As I was preparing to publish this article, local academy news is overtaken by the ideological decision to force all schools in England to have converted or started on the route to become academies by 2020. Whilst I normally confined myself to matters relating only to Kent and Medway on this website, the impact of this appalling decision on local schools is such that I have added a couple of paragraphs at the foot of the page.
As the conversion rate to academise has reduced to a trickle before this news, there are just two new Academies for February, Manor Community Primary School, Dartford, and Twydall Primary School in Gillingham, the latter having finally seen its future settled as it has been sponsored by Rainham Mark Grammar School after a very difficult failed take-over attempt by the Learning Schools Academy Trust.
There are several new converter applications: Simon Langton Girls Grammar; Upton Junior, Broadstairs; Temple Hill and Oakfield Primaries, Dartford.
News below about: two new build primary academies; Maidstone School of Science and Technology (or rather lack of news!); Castle Community College; Cranbrook School; Chatham Grammar School for Boys; Royal Harbour Academy (not an academy) and the Coastal Academies Trust; and a new 11-14 extension (or is it?) to Leigh University Technical College.
New Build Primary Academies
Two new primary academies are to open, both sponsored by Leigh Academy Trust, with Langley Park Primary Academy, Maidstone, opening in September this year. At present the school is just asking potential families to register their interest for admission, but will eventually be accepting applications outside the Kent Co-ordinated Scheme, as is normal in such cases for the first year. Be careful not to confuse it with the new Langley Park Primary School, a Free School in Beckenham. Two form entry Castle Hill Primary School in Ebbsfleet Valley, is to open in 2017, with Planning Permission being approved this week. More confusion over names being created with Castle Hill Community Primary School in Folkestone being a well-established school. More information in a previous article here.
Maidstone School of Science and Technology
There appears to be a mystery about the new Maidstone School of Science and Technology, due to open as a Free School run by Valley Invicta Trust opening in September 2017. To date there has been no update on the website page for at least six months after a report that the proposal had been approved, and my enquiry about progress has gone unanswered, although the Department for Education website reports that the project is still in the pipeline. Whatever the reason for delay, time will be getting tight shortly for construction purposes.
Royal Harbour Academy and the Coastal Academies Trust
The Royal Harbour Academy (not an academy yet), previously Elllington and Hereson Secondary, is now to be sponsored by the Coastal Academies Trust, if and when its PFI difficulties are sorted. Meanwhile, Charles Dickens School, currently in Special Measures which was being run by the Executive Head of St George’s CofE Foundation School, in an apparent slap in the face for Coastal Academies Trust, after the latter took responsibility for it following the failed OFSTED. St George's will end its contract in July and the school is set to become a sponsored academy, but who will run it now?
Staying with the Coastal Schools theme discussed elsewhere, Castle Community College in Deal has got out of Special Measures and now Requires Improvement, although my reading of the Inspection Report suggests it narrowly avoided failure again. The College is run by SchoolsCompany, which is now a designate sponsor for the school, although has no mention on the school’s website. SchoolsCompany, like many other Trusts is also a Limited Company enabling it to offer services to the school at a profit, and has responsibility for several PRUs in Devon. It used to feature Kent County Council on the website as a Council to whom it offered services, but this reference has been removed. SchoolsCompany faces an uphill battle to change the fortunes of the school, in spite of the new buildings being constructed, as it is seen as unpopular in the locality, with intake having nearly halved in four years to 84 children in the current Year Seven, which must be placing a severe strain on finances. Financial problems were the final straw which led to the closure of Pent Valley Technology College this summer, along the coast in Folkestone, as well as Marlowe Academy last year, and Chaucer Technology College the year, which all saw similar sharp falls in pupil numbers following poor performance, and consequent inability to balance budgets.
Cranbrook School, Kent’s sole remaining 13-18 grammar school has confirmed its tentative move towards 11-18 subject to Education Funding Authority (EFA) approval, by admitting just 30 children at age 11 in September 2017. The whole process is a massive compromise to appease the private schools currently running up to age 13, but one hopes that common sense will prevail in the end with it going entirely to 11-18, like every other Kent state school. Further details from a previous article here.
Chatham Grammar School for Boys
Chatham Grammar School for Boys has confirmed it will change to co-educational admission for September 2016 and change its name to Holcombe Grammar School subject to EFA approval. This highly controversial decision opposed by Medway Council and most local secondary schools is discussed further here.
Contrary to the basic principles of UTCs and based on a misleading claim about numbers, Leigh UTC is proposing to 'extend' its age range to admit children aged 11-14. Article to follow.
All schools to become academies
Just a few thoughts to finish this article.
The reasons put forward to centralise education in this country to "force up standards" amount to the most retrograde step in education (and there have been some!) since the Butler Act was introduced in 1946 to make schooling free for all pupils, along with many other important initiatives that have shaped education ever since. There are already many powerful criticisms put forward in the media so I will content myself below with just two objections which have already impacted on local children. Whatever, government has spoken and we all need to adjust to a new reality.
1) Government makes the false claim that Academies force up standards. There is no evidence that they have done so across the board as yet. Yes, there have been some excellent examples of success, especially where Local Authorities were failing, but in Kent now for example, primary school standards are rising much faster than national levels as the Local Authority has come to appreciate its proper role, after many previous years of underperformance. Academy chains such as TKAT, AET, and Oasis (the last two featuring in a letter from the Chief Inspector of Schools about underperformance of seven academy chains) have all damaged the education of Kent children. Other well-known examples to browsers of this website, such as Marlowe Academy and Castle Community College, have badly let children down. Whilst the dreadful Medway Council is the natural counter-example, Government has failed in its duty to step in and remove its responsibilities as it already has the capability to do so, with the result that Medway now has one of the highest proportions of academies in both primary and secondary schools in the country! Not a good augury for government intervention. The arguments that outstanding academy heads are producing outstanding results may well be true, but self-evidently there are not enough of them about, in any case most cut their teeth being outstanding in maintained schools, and of course are still able to do so. Apparently the freedom of academies to offer pay outside the national system will encourage the best teachers to join them. Alternatively, if they offer posts to cheap unqualified staff, they can get rid of the more experienced, expensive teachers!
2) There are many more important issues that affect standards being neglected in the drive to force academisation: The extreme crisis in teacher and headteacher recruitment and retention is gathering pace: The financial crisis that is hitting academies and mainstream schools alike, causing redundancies,and the reduction in the curriculum offering, with whole courses being cut out; The current chaos in primary education with the removal of an agreed measure of performance; and finally the device of running profit making private companies that run along Academy Trusts to ensure the investors can make money out of the children for whom they are responsible.