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Saturday, 03 January 2015 00:00

KCC: All Change in the Education Quality and Standards Division

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The Division of Education Quality and Standards in the Education & Young People's Services Directorate of KCC is shrinking fast, suffering both from a reduction in school adviser numbers and also the departure of three of the four senior officers.

Sue Rogers, Director of Education Quality and Standards left at the end of December to take up post as - Managing Director of Lilac Sky Academy Trust (update 20/2/15). 

My exposure last Spring of the Division’s dubious tactics in removing primary head teachers of underperforming schools  eventually saw Simon Webb, Principal Primary School Adviser and key architect of the policy, subsequently retiring in October, although KCC had initially refused to acknowledge any problem. Amongst the festering issues left behind was the debacle at Kings Farm Primary, discussed previously.

Special Schools and Pupil Referral Units Principal Adviser, Diana Robinson, was made redundant at Christmas, although she was immediately re-engaged part-time as a consultant. The Authority is now engaged in recruiting a replacement. 

The fourth and sole remaining member of the management team is Nigel Blackburn, Principal Secondary School Adviser, who is surprisingly only contracted to work part-time at four days a week, the fifth day being devoted to his B & C Education Consultancy, in partnership with Debbie Coslett, CEO of the Brook Learning Trust. He presumably has to walk a tightrope to avoid any conflict of interest. 

As a result, there is at present no full-time permanent senior manager in the Division. No appointments have yet been made to the three vacant posts, which will remain unfilled until any new person is able to take up post, so School Improvement of necessity must be taking a lower priority. 

In parallel with these departures, KCC has had to reduce its school adviser numbers, both because of financial pressures from government on al local government functions, but also because the increasing number of government directly funded academies is further reducing the funds available to the Education Department to support its remaining schools.  

The issue of PFI schools seeking to become academies is back on the agenda……

Divisions of KCC Education & Young People's Services Directorate

There are three Divisions in the Directorate, Quality and Services being responsible for: School Improvement; Skills and Employability; and Early Years and Childcare. Sue Rogers' qualities can be measured by her award of the “Wisdom” prize at the Lilac Sky Academy Trust  Education awards in 2013, where she was described as: “committed to the drive that every child should be able to attend a good school and this is reflected in her engagement with schools, parents, members and other partners” The Trust commendation also reports that she is studying for her Ph.DLilac Sky has a strong and growing presence in Kent, having now been awarded two of the new build primary academies to come on stream in September 2015.

Update note: A recent FOI request by a member of the public establishes that between August 2013 and July 2012, KCC spent £1.152 million with Lilac Sky.

Nigel Blackburn, the sole remaining senior manager in the Division was previously head of the very successful Hayesbrook School in Tonbridge, centre of the Brook Learning Trust, and part of his current responsibilities appear to be supporting schools through academy conversion, which may explain the reduction in his commitment to KCC as the number of schools for which he is responsible tumbles.   

The second Division is Planning and Access, headed up by Kevin Shovelton, who is  himself retiring in July. One hopes that on this occasion action is taken in good time to ensure a replacement is made to take over for September, avoiding a similar vacuum to Quality and Standards. The Division is responsible for: School Place Provision Planning; Commissioning School Places; Special Educational Needs Assessment and Placement; Education Psychology; Fair Access to School Places; and School Transport.

The third Division was newly formed in April 2014: Early Help and Preventative Services. This includes: Children’s Centres; Integrated 0-11 Services; Kent Integrated Adolescent Support Service; Youth Justice; the Troubled Families Programme; the Common Assessment Framework; and integration of Commissioned Health Services for Children and Young people. It is headed up by Florence Kroll, who has a rich background and experience in other Local Authorities. On an irrelevant but fascinating note, she identifies on the internet her remarkable family background, being the daughter of Una Kroll, a pioneering advocate for sexual equality: brought up in Paris, Latvia and London; nun, missionary, qualified doctor, a leader of the campaign for women priests, and ordained priest in the Church of Wales before women priests were admitted to the CofE, whose autobiography was published last month. 

Private Finance Initiative and academisation 

Where the Department for Education wants a school to become an academy, because of poor performance or OFSTED failure, it appoints a broker to oversee the process, who is paid a considerable commission by the DfE for success, increasing the pressure to change. Of course, with 72% of Kent secondary schools now academies or on the way to convert, the task of School Improvement by KCC has shrunk accordingly and, although KCC still has a responsibility for standards in academies, this is not easy to implement. 

The academisation of schools whose premises were built under PFI is immensely complex and controversial. I have covered the convoluted proceedings for the first to convert in Kent, Swan Valley School, in previous articles. I have now seen correspondence from the Director of Education dating back to October 2012 that states: “We gave way on Swan Valley, so as not to hold up the conversion process any longer and aid the school’s recovery by supporting its incorporation into the Hayesbrook alliance of schools”. Three weeks later, Nigel Jones, head of Swan Valley, who had been steadily turning the school round, was unceremoniously  dumped by KCC and replaced by an appointee from the Brook Trust. The school eventually became an academy in November 2013, with KCC accepting the significant costs of supporting the PFI contract for the remainder of the contract without any compensating income from Government. Many other Local Authorities have refused to allow such schools to become academies. I highlighted  the issues facing Kent schools last year, attracting considerable media attention. The Swan Valley PFI contract had been signed in 2001 and the academy conversion requires the Local Authority  to find some £30 million additionally over the remaining thirteen years, this to be taken from the budget for those schools remaining with the county.

The North School, then a popular and heavily oversubscribed school in Ashford, sought to become a stand-alone converter academy in 2010, the first of the main group of PFI schools to do so. Unbeknown to the school, it became the touchstone for a complex legal and financial argument over who was going to meet the costs of the 'affordability gap'. This log jam also cost the general schools budget a considerable amount of money through legal costs for KCC, as well as a considerable sum for the school - in addition to the amounts still being paid by KCC for the six PFI schools from 2005, all locked together in a 'joint mortgage'. In 2012, The North unsurprisingly withdrew from any attempts to convert. Seeing the problems at The North, none of the other five PFI schools persevered with the route, leaving Ebbsfleet Academy the only “success”. Even so, the Chief Executive of the Swale Academies Trust, which is now taking over The North, told staff at the end of last term that it was to become a sponsored academy, suggesting that once again the financial problems have been overcome (!?).

 

 

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