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News & Comments - Kent Independent Education Advice

News and Comments

The latest news posted by Peter J Read; just click on a news item below to read it in full. Feel free to subscribe to the news via the email link to the right or the RSS Feed at the bottom of the page. Please note that the over 1500 regular subscribers who receive each news item directly are not included in the number of readers recorded below the item, who have gone beyond the headlines to look at the full article.  If you have a view on any item posted, please leave a comment.

Some more specific items appear in Peter's Blog, so its also worth checking there.  

Please feel free to suggest items of news, or areas where comment is needed to: peter@kentadvice.co.uk.

 
News items below appear below as and when I have time in a very busy life.

The appalling stories of these two Academy Trusts, which were eventually closed down by the government, both demonstrated shocking and apparently corrupt management practices, with a great deal of money vanishing along the way. Both have both been the subject of government investigations which began over two years ago and are still not completed. In September 2019 we learned that the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT) investigation was finished but that publication was held up for ‘fact-checking' which is apparently continuing a year later, suggesting an awful lot of facts! For SchoolsCompany, I am told that ‘due process is ongoing with regard to this investigation’, two years after it started! You will find copies of two recent letters from the DfE to me here confirming what are surely unacceptable delays given the amount of money mislaid. 

I have written extensively about both Academy Trusts previously and it is clear that government failure to act when their failings first came to light have played a significant part in both the appalling standards which children endured in the Trusts' schools and the large financial rewards accruing to those in charge. Perhaps this disgraceful delay in releasing the facts of the financial finagling is so that the whole thing can be swept under the carpet and the millions of pounds which were lost through wrongly pumping them into the two companies forgotten. No one will ever be held to account for the dodgy dealings of the companies behind both Trusts and the appalling treatment of the children under their care, especially SchoolsCompany. Meanwhile, the Trust leaders have gone on their way rejoicing without even an acknowledgement of regret.

After a period of some five months of being ‘unexpectedly away from his duties’, Clive Webster CEO of the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership (KCSP) has resigned with effect from 23rd September, according to Companies House, although a news item on the Trust website states that ‘he has decided to step down at the end of December 2020’. His name has been expunged from any mention on the Trust website apart from his resignation statement and replaced as the lead introduction, which now fronted by Mike Powis, Chair of the Trust Board.

KCSP Logo

I previously wrote a lengthy news article about the Trust in June, analysing the key issues that may have led to his gardening leave or suspension from duties at the time, and there has been no further information about the situation forthcoming since then. Understandably, the Trust has remained very well-disciplined and tight-lipped about the matter, which may well have covered some delicate negotiations. The nature of the resignation statement below suggests it is a departure on agreed terms. 

Kent County Council has now released further details to primary schools about the Kent Test taken in local schools on Thursday 15th October. As I feared and explained in a previous article, there are no contingency plans set out in case the pandemic increases in severity over the next three weeks before the test, and the Cabinet Member’s Report to the KCC Children’s Young People and Education Committee on 22nd September completely evaded related issues apart from pinning their hopes on the Test delay. In the Minutes of the previous July meeting he had reassured Committee Members that Kent County Council would do all that was practical and possible to address all forms of disadvantage’.  However, in the same meeting, he referred to the delayed Kent Test assessment until 15th October (and) considered (this) to be the most effective change which could be made’, which was certainly not the case and not even sufficient to meet government advice, as I have discussed previously. There is a vague reference to the Headteacher Assessment process in this context, but this would need a total redefinition of the process to have any effect, as I have previously suggested and appears not to be under consideration by KCC. 

Instructions to schools issued this week include what to do if children fall ill during the Test, how to tackle self-isolation including the possibility of testing over half-term and issues relating the scrapping of external monitoring of test procedures in schools as explained below, along with other relevant issues

Updates: The entries on the third page, Other Trusts, are still being updated and extended, following enquiries, as this article is attracting considerable interest  (from headteachers?). I am now surveying all single academy Trust non selective and primary academies. 

The website Education Uncovered has identified the full list of 183 English Academy Trust leaders receiving (earning?) more than £150,000 in salary for the school year 2018-19. This includes eight leaders who were working in Trusts running mainly Kent schools, including the scandalous increase of 33% for one leader up from £150,000 to £200,000 in twelve months and who then took early retirement at the end of the year. The Trusts are Aletheia Anglican Academies Trust, The John Wallis Church of England Academy; Kent Catholic Schools' Partnership; Leigh Academies Trust; Swale Academy Trust (2); Valley Invicta Trust (2).

I also look below at staff in five other Trusts which have academies in Kent or Medway, and several other Trusts of interest, including cases where well-paid leaders have now retired. 

The Education and Skills Funding Agency has been sending letters to academy trusts who have an executive salary above £150,000 or multiple salaries between £100,000 and £150,000 since 2017, asking them for justification of these payments. The website Schools Week has found few signs of any practical response to this attempt to hold pay back, certainly not amongst the Kent Trusts listed below.

Browsers can decide, from the descriptions below, whether the school leaders concerned provide value for money for their schools. 

Sunday, 13 September 2020 19:36

Turner Schools: Update

For the last three and a half years, Turner Schools has been one of my most prolific themes for articles on this website, aided and abetted by its CEO and founder Dr Jo Saxton, whose passion for promoting the Trust (named after her grandmother) and making fantastical claims for its performance and future prospects was simply breathtaking. She departed the Trust in March, after just three years, to become a Political Adviser to Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, whose subsequent gaffe ridden career is well documented, but presumably is coincidental.

