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Monday, 07 January 2013 00:00

The Tribulations of Swan Valley School, Swanscombe

Newer article published here

(This article has proved one of the most read news items on this site, currently read by 5135 browsers)

 Swan Valley School’s troubled past history appears to have returned after headteacher Nigel Jones, who has stabilised and slowly rebuilt its reputation since his appointment in 2003, resigned with immediate effect on 19th November 2011.

The Swanscombe secondary school was set to become an academy under the sponsorship of Hayesbrook School, Tonbridge, in September, but the process was suddenly postponed in June although the website, Ebbsfleet Academy, remains in place. The most recent news, posted on that website, and dated 1st June, includes a letter from the Department for Education, alleging that Kent County Council is holding up the school’s transition to academy status because of an issue relating to Private Finance Initiative. See below for more information on the background.

It is now seven months later, there is no progress reported, and it is rumoured that Hayesbrook School is cooling on the proposal because of the financial difficulties.......

Swan Valley is not the only PFI funded school to have an abnormally lengthy delay in converting to an academy. Three of the other six also have long drawn out applications, the other three not having begun the process. The wider issue is disucssed here

In one respect I was in at the birth of Swan Valley School, having been headteacher of a neighbouring school, as its predecessor Swanscombe School suffered from a poor reputation and rapidly declined in numbers to the situation it was no longer viable and so was closed. Already, there was a massive population surge in next door Greenhithe, and so a new school was agreed. I attended an open meeting with the then leader of Kent County Council Education Committee and a senior county officer. Many of us locally had concerns about the location of the new school, as Swanscombe School had been a small school on a site far too small to base a comprehensive school, as designated under Labour leadership of the council, and in any case it was too far away from the centre of the new developments in Greenhithe. I specifically questioned KCC about these issues at the meeting which was given assurances by both the senior officials present that the school would be built in Greenhithe and not Swanscombe. Of course these assurances proved worthless, and the new school was sited on the old campus, which being too small saw Swan Valley have to be built five storeys high, unique I think in Kent and a recipe for future problems.

The following year, I was in discussion with a senior representative of the property company developing Greenhithe, and learned they had been astonished that KCC hadn't required them to provide a new secondary school in the Greenhithe area as part of the planning approvals. Sadly, there are too many other examples of such failures by KCC.

The new school started disastrously with a headteacher who encountered considerable difficulties and left the school with a shocking reputation. It has a considerable majority of boys as there is no boys’ non-selective school in Dartford, and many are forced out of the town to Swanscombe affecting its ethos. It also suffers both by trying to be a comprehensive school in between the two selective areas of Dartford and Gravesend and also, because KCC designated it to be an 11-16 school it has never had a sixth form and so is not taken seriously by many potential students. This also means it will be heavily hit when Leigh Academy sets up the County’s first University Technical School for 14-18 students in Ebbsfleet, which will surely tempt away at 14 many of those students who aspire for qualifications at 18 years old. This is the school that Nigel Jones kept on the road until his dramatic resignation.

One of those who drew this issue to my attention alleged that the new Acting Headteacher arrived in the school whilst Mr Jones was still formally in charge. If this indeed happened he would have been placed in an impossible situation, as his authority would have been so seriously undermined. OFSTED in 2011 noted:  "The headteacher, passionate about obtaining the best for his students, has reflected and consulted carefully on the successes achieved so far and how initiatives that have been less successful could be improved. This has led to an extended senior team that has a sharpened focus and accountability. Staff morale is high and the students are very proud of their school". This comment reflects OFSTED's view of Mr Jones at the previou sinspection in 2009. Sadly, it is evident that some consider this is not enough. 

Swan Valley School was the first new secondary school to be built in Kent since the 1970’s (Meopham school) and in those days, Private Finance Initiative was seen as the solution to fund raising, borrowing money from private companies on the security of the premises, the main drawback being that the money had to be paid back. I suspect this is at the heart of the disagreement between Hayesbrook Academy and KCC. For Paul Carter, Leader of Kent County Council has been quite outspoken on the subject of unfair financial arrangements for academies, and in this case it is likely that KCC would be left with part or all of the outstanding debt for all the PFI schools, although having no income from government to pay it off, another burden on Kent taxpayers.

