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Peter Read

Wednesday, 14 March 2018 11:00

Tax Avoidance by Some Academy Leaders

I suspect that school teachers, who are employees of schools or Academy Trusts aren’t usually in the business of tax avoidance. As a result the following, relating to one of the highest paid leaders of a Kent Academy Trust in the county, caught my eye.

The leader in question has arranged his contributions to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme to be paid in blocks of five months in the scheme, then withdraw for five months, then renew, the pattern to be replicated indefinitely. I am not privy to the rationale for this, but the tax consultant who advised senior leaders of the trust, at cost to the Trust itself, clearly considers this advantageous.

Whilst he is assured this is legal, as to the moral use of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme in a way it is clearly not intended, I leave it to others to judge.

I also wonder how the teachers in the Trust view his actions. Teachers in state schools in England have been subject to a cap on annual pay increases, initially of 0% and then 1%, which has been in place since 2010. There are no tax reduction arrangements for those on the front line, as the gap between their salaries and those of their leaders gets ever wider year on year, as my previous article shows. This manipulation of tax schemes not available to the classroom teacher,  increases the gap even more.

Back in 2014, SchoolsCompany had been advising the predecessor Castle Community College as it tumbled from Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ to ‘Special Measures’ in three years, hardly an endorsement. It was difficult to pin down the history of the company owner, apart from establishing he had been involved in several companies which had folded. I was not alone in being surprised when Government decided SchoolsCompany should take on Goodwin Academy on the basis of it having run three small Pupil Referral Units in Devon for a short period. Although SchoolsCompany expressed its wish to expand its Academy business and there is a shortage of suitable sponsors around, Government has not seen fit to award it any other academy! Instead in 2017, the owner opened six new companies and was awarded a contract to build and run a Nigerian state government college, the Royal Academy for Construction and Fabrication.

Please note: this is a copy of an article published in December 2017, reproduced here in the Newspaper Articles section to explain in answer to questions why there is no more from Kent on Sunday.  

Sadly, Kent on Sunday closed at the end of November 2017 as ‘it was no longer economically viable’.

Of particular interest to me and many browsers of this website was its focus on education as, often in conjunction with myself, it ran many educational stories in depth and conducted important campaigns.  

For KOS has surely been exceptional for a local free paper, in its willingness to provide such detail in its stories and campaigns, being prepared to devote up to three pages of news, analysis and political insight to an issue for the thoughtful reader, rather than go with the fleeting headline for those with a low attention span. Perhaps that has been its downfall but, on the way it has secured many prestigious newspaper awards, being the first free paper to win London and SE Regional Newspaper of the Year, UK Free Weekly Newspaper of the Year (six times) and, most recently in 2014, Regional Free Newspaper of the Year again.....

Saturday, 10 March 2018 20:43

Hartsdown: A Tough Love Academy

 Hartsdown Academy has featured in national and local media after it placed the following job advertisement

Excerpt from Original Hartsdown Job Advert in the Guardian (rapidly replaced but still on the Internet)

What does our Science Department need?
Hartsdown Academy needs a Department Head to rebuild its Science Department.  Results are well below expectations and teaching has been poor. As a result, the attitude of students towards the subject has diminished, resulting in disappointing behaviour for learning. The Department effectively requires special measures.

The advert continues with such selling points as: ‘Margate is on the margins of English society, both culturally and economically – as well as geographically’. As one of Kent’s three ‘Tough Love Academies’, it is difficult to match ‘Hartsdown is a beautifully inclusive school and I am immensely proud of the care the school takes over every single child’ from the advert, with the robust disciplinary action on minor infringements that has attracted bad publicity ever since the headteacher was appointed. This has made the school so unpopular with families, leading to the second lowest proportion of first preferences for admission at any school in the county, and the highest number of children abandoning the school for Elective Home Education. 

Hartsdown Academy

One wonders how the headteacher would describe the remainder of the school’s teaching, which provides by some way the lowest examination performance in Kent across the board. Is science really so much worse than the other subjects? Perhaps instead of condemning his teachers as indeed he has publicly condemned many pupils and their families coming from possibly the most deprived District in Kent, he should reflect and try a different approach.

