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.