Seven new primary school academy proposals; compulsory academisation; two new secondary Free Schools announced on site of Chaucer Technology College and in Thanet; academy takeovers of Community College Whitstable and the Charles Dickens School, Broadstairs; plans unveiled for mixed Sixth Form at Sevenoaks Annex; Hoo Peninsula to become first local area to become academies only, creating a squeeze on secondary school options; failure of Medway’s first Free School - Inspire Special Free School, and other sponsors; proposed new primary academy or free school in Paddock Wood; update on Whitehill Primary School – it has been a busy period…..
Proposed new Academies
Whilst there were no new academies opened in March, four new primary schools applied to become Converter Academies, Priory Fields and St Martin’s, both in Dover, along with Hoo St Werburgh and Walderslade in Medway. In addition, the following schools are all to become Sponsored Academies: St Nicholas CofE Primary, New Romney (Diocese of Canterbury) and Barming Primary, Maidstone (Allington Primary Schools Academy Trust) – both in Special Measures; together with Cedar Primary School, Strood (Thinking Schools Academy Trust), which has also had a troubled past.
I have written a brief article on the proposals separately, but there is so much written about the foolish nature of the central government takeover of schools that I have little else to add here. The one point I would make is that whilst I have always strongly believed in the principle of good local management of provision to ensure that all children get a decent education, what a tragedy it is that our children have been let down so badly by these same LAs, playing into the hands of government who have, for reasons of their own, chosen this politically fraught time to introduce the biggest shake up in education structure since the Butler Act of 1944. However, the OFSTED failure of Inspire Special Free School in Chatham, Medway’s first Free School acts as a dire warning of the dangers of the proposal, balanced by the problems of KCC maintained schools Community College Whitstable and Charles Dickens in Broadstairs, below, and too many Medway primary schools.
The Mystery of the Maidstone School of Science and Technology, and other proposed new schools
The plan confirms that the new secondary six form entry Maidstone School of Science and Technology is to open in September 2017. However, as reported in my February article, there has still been no update to the website for seven months now, no reply to my enquiry, and no statement on progress or lack of it from the sponsor, Valley Invicta Academy Trust, or from KCC. Without formal approvals, construction time must be getting very tight and the whole project may have to be delayed a year. The Commissioning Plan also confirms the proposal to open new free schools or academies in Ebbsfleet for September 2018, and on the closed Chaucer Technology College site and in Thanet for 2019, although these will all be tied to progress in building development.
Maintained Secondary Schools, including Community College Whitstable and the Charles Dickens School, Broadstairs
The troubles at these two schools undermine the claim that KCC can deal with its own remaining 29 secondary schools which are as follows:
First take out the nine county schools who would have great difficulty converting to academies, because of continued disagreement over who picks up the bill for expensive PFI contracts, several of whom have tried unsuccessfully to start out on the route to conversion (here and previously): Aylesford, Holmesdale; Hugh Christie; The North, Northfleet Technology, Royal Harbour Academy, St John’s, St George’s Broadstairs, Thamesview. Then there are the two schools in process of converting: Simon Langton Girls Grammar (after getting a complete rebuild approved through KCC); and St Edmund's Catholic.
This leaves nine grammar schools and eight non-selective schools, the grammars being: Dover Boys and Girls; The Judd; Maidstone Boys and Girls; Tunbridge Wells Boys and Girls; Dartford Girls and Simon Langton Boys.
Of the non-selectives, Archbishops and Northfleet Girls are doing well, as are Dartford College of Science and Technology and Malling, although the last two have both recovered from Special Measures.
That leaves Swadelands (Special Measures), subsequently taken over by Valley Invicta Trust, Charles Dickens (just out of Special Measures, superhead standing down), to be taken over by Barton Court Grammar, Pent Valley (poor results and financial difficulties), closing this summer, and Community College Whitstable (poor results) to be taken over by Swale Academies Trust which also runs The North (recently in Special Measures, above).
You will find a blog describing the meeting to woo parents of CCW by Swale Academies Trust here. It turns out that the headteacher, reportedly on 'gardening leave' following poor GCSE results, was actually suspended by KCC and is now suing KCC in the High Court following claims that the Authority breached her terms of employment!