Table for allocations below has been completed, with more recent information provided.

You will find a parallel Kent article here

The Medway Council Press Release for secondary transfer is the thinnest yet I have seen from the Council on this, or any other subject I can recall. It contains just four facts: 3259 Medway children applied for and were offered places in secondary schools; 91% have been offered a first or second preference school; over 95.5%  were offered one of their preferences; there were 630 applications for Medway school places from children outside Medway. That is it! UPDATE: I have now obtained the full data through an FOI request and inserted it below. I can see no reason why the Council has chosen to hide it.  

However, there is also a bizarre footnote on a completely different matter, considered below. 

The table below compares my extrapolation of these numbers with outcomes in previous years. There is also initial advice on what to do if you have not received the school of your choice at the foot of the article on what to do if you have not been offered the school of your choice. This begins as always with my Corporal Jones mantra, do NOTHING in panic! You may regret it. There is no quick fix. 

Both of the quoted percentages in the Press Release were identical to those in 2017, both a significant fall on 2016, at 93.7% and 97.4% respectively.For 2017 offers, first and second preferences allocated were separated, so one can guess the proportion of first preferences has fallen this year as Medway Council typically tries to fudge its figures. No mention of, or regret about, the unfortunate 147 children with no school of their choice. 

The cohort size has increased by just 85 children, with the 4.5% who have been given no school of their choice, at approximately 147, five up on 2017.

Why is the Council so afraid of providing information to its residents?

You will find a parallel Medway article here.

Several updates below, including grammar issues for boys in Longfield, Hartley, NAG, etc. Also look at my response to comment, below. Grammar places for boys in Whitstable, Herne Bay also looking an issue. 

Kent secondary school allocations have been sent out today for those registered to receive by email and should arrive tomorrow by post for all (weather permitting).

17,442 Kent children applied for places in schools, 745 more than in 2017, with 79.6% of them being offered their first choice. This is the lowest percentage for at least five years, but just 0.8% down on last year. 765 children been given none of their four choices, at 4.4% of the total, again the highest proportion for at least five years, and well up on last year’s 633. I know that a number of additional school places have been created at pinch points across the county, notably Tunbridge Wells, but I am already hearing of some very difficult situations for some of the children with no school of their choice.

In spite of another large increase in out of county applications to Kent schools, up 545 to 3,289, just 818 were offered places, only eight more than in 2017. This will have been partially balanced by around 500 going to schools outside Kent.

You will find more information, including a look at some of the pressure points, together with the tables of outcomes below. You will also find required scores for super-selective schools as these are confirmed (all information welcomed), and initial advice at the foot of the article on what to do if you have not been offered the school of your choice. This begins as always with my Corporal Jones mantra, do NOTHING in panic! You may regret it. There is no quick fix. 

There is also a link to the limited advice service I now offer. 

 The Brook Learning Trust runs three schools, Ebbsfleet Academy, Hayesbrook School in Tonbridge, and High Weald Academy in Cranbrook and appears to be in serious trouble, both financially and in terms of the standing of all of its three schools. 

Ebbsfleet 1       High Weald 1    Hayesbrook 2
I monitor a number of factors that indicate how a school supports its students and how it stands in its locality. These include: pupil vacancy rates in year Seven; popularity of schools expressed through first preferences when making applications; percentage drop out rates from the school for all reasons; and proportion of pupils leaving for Elective Home Education; together with academic performance. These three schools are each amongst the worst in the county on four in the case of Hayesbrook or all five of the first five measures for the other two schools. I consider that they can therefore be regarded as generally, if not academically, failing. These common themes across the Trust’s schools suggest the problem starts with the ethos and standards set by the Trust.

The situation at High Weald Academy is especially dire, as government is proposing a multi-million pound premises investment into this school which appears to have no future under the Trust.

I look below at the factors affecting each school and the Trust as a whole. I now have data showing a further fall in first choice applications for each school for Year Seven admission in September 2018, which will surely see the Trust heading for insolvency and for each school immense financial difficulty in providing an acceptable level of education. 

A Freedom of Information Request to the Department for Education has discovered that three grammar schools have made enquiries about opening possible annexes in the past year, one of which is the mixed Barton Court Grammar in Canterbury.

