Updated with more Medway Academy news below, 7 September
Although there has been just one new converter academy and five sponsored academies in the past five months from Kent and one from Medway, there are six new academy proposals in Kent and five in Medway working through. Most of the new or proposed sponsored academies have a failed OFSTED in the last few years, academisation wiping out any previous OFSTED Grade and securing freedom from a fresh Inspection for three years – almost an incentive in itself for some schools, and surely a great relief for the two Local Authorities as their statistics improve overnight.
There are also five Free School proposals, some already approved for 2017 opening as the government Free School programme gathers pace, with three of the proposals coming from religious groups as, in Kent as well as elsewhere, faith schools are seeing their biggest expansion in numbers for decades.
This article also looks at Academy matters in Canterbury, Deal, Folkestone, Gravesham, Maidstone, Medway, and Sevenoaks, and major new developments in the Lilac Sky scandal.
You will find a full list of Academies, Academy Groups, Free Schools and University Technical Colleges elsewhere on this website; together with my previous article on Academy and Free School News (the delay explained by my commitments elsewhere in recent months).
Further details on all these items below…..
New Academies, and Free School Proposals
Brenchley and Matfield Cof E Primary, has converted and joined the Tenax School Trust, the rather peculiar name given to the Trust led by Bennett Memorial Diocesan School. They should be joined by the new Bishop Chavasse Free School due to open in September 2017 in Tonbridge and another new church Free School, now approved, St Andrew’s Primary School, in Paddock Wood for 2018.
Two Catholic schools, St Edmund’s secondary in Dover and St Edward’s primary in Sheerness, have both become Sponsored Academies in the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership, now one of the largest Academy Groups in Kent.
Westgate Primary in Dartford has also been Sponsored and is now part of the Cygnus Academies Trust, led by Manor Community School in Swanscombe. Cygnus, another of the growing range of unusual names is a constellation of stars, so there is a line of thought here, with a governor who is well known to readers of this website.
St Nicholas CofE Primary in New Romney is being sponsored by the Diocese of Canterbury Trust, and Barming Primary by the Allington Primary Academy Trust.
In Medway, the Cedar Children’s Academy has been taken over by the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, whose Chief Executive has recently left the school in controversial circumstances (see previous article).
New Proposals for Academies (Further Free Schools below)
New converter applications from: Dartford Grammar School for Girls and Leybourne SS Peter & Paul, CofE, VA Primary Maidstone. In Medway there are: Deanwood Primary; Hoo St Werburgh & Marlborough Centre; Riverside Primary; Thames View Primary; and The Pilgrim School.
Three struggling secondary schools are all to become Sponsored Academies: The Charles Dickens School in Broadstairs is now to be sponsored by Barton Court Grammar School; Swadelands School, Maidstone, by the Valley Invicta Academies Trust; and Whitstable Community College, by Swale Academies Trust. Also Brenzett CofE Primary (Diocese of Canterbury). None in Medway.
Plenty of other academy news, mainly featured elsewhere in these pages, some in my recent article on school Sixth Forms some certainly headed up by the scandal of the Lilac Sky Schools Academies Trust (LSSAT).
Lilac Sky Academies Trust
As I was writing this article, more important revelations about the Lilac Sky scandal were coming to light, which I have subsequently published. The full story up to this latest article was set out in three previous ones here (I recommend that you start at the beginning and work through chronologically), but the bottom line is that the Trust was instructed to disassociate itself from two profit making companies: Lilac Schools Outstanding Education Services Ltd (LSOES), and Lilac Sky Schools Ltd, from April 1st 2015, and in July 2016 all its academies were reallocated to other Trusts, all transfers to be completed by Christmas this year, although the Trust’s own statements dissimulated this information. The reasons for the instruction have now come to light in a Revised Set of Accounts, where the new Trustees disassociate themselves from what has gone before and castigate the previous financial arrangements.
The Lilac Sky website still carries a November 2015 announcement that Lilac Sky has been awarded a contract to supply Specialist Advisers to support the RSC in, amongst other things: “securing suitable sponsorship solutions for relevant maintained schools”. Must have come in very handy in collecting academies, but also when the RSC instructed Lilac Sky in July 2016 to dispose of all their academies! Are they still there?