The Trust also runs The North School in Ashford where GCSE results are down to 25% from 42% in the two years since it took over, and Pent Valley School, closing this summer. It also ran Chaucer Technology College until it closed, but Meopham School and Sittingbourne Community College have both improved in standards since they were taken over. Like many Academy Trusts, Swale Academies are associated with profit making private companies run by Directors of the Trust, in this case Alan Barham Support Services Ltd. and Richard Slee Ltd.
Charles Dickens School in Broadstairs has had a rocky road since being placed into Special Measures in September 2014. It was then run by Coastal Academies Trust (CAT). After two positive OFSTED Monitoring Inspections, KCC then passed the school over to the care of St George’s CofE, its nearest competitor school in Broadstairs, in September 2015. An OFSTED Monitoring Inspection in December 2015 reported that this had happened because CAT had failed to improve standards, but I am now informed the transfer happened because the Education Funding Agency responsible for academies refused to allow CAT to run both the Royal Harbour Academy and Charles Dickens who would also be in competition. Life gets complicated! However, this also proved an unfortunate move as, according to a letter posted on the school website in March, a review of finances has found "in recent weeks" that "the School faces significant financial pressures which require immediate and decisive action to secure the long term future of The Charles Dickens School". The situation is now so serious that St George's has decided to pull out of the arrangement, with KCC suspending the delegated budget, a rare step, and taking over direct financial management. What the immediate and decisive action to secure the long term future will be is no doubt and rightly a matter of great concern to the families of children at the school. One important step is the proposed cessation of Sixth Form courses at Charles Dickens, which of course favours St. George's! There remain many questions unanswered, including: asking why no one at KCC took action on this dire situation before, so it has been left to St George's to notice last month; how long it has been allowed to continue; or the one that never gets answered, who takes responsibility for the debacle? Interestingly not one of the five OFSTED inspection reports since the school went into Special Measures in September 2014, most recently in December 2015, even suggests there is a financial problem. It is now proposed, as is widely known in the profession, that Charles Dickens is to be taken over by Barton Court Grammar School in Canterbury in its first venture into running other schools, presumably with the intent of taking it on as a Sponsored Academy. Interestingly, Charles Dickens remains one of three Thanet schools heavily oversubscribed with first choices, as families try and avoid the two least popular alternatives.
In what is likely to be a very popular choice, the plans for the Sevenoaks Annexe, on course to open in September 2017, are being expanded to provide a mixed Sixth Form from September 2018 onward, although I would not be astonished if this was brought forward to 2017 as well. Interestingly for those interested in the convoluted politics of the scheme, the announcement was delayed until after the three month period for lodging objections had passed. The plan will double the capacity of the Weald of Kent Sixth Form from 200 to 400 and cause considerable ripples in West Kent. Currently the academic entrance bar for sixth form provision in the area is set high, reflecting the limited number of places, and each year I get enquiries especially from parents of boys who although well qualified are unable to access suitable courses. I would imagine that Knole Academy is very unhappy with the news, which will place its own Sixth Form numbers under considerable pressure, and for the new Trinity Free School which, with its very small intake of 120 will surely find it difficult to run A Level courses at all when its students start to arrive at Sixth Form age. Tunbridge Wells Boys Grammar, with a high number of boys travelling from Sevenoaks, will surely also lose a significant number of boys, and the two TW church schools may be affected as well. The Annexe will also be a considerable attraction to high fliers from the local non-selectives in Tonbridge, Paddock Wood and Swanley, weakening those schools as well.
Hoo Peninsula and reduction in Opportunity in Medway.
The decision by the Hoo St Werburgh Primary School and Marlbough Centre, Interim Executive Headteacher Frank Eagles in yet another role in a long and widely varied career who also still runs an Educational Consultancy, to convert to become an academy will leave the Hoo Peninsula with not a single school connected with Medway Council. I have no doubt this is partially a consequence of the failure of the Council to offer an adequate service to its schools. More worrying is the reduction in opportunity for Medway children with an increasing number of Sponsored Primary Academies being linked for admission priority to certain secondary schools:
Williamson Trust Secondary Schools – Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School and Hundred of Hoo Academy: priority given to children on the Hoo Peninsula attending Stoke Community School, High Halstow Primary School, Allhallows Primary Academy, St James Church of England Primary School and the Hundred of Hoo Academy Primary phase, along with Elaine Primary and siblings at Trust Schools.