Barton Court

With the new Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds signalling his ‘enthusiastic’ support for grammar and faith school expansion, this now looks very much on the agenda.

I have followed the Barton Court proposals closely and commented on them for some years,  proposals which date back to the 1980’s when KCC planned to move the whole school to the coast. A satellite provision in Herne Bay was proposed in 2013, followed by a proposal to shift the whole school, which was dropped in the face of opposition by parents.

In the case of Faith Schools, the proposition is to remove the current requirement to remove the 50% maximum bar on faith children being removed. The Roman Catholic Church is currently refusing to sponsor new Free Schools whilst it is in place and it may be that Mr Hinds, a Catholic himself, has a different take on the consequent issues. 

Update: Shortly after I published this article, the national BBC led with the same issue on its website, although amazingly there has been no local media interest at all. Is it that this is not of interest as it is what people expect? 

The headteacher of The Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, a moderately performing single school academy, was paid £210,000 in 2016-17 making her the highest paid academy head or Chief Executive in Kent and Medway. This is an increase of 35% over the past three years after what can only be described as an irresponsible series of decisions by Governors, bringing the whole process into disrepute, and undermining the credibility of the very real financial crisis in schools, as explained below. By contrast the Principal of Homewood School, the largest secondary school in the county, had a salary of just £110,000 last year, one of majority of secondary heads around or below £100,000.


After Knole the next two highest paid heads are the Principals of Leigh Academy and Wilmington Academy, both part of the Leigh Academy Trust, who each received £200,000 in remuneration, including their roles as Directors of the Trust. They were followed by the CEOs of two of Kent’s largest Academy Trusts, both responsible for more than a dozen primary and secondary schools: Swale AT and Leigh AT at £190,000 and £180,000 respectively.

Grammar School Academy Headteachers are generally paid from around £85,000 to £110,000 annually, with Dartford Grammar School, the largest and most oversubscribed grammar school in the county on the latter sum. Highest paid Grammar School Head is at Rainham Mark Grammar, Medway. with £155,000 (£90,000 for HT salary, £65,000 for Academy Trust CEO), followed by Barton Court, Canterbury, at £125,000 (also a Trust CEO).

At primary level the previous highest earner, the Head of Meopham Community Academy, has now retired from his £150,000 salary post, his replacement being employed at less than half of that rate. The highest paid heads of schools or multi academy trusts I have found this time round are the same two single standing academies as previously: The Academy of Woodlands in Gillingham, £105,000 in 2015-16, and St Stephen’s Academy, a Junior school in Canterbury on, the same figure for 2016-17.

I look more closely at the Knole situation, and that of other high paying academies below. 

Medway Council has once again failed its children, this time the most vulnerable, as confirmed by a scathing Ofsted Report on its ‘services’ to children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities, published this week. The report concludes ‘Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) has determined that a Written Statement of Action is required because of significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice’. I think that is putting it politely. There are strengths identified; it just happens that all these appear to be down to the health service and not education.

Concerns centre about chaotic management of the ‘Service’, resulting in failure to take necessary action. This can be seen from the following quotes: ’Medway’s education and service leaders do not share one vision and strategy for SEN and/or disabilitiesNo arrangements are in place to ensure effective joint oversight and clear lines of accountabilityLittle progress has been made in addressing several of the pressing priorities for improvement identified as far back as 2012Leaders’ understanding of what has and has not improved in the meantime is limited. I could have chosen many others.


'The collaborative work between professionals and children and their families to plan services and meet individual needs, known as co-production, is weak at both a strategic and individual level' This criticism is underpinned by the heavy criticism of the implementation of Education and Health Care Plans for children with the greatest needs, which are at the heart of Departmental work, and ‘A considerable number of parents shared concerns with inspectors that the needs of their children are not being identified and met sufficiently well’.

There is of course reference to Medway's record exclusion rates: ‘Although improving, rates of permanent and fixed-term exclusion are still notably higher for pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities in Medway than for similar pupils nationally, as it is for all pupils. Lack of specialist provision has brought serious consequences for pupils with severe SEN or disabilities travelling out of Medway daily on long and very expensive journeys.  

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