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……
Ebbsfleet Academy in Swanscombe had its official opening on Thursday 19th September, also attended by local dignitaries. However, there is no Ebbsfleet Academy, rather there is Swan Valley School, which hopes to become an academy on 1st November 2013, after extensive delays, partly brought about by the complexities of converting a school built under the Private Finance Initiative. I understand that unravelling the PFI issues is now the main hold up, but given this is a problem nationally for such schools wishing to convert, it was surely premature to assume that at Swan Valley all would run more smoothly. The Department for Education's school data base now shows Ebbsfleet Academy as a sponsor led academy, proposed start date 1st November, with Swan Valley being billed to close on 31st October.
Interestingly, in media interviews and comments two weeks ago, when I broke the story of how PFI academies would still continue to cost Local Authorities unfair costs after conversion, focused around Swan Valley, no one thought to correct the false information that the school had actually become Ebbsfleet Academy. Hardly surprising as everything about the running of the school gives the same impression.
Why is this of interest, apart from the misleading information? Ever since November when the previous headteacher was deposed, there has been controversy about the running of Swan Valley, and I have had a succession of messages from parents and staff expressing their concerns. Not an enormous number, but more than I have received for any other school in difficulties, and dwelling on the punitive nature of the school ethos or, for its supporters, the strict discipline. A recent example of this is the controversy over the home school agreement, where the school falsely maintained there ws a parental obligation to agree to it. This is accompanied by concerns about poor communication which are obvious even to me, an outsider.
As a result I have monitored developments at the school from a distance......
I have identified a financial scandal relating to academies, with Kent County Council being forced to pay more than £100 million to Private Finance Initiative (PFI) companies who are running schools that have become academies, over the length of their contracts. This is a figure that is likely to rise even further, and perhaps double as more schools convert. Academies are run independently of KCC and fully financed by government, many would say over generously, so it is bizarre that KCC still has to financially support their arrangements. I was interviewed on both Radio Kent and BBC SE about the issues.
None of what follows is a criticism of the schools themselves, who are the innocent parties in this mess.
The PFI money comes out of the pot available to KCC maintained schools, so every school that is not an academy contributes to this totally unjust payment. The size of the pot depends on the number of schools that are not academies and so shrinks every time one converts. However, the sum payable to the PFI companies remains constant (and is index linked) so each school remaining with KCC receives a smaller budget. To take it to the extreme, if all but a few schools became academies, as the government would like, those few would have no budget at all - the total school fund going to meet the PFI bill. This injustice can only increase the pressure on schools to change status, supporting a vicious circle that already operates because of other fixed costs faced by the county.
Paul Carter, Leader of Kent County Council, has argued publicly that government run academies in Kent are funded more generously than schools managed by KCC, placing the latter at a disadvantage. I have uncovered, with the assistance of Kent on Sunday, a further stiff financial penalty imposed on KCC for some schools seeking to become academies. A letter from the Department for Education, posted on the proposed Ebbsfleet Academy website (contained in the only news item on the website!) dated May 2012 states: “We are working with Kent County Council to resolve an issue relating to PFI funding, which the Department for Education is keen to resolve as soon as possible. The Minister recently wrote to the Council, highlighting that holding up the school’s transition to Academy status does not help the Authority’s financial situation and poses risks to students’ interests. We are sure this is not the intention”. As a result, there is currently no new academy, and Swan Valley Community School in Swanscombe has encountered a variety of problems partly caused by the delay, as described in a previous article I wrote.
What this really means is that KCC, which has responsibility for funding the Private Financial Initiative (PFI) contract for the Swan Valley Community school, is expected to still finance it if and when the school passes out of KCC control to central government. This in spite of the fact that as academies are fully funded by government, KCC would receive no income to pay what is called the “affordability gap”.......