TurnerSchools
Her successor, Seamus Murphy, has wisely not sought headlines in the same way but has still made his mark. Subsequently, school leaders in two of the four Turner schools have bitten the dust, both controversially. Teacher turnover has continued unabated at a high level, well over twice the national average for the past three years. There has also been a high turnover of Trustees and Members of Turner Schools, the two distinct bodies responsible for governance. Mr Murphy still has to manage the legacy of a massive financial deficit left by Dr Saxton.

The EKC Group, which runs Folkestone College, has sensed an expansion opportunity and has opened the Folkestone Junior College this month. This offers a full-time alternative to the Turner Schools monopoly of non-selective education in Folkestone, in Years 10 and 11, surely a major challenge to the Trust.

Saturday, 05 September 2020 18:23

The New No Win Park Crescent Academy, Thanet

See Update Article with Statement by KCC. 

Kent County Council has now applied for Planning Permission for the controversial new secondary school in Thanet, exposing further problems with the project.

The background to the new school briefly is that, first of all, KCC overestimated the number of secondary aged children coming through the system in Thanet to justify commissioning a new school. The Council then backtracked, with the 2020-2024 Kent Schools Commissioning Plan explaining (p137) how they could comfortably manage the small long term pupil number deficit by expanding two of the District’s six non-selective schools.

Park Crescent Academy

The real problem is that two of the Thanet schools are so unpopular with some families to the extent that 189 children were allocated to them in March who never applied to either. Others were offered places in Sandwich and Deal schools, some miles away. The full background to the controversy is explained here. When the new school opens, with a planned intake of 180 children, at least one of these schools is likely to become unviable. As a result, KCC’s introduction to the Planning Permission Consultation is quite simply dishonest, as explained below.

One of the problems with the new school, now to be called Park Crescent Academy after one of the adjacent roads, is that the site on which it is to be built is very cramped as can be seen from the projection above, and explained below. The new academy will replace the residential Royal School for the Deaf which was closed down in 2015, see below. One of the consequences of the limited space, set out below, is that the school will have no sixth form.

Update, 28th September: KCSP has written to parents to inform them there is no further news and Mrs Aquilina continues to be on 'Special Leave'.

Update, 25th September: Some parents have updated the petition calling for the reinstatement of the headteacher, See below

The Chair of the Kent Catholic Schools Partnership wrote to parents of St Thomas Catholic Primary School on 17th June to inform them that the headteacher, Mrs Aquilina, was being given ‘special leave until the end of the academic year’. This followed a safeguarding incident which created considerable concern and debate, the absence being widely and reasonably assumed to be a formal suspension from her responsibilities because of the safeguarding issue.

On July 25th, at the end of the summer term, he wrote again ‘We have now reached the end of the academic year and can confirm that Mrs Aquilina will be returning to her role of Headteacher at St Thomas’ Primary on 1 September 2020…. A meeting with parents and carers of St Thomas’ will be held at the start of the new academic year’

Yesterday, 1st September, Mr Powis, the Chair of KCSP, wrote again to parents, to inform them that Mrs Aquilina will now be ‘on special leave for the foreseeable future’. The letter unsurprisingly contains no further explanation of the change of direction and no mention of the meeting for parents promised in the previous letter. This may be because of legal issues. 

 Update: It has been suggested that the fall in take-up for the Kent Travel Pass is partly due to some families deciding not to send their children back to school at this time. It will soon become clear if this is a factor.  

Following on from the TUI holiday flight incident and the failure of passengers to follow rules, it is relevant to note the following

 Government statement: 'We do not expect drivers to police pupil behaviour. Their role is to focus on driving the vehicle safely' whilst KCC considers that 'Children travelling on these services will be required to wear face coverings for those over 11 and without an exemption'.

But from Stagecoach, one of the largest school contractors in Kent:  ‘Our drivers will not refuse travel or apply any enforcement measures, but we appeal to students and parents to ensure that this is taken seriously and that a face-covering is worn at all times when on the bus’.

It is not surprising that, partly as a result of this and partly through matters relating to social distancing, parental caution has seen the number of applications for the Kent travel passes fall by over half for September. Those for age 11-16 are down from around 24,000 normally to just 12,557 for September, with 16+ passes down from around 7,000 to 2,280. Most of the missing families will now be driving their children to school by car, swelling the road traffic considerably across the county at the two peak school times.

There is likely as a consequence to be travel chaos at peak periods particularly in areas where there are several secondary schools close together. Three towns spring to mind: Canterbury, Sittingbourne and Tunbridge Wells, but I am sure there are others. One can also add in schools served by narrow roads as explained in a previous article entitled The Coronavirus Effect on the 'School Run' in Kent, Part 2 which I wrote two weeks ago, and looks at the developing problems of getting children to school.  

I also look below at transport matters contained in new advice published by the government on Friday around 5.30 p.m. This sets fresh expectations for schools from the start of the new term, for many just five days in advance, including a weekend and a bank holiday. It contains 18 pages of advice, some wise and helpful, some very belated, some trivial and some patronising.  Finally, a look at Brockhill Park and Ebbsfleet Green Primary Schools.