Barton Court Grammar school has now taken over Charles Dickens School and will apply for it to become a Sponsored Academy. It is also one of two bidders to open a new five form entry Free School, on the site of the old Chaucer Technology College, next door. The second bidder is Christ Church University, with its strong Education Faculty and is Sponsor of Dover Christ Church Academy.
Simon Langton Girls Grammar has seen its Academy Order, an instruction to proceed to academy status, rescinded by the Regional Schools Commissioner following strong representations by a parent group that the governors’ procedure to bring about the change was against the rules. This is only the second time that an RSC has taken such action, so congratulations to the Action Group on their success. You will find my most recent article here. Meanwhile KCC’s Independent Inquiry into the actions of Headteacher and Governors over the proposal to academise is continuing.
Amongst the many strange new academy names invented in recent years, ‘SchoolsCompany the Goodwin Academy’ the new name for Castle Community College is surely the most cumbersome and peculiar. Presumably the purpose behind the name change is to advertise SchoolsCompany, a profit making organisation, a tactic becoming increasingly popular in some circles.The Company makes much of its experience in running four other schools before ‘acquiring’ (its term), the previously named Castle Community College on 1st July, those schools actually being four Pupil Referral Units in Devon, so nothing mainstream. The Interim Principal, who is leaving the school was described as “irreplaceable” by the Trust CEO, which gives him a challenge, an Acting Principal taking over in September. I have written a number of times recently, most recently here, about Castle Community College which plunged from Outstanding to Special Measures in just three years under the guidance of Lilac Sky, the Principal going on from this ‘success’ to be a LSSAT Director taking on leadership of various schools run by the Trust. The school will benefit from new single site premises to open in September 2017.
Turner Schools Trust, a new Academy Trust formed in April, is taking over Morehall Primary Academy and Martello Grove Academy in Folkestone, in January, from Lilac Sky. The new buildings for Martello Grove Academy have been delayed by the transition: “Kent County Council said the building would have been finished in time, but was told it was not necessary as the transition from Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust to Turner Schools continues. KCC area education officer David Adams said: ‘Due to changes at Lilac Sky Academy Trust, they have decided to delay the move for pupils into the school building.’”. “Dr Jo Saxton, chief executive of Turner Schools, said: ‘We are working closely with both schools and Lilac Sky to ensure the transition is a seamless one’." Well perhaps not quite!
It is also the only apparent bidder to replace Pent Valley School also in Folkestone, which closed last month, with a new Free School to specialise in Modern Foreign Languages, for September 2018. It is planned to link up with Morehall Primary Academy to provide an all-through academy. One worrying indicator is its false claim in order to press the case, that there are just six state educated students in Shepway studied languages beyond GCSE. With The Harvey Grammar just down the road having 12 students studying A or AS language in the year just completed, with no doubt a similar number at Folkestone School for Girls.
Hope Community School, Northfleet, is a new two form entry primary Free School, now approved by government, to open in September 2017. It is to be run by New Generations School Trust, which currently runs a small primary Free School in Sidcup, whose Chair is also a leader of the Pioneer Network of Churches: “a UK based ‘apostolic’ movement of churches and ministries”. As with so many such organisations, background details are scarce, especially on the website, although Trust Policies “are available on request!”. As a school with a Christian designation “20% of school places will be allocated to children from faith backgrounds if we are oversubscribed.
Still no further news of Maidstone School of Science and Technology, except that it is now approved by Government to be a six form entry Free secondary school. I don’t think the single statement about the school, has been updated for over a year.
I have now learned that KCC were keen for a new Primary Free School to be set up on the Newnham Court site near the A249 in north east Maidstone, the biggest pressure point for primary education in Maidstone. However, the Regional Schools Commissioner decided this was too expensive a site, a new academy, Langley Park Primary School in the south east receiving priority. As a result, too many children in the former area around Grove Green have not been offered any of their choice of schools, but sent several miles to the undersubscribed Langley Park. This perhaps is as a result of lack of local knowledge by the RSC, in spite of all his advisers noted above.
