UPDATED: 20th February 2015
The Oasis Academy Trust has agreed with government that it can close the Oasis Hextable Academy because the school is failing to attract numbers. The reason it is failing to attract numbers is that the two neighbouring and competing schools, Wilmington Academy and Longfield Academy to the north and east have been turned round from being very unpopular, and have now become two of the most oversubscribed schools in the county.
In addition, Orchards Academy in Swanley to the south, once the failing Swanley Technology School, has also improved with steadily rising numbers, with Knole Academy further south in Sevenoaks, picking up some aspiring families who can’t get their children into Wilmington or Longfield.
Sadly, Oasis Hextable, for which I used to do admission appeals regularly a few years ago, has gone the other way, certainly in terms of parental perception. I now talk with families for whom Oasis is a last or no choice, across a patch where nearly every other school is full, apart from one with which Oasis vies in unpopularity. There was an upturn in numbers for the 2014 entry, with the school being taken out of Special Measures when a “Requires Improvement” assessment in 2013 was achieved after Alan Brooks, Executive Head of Fulston Manor School in Sittingbourne, had overseen major improvements at the school. Unfortunately for the Hextable children, he left after a year, for Oasis to take over. It appears that 2015 admissions due out on 2nd March, will offer no solace.
Kent County Council has made clear its view that the school should not be closed, as the increase in population over the next few years will certainly increase demand for places across the District. However, KCC has no voice in the decision, nor in the future of the site, with the premises on a 125 year lease to Oasis, who could decide to use them for different purposes........
I am very disappointed there has been no response from KCC to my previous article on Furness School, considering the important issues of finance and integrity it raises. Neither has there been even an acknowledgment of my formal request for the evidence supporting the unlikely assertion that parents of high functioning ASD children are spurning Special School places in favour of Units attached to mainstream schools, critical to the closure proposal, but completely ignored in the closure Consultation document.
The failure of the Local Authority to carry out a proper Equality Impact Assessment, according to the Equality Act, places the whole closure proposal in legal jeopardy.
I have now written the following letter to Mr Patrick Leeson, KCC Corporate Director of Education and Children's Services:
Dear Mr Leeson,
Like me, you must be both concerned and embarrassed by the two mutually contradictory documents produced by KCC Officers about the future of Furness School, accompanied by the failure to produce an adequate and legal equality impact assessment.
The situation is made much worse by the fact that the first of the two documents, the Complete Proposal for the re designation of Furness as a Special School for high functioning ASD children left out crucial information whose absence will have misled KCC Education and Children's Services Cabinet Committee members and would surely have affected their decision to approve the proposal. In particular, the financial crisis that is the prime factor behind the proposed closure of the school just seven months later, would have been starkly evident back in July and so should certainly have been presented to members to make a reasoned decision, whereas there is no mention of finances whatsoever.
My immediate concern is that parents have been invited to a meeting to discuss the consultation document on 24th February, and are surely entitled to answers to the following questions to enable them to understand the issues. Many of the issues are amplified in my article, which I am sure has already been referred to you as a matter of grave concern………
CONSIDERABLY UPDATED WITH CORRECTIONS ARISING FROM FEEDBACK: 10TH FEBRUARY
Kent County Council has announced a Consultation on the closure of Furness School in Hextable. This is a scandal at the conclusion of four years of mismanagement by KCC, ending with a consultation that is a classic in misdirection. I wrote a previous article in 2012 entitled “Is this the most damning Kent OFSTED Report ever? Furness School”, which has set the scene for this denouement three years later.
Much of KCC’s argument for closure is false, based on two false premises, firstly that pupil numbers are low and getting lower, and secondly that education standards are low and not improving, as evidenced by the poor OFSTED Reports.
The school was redesignated to provide for high functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder children (ASD) last September, replacing Behavioural, Emotional and Social Disorder (BESD). This year, ASD numbers are already 22 including an unspecified number of high functioning children (rather an important detail I would have thought), with BESD just 8, and new admissions discouraged or prohibited for much of the second half of 2012 for two years. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the trend in ASD is upwards, whilst BESD numbers would soon become insignificant.
I find it difficult to know where to start to pick my way through the complexities that have led to the KCC decision to close the school, but the article that follows attempts to cast the story in a historical perspective……