The Thinking Schools Academy Trust sees the Holcombe Grammar School (new name of Chatham Grammar School for Boys from September) giving priority to boys and girls at Trust Schools: All Faiths Community Primary School, Gordon Junior School, New Horizons Children’s Academy, and siblings from all Trust schools, including Rochester Grammar and Victory Academy. However, The Rochester Grammar School gives no priority, recruiting solely on high scores, as does Rainham Mark Grammar School for Boys.
Staying with Grammar Schools, Fort Pitt Grammar gives priority to children attending or with siblings at schools in the Trust, which includes: Thomas Aveling School, Robert Napier School, & Phoenix Junior Academy but also, after siblings, children of staff and those living within 2 miles, giving priority to those living on the Hoo Peninsula or Cuxton. Thomas Aveling, although also considerably oversubscribed, places no such limits.
In other words, parents ambitious for their children to join grammar schools need now to consider the implications of which primary school to send their child to so for example as Holcombe Grammar fills up with girls, the only choice for a Hoo boy to get to grammar may be to attend a Williamson Trust School. Except of course that as nearly all Medway primary schools are full – there is no choice for most!
Inspire Free School(new name from April 1st) and other academy sponsorship thoughts.
Following the OFSTED failure of the Inspire Special Free School, it has been taken over by new sponsors with the now traditional make-over of new school uniform (free of charge), school logo and school name.
The sponsors are the Parallel Learning Trust, described by government as a strong new sponsor. Although this may in the end turn out to be the case, there is at present no clear evidence for the claim, the Trust having less than two years’ experience of running two small Pupil Referral Units that have not yet been assessed by OFSTED. In its desperation to get new Multi-Academy Trusts off the ground, government certainly appears to be putting its neck out approving untried groups to be government sponsors, although the word ‘sponsor’ which once meant having to invest something appears too often now to mean taking something out. Elsewhere in Kent/Medway another academy sponsor has come forward, reportedly to have bashfully had their name deleted from the Google search engine, although enquiries elsewhere suggest the main claim to fame having been deleted is that the sponsor ran several consultancies which were subsequently dissolved. Still, clearly in government’s eyes, a better bet than the Local Authority! Also in this case, as noted previously, the important thing is to have an associated profit making service company to work alongside the academy.
New Academy or Free School Proposed for Paddock Wood
With Local Authorities unable to set up new schools, the Tenax Schools Trust led by Bennett Memorial School in Tunbridge Wells is proposing to run a new joint Church of England and Methodist Primary School in Paddock Wood in partnership with St Andrew’s Church from 2018. It is unclear yet whether this will be an academy or Free School. The Tenax Trust is already in process of taking over nearby Brenchley and Matfield Primary School. You will find further details here. There is already one primary school in Paddock Wood, but apparently this proposal is to meet growth via a large expansion of housing in the area over the next few years; another welcome departure from previous years with too many cases of schools following housing. Bennett Memorial is also to run the new Bishop Chavasse Primary School in Tonbridge, a church Free School whose opening has recently been put back to September 2017, because of difficulties over the site purchase.
New Headteacher for Whitehill Primary School
Whitehill Primary, one of the most controversial academies in the county in recent years, amidst plenty of competition, whose headteacher was granted leave of absence in October, has quietly appointed a new permanent headteacher according to the signboard outside the school, confirming the interim head in post, previously Associate Headteacher of Gravesend Grammar School, with which it is federated. Multi-Academy Trusts appear to be able to ignore government regulations about putting headships out to open competition, with some disastrous outcomes, although in this case the appointment appears to have been widely welcomed after a period when the new head has successfully carried out a very tough job of restoring the school's disastrous state of affairs created by previous management and governance.
Although Whitehill Primary now appears to have settled down to be a normal happy primary school, with the school motto and joined hands on the signboard now reflecting a reality, I understand this is not yet the end of the story for the previous headteacher!