Kent County Council is quietly resolving the problem of low performing primary schools by handing them over to sponsors, mainly large academy trusts, in a dramatic change to the face of Kent education.
A classic example is Dame Janet Community Infant School in Ramsgate, placed in Special Measures by OFSTED in January. A recent OFSTED inspection is highly critical describing progress as inadequate. KCC ought to have poured in resources to bring it back on track; instead OFSTED considers that KCC’s Statement of Action has not had an impact on bringing about improvement. Never mind, the Report states that KCC is developing plans to change the status of the school, and it will become an academy sponsored by Kemnal Academies Trust operating out of Sidcup. The Trust is also acquiring five other Thanet primary schools to add to its current stable of five Kent and Medway schools. By December the Trust will comprise 32 primary and secondary academies across the South East of England.
There is a full list of Kent and Medway academies and those currently converting here.
The other major trusts operating in Kent are: Academies Enterprise Trust which has acquired four low performing primary schools in Maidstone, three having been failed by OFSTED. It has been heavily involved in running the failing Marlowe Academy in Ramsgate and has a total of 29 academies from Essex to the Isle of Wight. Leigh Academies Trust runs three secondary, one special and three primary schools, including the failing York Road Junior School. It plans to take over another three schools and is sponsoring Kent’s first University Technical College. Swale Academy Trust runs two local secondary schools and two primary schools, and is taking over the failing Meopham School. My favourite is the Village Federation of three small primary academies centred on Selling CofE Primary near Faversham.
The first tranche of primary schools to become academies were all high performing, with several now taking over weaker schools including Pilgrims Way Primary in Canterbury and Chantry Primary in Gravesend, both in Special Measure. Other models are: Linden Grove Primary in Ashford (Special Measures) merged with The John Wallis CofE Academy Trust to form an all through 4-18 academy; and Sherwood Park Community Primary in Tunbridge Wells taken over by Temple Grove Schools Trust which currently includes the primary phase of three SE London all through academies.
There are now 67 Kent secondary schools out of 101 in progress or already having converted to academies, together with 57 Kent Primary Schools and one Kent Special school. Sadly amongst these there are still examples of schools where parents do not know what the future holds, for there is no obligation to consult on the changes.
Kent primary schools have consistently performed below national averages, and Kent is under pressure to raise standards. However, with one in every seven Kent primaries on their way to becoming academies, KCC has now lost control of most of its lowest performing schools with more to follow, and will have no influence on these although it remains responsible for standards. Is it that the academy trusts have an ability to raise standards where KCC has failed or, when the majority of schools are academies and the resource advantages have vanished, will the myth be exposed as we can already see growing numbers of failing academies. One final thought. Encouragingly, using the Kent Challenge programme, KCC has seen its Key Stage 2 results reach their highest ever level with 77% of children achieving Level 4 in both English and maths, a dramatic rise from last year’s 72% and higher than last year’s national average of 75%. Perhaps there was no need to go down this route after all; and the academies have done well to acquire schools with the improvements already built in. If I were still a headteacher, I would go for academy status with the additional resources available to enhance the quality of education of the students.