Holcombe Grammar School’s (previously Chatham Grammar School for Boys) application to become co-educational and accept girls and boys into Year 7 from September 2017 is still under review by the DFE. This is leaving it very late, as the admission process for September 2017 is already open. The school states that the decision is imminent which must certainly be true, but has not been an easy one, made more difficult by the sudden departure of the CEO of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust which runs CGSB. As one of the Headteacher Advisors to the Regional Schools Commissioner, central to the decision, her departure may have altered the balance of probability.
The proposal is strongly opposed by Chatham Grammar School for Girls and most other Medway secondary schools. Chatham Girls would be under severe pressure of numbers if the proposal were approved and so has joined with Brompton Academy to come under the auspices of the University of Kent. No mention of this on a very out of date website - no newsletters after 2014; introduction from previous headteacher, now retired, so no idea of new arrangements, etc.
Chatham Grammar School for Boys
The application of Chatham Grammar School to become a mixed school from the age of eleven has been turned down by government. In a letter to parents, the new Principal, Juliet Diaz writes:
“Unfortunately the Secretary of State for Education has decided to decline our request. As you know, we applied on the basis that it would serve the needs of all students in the local area, including your own children, and be in their best interests. There was much support for our proposal, especially from those who wanted the choice of sending their sons and daughters to a co-ed grammar school in the local area. We had also made provision to ensure that the potential number of selective places available for boys would not be reduced. Overwhelmingly, we believe that admitting girls to the school remains an exciting proposition that would be of real benefit to young people in our community. The Secretary of State’s decision is therefore disappointing, and we are currently considering our next steps towards achieving this”.
We are not told the reasons for the government decision but, in spite of the school’s protestations, the proposal was highly controversial. Indeed, the claim that there was much support for it flies in the face of strong objection from the other Medway secondary schools, especially Chatham Grammar School for Girls, whose very future was threatened by the plan.
This leaves the school with a change of name in January 2017, to 'Holcombe Grammar School', introduced solely to remove the 'Boys' nomenclature.
My most recent article on the subject, back in January, highlighted Medway Council’s refusal to share its views, causing considerable speculation that it wasn’t prepared to make a stand against a plan that would surely have led to the closure of neighbouring Chatham Grammar School for Girls. The main arguments against the proposal are set out in my initial article, written last December, an indication of how long this has been hanging about, almost to the point that applications for 2017 entry open in the next few weeks.
Some may think that the plan stood a much better chance when Denise Shepherd was Chief Executive of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust which runs Chatham Grammar school. For she is or was one of the small group of Headteachers who advises the Regional Schools Commissioner who will have made this decision, and her departure from the Trust under a cloud will certainly have weakened her influence, although she is recorded as not having a part in the decision making on this issue.
One can only speculate what the Trust’s next steps would be towards achieving their aim, as they clearly still intend, for we now live in what is increasingly becoming an ungovernable education provision, with academies serving their own interests rather than that of their local community.
Chatham Grammar School for Girls
In my previous article on Academy News, I reported that Chatham Grammar School for Girls had joined Brompton Academy, sponsored by the University of Kent, to also come under the auspices of the University. Now comes news that a new Interim Headteacher has been appointed, Mr Philip Storey, whose substantive post is Vice Principal at Brompton Academy, one of the most oversubscribed schools in Kent and Medway.
The school did advertise for a new headteacher following the announcement of the retirement of Mrs Probin, but not unsurprisingly given the uncertain future of the school caused by the ambition of Chatham Boys, clearly were unable to appoint. Now this has been resolved, and with rising rolls in Medway, they may well have better fortune next time round.
Strood Academy, currently sponsored by the multi site University of Creative Arts including a base in Rochester, is planning to join the Leigh Academy Trust and presumably break its UCA link.
A statement on the Academy website visualises Strood Academy becoming the lead school in a Medway ‘hub’ of academies, similar to the role that Mascalls School in Paddock Wood, also in the Leigh group, enjoys with a group of Maidstone primary schools. This fits in well with the apparent policy of Medway Council, as set out to local primary school headteachers, to encourage all its primary schools to become academies, and may well offer an attractive way forward for several.
The new Weald of Kent Grammar School Annexe in Sevenoaks is under construction now, and will be open to admit 90 girls in September, expanding to nine forms of entry across the two sites. The Chairman of Governors has made clear he is looking to admit boys in addition for September 2018 and, with changes in government attitude towards grammar schools I would have thought stands a good chance of achieving his target.