Sadly, as always, the victims of this debacle are the children of Swanscombe and Greenhithe who appear once again to be getting a poor deal, as a result of mismanagement by too many individuals and organisations.

Last modified on Sunday, 01 November 2015 03:18

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21 comments

  • Comment Link Monday, 16 September 2013 20:13 posted by mrs f

    Good question Louise Goldsmith.. From what ive seen on certain websites Swan Valley Community School doesn't officially close until 28/10/13.. So how is it possible for the school to call itself ebbsfleet Academy and change the uniform and rules and everything else?

  • Comment Link Thursday, 12 September 2013 20:06 posted by Stacey hackett

    The children are not happy with the changes because they don't like to be told what to do, they are out of control and have no respect or values. The new school will make or break them, that's what our kids of today need. Good luck to all the staff. PETER: An interesting concept that schools are there to break children who can;t or won't conform turning them into broken adults who will be an economic and social drain on society for the rest of their lives.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 05 September 2013 20:27 posted by Chelsea

    Why is the website for the new academy going live tomorrow 6th September yet according to the Department for Education Swan valley closes on 31.10.13 ?? are Hayesbrooke still the sponsor ?

  • Comment Link Saturday, 31 August 2013 07:56 posted by Louise Goldsmith

    Can I ask a question please? What happens if swan valley community school does NOT become an academy in September 2013? Can Hayesbrook still sponsor them and can the students still wear the same school uniform?

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 14 August 2013 20:42 posted by mrs f

    It was said that the school had no connection with Quest Academy - The new VP is from there - How is it appropriate that he sends parents an email when he works somewhere else - Is this ethical???

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 14 August 2013 10:05 posted by Simon

    Will hayesbrooke school still be the sponsor of ebbs fleet academy? they are no longer an outstanding school following an ofsted inspection. Why would hayesbrooke allow for miss colwell to lose so many good staff

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 13 August 2013 20:58 posted by Mrs d Goodison

    Omg I cannot believe what is happening at swan valley both my children attended the school my daughter the. 1st year mr jones was there and my son too 5 years later both my children done really well getting excellent grades my son done all his d of e there my daughter is now 24 and in management my son attended college and now has a bt apprenticeship I was on the governing body for many years and left when my son left this school was so up and coming what's happened KCC ? And I say bring back mr jones and mr Kelly it was so better then I just thank god I do not have any children of school age because it sad to say but they would not be attending that school lets hope for swanscombe sake not ebbsfleet it happens sooner rather than later

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 13 August 2013 19:55 posted by sylvia

    my daughter left swan valley age 14 we were happy with the school untill mr jones left. The school has fallen apart in my opinion since then. No one knows why he left, rumours are rife.... All i know is it is the children, especially ones with special needs, who were ripped from the golden group and flung into the stormy waters to sink or swim..... mine sunk. The school has shatterd my daughters self confidence, and hopes and left her afraid and full of regret. The school never helped her with bullying despite assurances they would do so. She attends another school now in a different area, and is finding it hard to believe any school will help her as swan valley destroyed her self worth. In my opinion the new head is useless and more interested in the new uniform than the main point of school THE CHILDREN.... I for one am glad we left i just feel sorry for the good kids still there sep yr 7s who will be disregarded after yr 9.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 07 August 2013 23:33 posted by Richard

    I worked at SV for many years when it was in the worst 40 schools in the country right through to its peak in 09. its such a shame that so many years of hard work by many can be destroyed so quickly. I am still in contact with many who work there and the place is toxic and kids out of control.NJ was a fantastic leader and very passionate about the school, as noted by Ofsted. I feel sorry for all the people who have been affected by this mess. someone at KCC needs to take responsibility.

  • Comment Link Friday, 02 August 2013 22:43 posted by Lara Randle

    Please read Swanscombe Dwellers Facebook page - you will see how unhappy the local community is with the current leadership of the school, including the lack of faith in the Governing Body. +++++ as recently as the last week of term continued to tell staff about her relationship with KCC officials including +++++++, she has refused to meet friends of mine who are parents, is anyone monitoring the reason staff are leaving the school?

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