement. These are: 1. That you provide an up-to-date school improvement plan for the school, which demonstrates a clear plan to address the concerns raised by Ofsted. 2. That, consistent with the school improvement plan, pupil outcomes and progress show significant improvements in the 2018/19 academic year. 3. That subsequent monitoring inspections by Ofsted show that leaders at the academy and academy trust are taking effective action towards the removal of the Inadequate designation. 4. That the academy moves out of category at its next Section 5 Ofsted inspection. 5. That no other REAch2 academy in the SESL region is judged Inadequate. It is crucial that standards across the trust’s other schools are secure whilst Copperfield is supported to improve.
An astonishing sixteen years of failure by KCC and the REAch2 Academy Trust have culminated in this indictment of their joint failure to provide an adequate education for local children over generations. That local population is wisely voting with its feet so that just 51 places have been offered for September 2019 admission, including 14 LAAs, with a hopeful Published Admission Number kept at 90, requiring more temporary accommodation. It makes the headteacher’s welcome on the school website ring rather hollow: ‘Copperfield is an old and long-established Northfleet School, having opened as Dover Road School in 1904. It has always been a popular school with local families and we currently have the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren here of former pupils’.
At around this time, I became involved in a battle by the school to avoid being taken over by TSAT, being brought in informally by some governors to advise. The battle is laid out in a series of articles beginning here, the others accessed through the website search engine, which paint of picture of a failing school, a governing body at war with itself and with the Council manipulating membership, whilst at the same time being determined to get rid of it by passing it on to an unwelcome Academy Trust, whose solutions to problems were unpalatable to parents and most governors.
Eventually TSAT tired of the battle and withdrew in 2015 leaving Twydall to find an alternative solution. The shocking state of Medway education at the time is set out here giving little hope the Council could help Twydall sort its problems. Twydall then by mutual agreement become an academy sponsored by Rainham Mark Grammar School (RMGS).
Subsequently Twydall limped along being one of the lowest performing schools in Medway, failing its Ofsted in June 2018, placed in the Category of ‘Serious Weaknesses’. The Report noted that: ‘Following the school’s conversion to academy status in 2016, the school declined further. Fragilities and turbulence in leadership and staffing have hampered school improvement. Improvements have only just got under way since the appointment of the acting headteacher in January 2018. She has brought a new sense of purpose and direction to the school and has harnessed the support of the staff. There are positive green shoots of recovery’ . A Monitoring Inspection in April 2019 carried out by an HMI is very positive, but the bottom line is that this school remains unpopular with families. It has had the fourth or fifth highest percentage of vacancies of any Medway school in each of the past four years. Ofsted June 2018: ‘In 2017, the standards achieved by pupils by the end of key stage 2 declined significantly to below the government’s minimum expectations. Pupils’ progress was significantly below the national average in reading and mathematics, and only a third of pupils achieved the expected standards’.
These standards improved considerably for 2018, with reading and maths at an average standard (nationwide) and two thirds of pupils achieving the national standard.
The 2019 results will be critical but the November 2018 ‘Minded to Terminate’ letter was written before the much stronger 2018 SAT outcomes were available and so would appear to have been premature, with the school surely able to look forward to its withdrawal.
Source: Kent Educational advice
Copperfield Academy and Twydall Primary School Issued with 'Minded to Terminate' Notices