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Monday, 07 February 2011 10:46

Reduction in School Capital Spending in Kent: Reporter Feb 2011

The following article appeared in the first edition of the new "The Reporter" newspaper, reflecting the pressure on the newspaper industry as it replaces the old established Gravesend Reporter and the Dartford Times.

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Kent County Council has made a largely successful commitment in recent years to improve the quality of the school building stock following many ‘drought’ years when this aspect of our children’s education was neglected. Projects such as: the ‘Old Style’ academies - 10 brand new luxury schools brought into being (including Leigh in Dartford and Longfield); the six PFI project schools; and the first eleven schools completed under the now defunct Building Schools for the Future programme (including Northfleet Girls, Northfleet Technology, St Johns and Thamesview in Gravesend), have resulted in over a quarter of Kent’s secondary schools being completely replaced.  The Special School Review saw many of Kent’s Special Schools rebuilt or refurbished (including Ifield in Gravesend), and many readers will be aware of major primary school rebuilds, and new schools in the area (including Manor Community at Swanscombe) that have transformed the learning of so many of our children. Kent has also been working on a schedule to reduce major maintenance issues, which saw a reduction in the backlog from £147 million to £98 million over the past four years.

However, all this has come to a juddering halt with government cuts in education spending, some of which is retargeted at other priorities. Seven ‘Old style’ Academies (including Wilmington and Orchards in Swanley) are waiting a government review which will probably provide them with budget new  buildings and KCC has gone to court to try and recover the BSF programme for the remainder of Gravesham’s secondary schools (or more likely the millions of pounds lost in preparation works.  You will find further details of these projects at www.kentadvice.co.uk.

Meanwhile, all schools are grappling with a swingeing 80% cut in their own grants for the repair, maintenance and improvement of buildings and provision of ICT from 1 April 2011. Whilst this is a hammer blow, worst affected will be the ten schools which lost out under BSF  (including Gravesend Grammar, Gravesend Girls, Meopham and St George’s). For they will all have cut back on their maintenance and building plans expecting that BSF would solve their premises problems, but now there is no money to carry out essential repairs and improvements. A typical secondary school would have been awarded some £120,000 for this work last year, but now sees this reduced to £24,000, inevitably leading to safety concerns. This comes the week after compensation was awarded to families whose children were taking examinations in the school hall at Minster College (now The Sheppey Academy) when central heating ducts fell on them. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries or deaths, but this will certainly not be the last such incident now that schools have been deprived of sufficient funds to carry out repairs.

All this leaves KCC with a backlog of maintenance problems, currently totalling £90 million, its main hope of shrinking this being to say goodbye to schools who are choosing to become academies. Some of these will be leaving because increased budgets may give them the opportunity to resolve these issues, but when all secondaries have become academies, the pain will need to be shared equally once again.

Last modified on Sunday, 22 April 2012 16:21

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  • Kent and Medway School Transport in September

    Government Policy
    It is our plan that all pupils, in all year groups, will return to school full-time from the beginning of the autumn term.

    I wholeheartedly support the principle and the schools working incredibly hard to deliver it, but one of the many intractable Covid-19 related challenges facing some secondary schools and families when re-opening in September is that of pupil transport. Some Kent schools are vulnerable, for the county is rural in places with pupils having to travel long distances to their nearest school, whilst many faith and grammar schools also have pupils who travel considerable distance by public transport. Most readers will have seen or encountered the publicly accessible double-decker buses packed with pupils on their way to and from school in the past, but this won’t be the situation in September. For social distancing rules reduce the number of passengers on each bus by at least a half and there is not the spare capacity at this time to increase bus numbers to compensate.

    Most secondary schools will have worked out plans to manage a full pupil attendance if there are no further spikes in Covid-19, taking into account staggered starts and finishes to the school day, setting up year group bubbles, year group zones, staggered lunches and break times, year group entrances and exits, crowded corridor behaviour, cancelling assemblies and other large gatherings, strategies to deal with children or staff exhibiting coronavirus symptoms, PPE policy, cleaning, more cleaning, deep cleaning, etc, etc. All this on the twin assumptions that all pupils will turn up and there will be no spike in Kent cases.

    However, we are just four weeks away from the start of term and there is no sign of a solution to the transport difficulties, although I am not sure what it would be. KCC considers that: ‘the financial impact on bus services and operators has been significant so it could be that more services than usual are subject to change or cancellation. In addition, at the moment, operators are only able to let about half of the usual numbers of passengers on their buses and if this remains the case, then providing enough space for all passengers could be a problem, and so students that can travel in a different way should do so at the moment’. This will inevitably have major knock-on effects with a sharp increase in private traffic on the roads at key times.

    Written on Friday, 07 August 2020 19:47 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Comprehensive Future Knowingly Re-Publishes False Data about Grammar Schools and Pupil Premium

    Two years ago, Comprehensive Future published as a fact that: When asked how many pupils were admitted through these priority policies 80 schools responded, revealing that just 574 disadvantaged pupils were offered admission out of their 12,431 available places... there were 22 selective schools who responded to say they had failed to admit a single disadvantaged pupil through their policies’.  This claim was picked up by the media including the BBC. Unfortunately, this is twice completely false, as I demonstrated in an article last month after the organisation publicly attacked me for querying the data, repeating it in the process. False firstly, because the organisation had quoted completely the wrong data column from their own database, and secondly because the whole database is self-evidently rubbish, see below. As I wrote then, a prime example of the ICT mantra Garbage in, garbage out.  

    I have now been informed by CF’s Chairman, Nuala Burgess, that CF is not prepared to discuss the matter further, the bogus claims remain on their website and that of the BBC and so this must cast doubt on any other claims made by CF on data they have harvested to forward their aims.

    Written on Thursday, 06 August 2020 15:25 2 comments Read more...
  • The Kent Test 2020: Throwing down the gauntlet

    I had an extended interview on Radio Kent last week about the unfairness created towards ‘children of ordinary families’ in the Kent Test for this extraordinary year. At the conclusion, Julia George who was interviewing asked me to ‘throw down the gauntlet’ with KCC over my deep concerns, repeated several times over recent months. I did this by simply challenging the Council to respond to the recently published Government Guidance to Admission Authorities, Kent County Council being one of the largest in the country. KCC’s response to the BBC over the challenge wrongly dismisses the guidance because it ‘will cover individual schools and consortia which test far fewer children’. More importantly, it completely ignores the main part of the guidance and my concern, which focused on the unfairness created for lower-income families in Kent, as explained below.

    At about the same time, Matt Dunkley, Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education at KCC replied to a letter from Adam Holloway, MP for Gravesham, which echoed my concerns. This response covers somewhat different territory, but again completely ignores any strategy for promoting fairness for disadvantaged families as laid down by the government advice. Moreover, he dismissed my idea for creating flexibility in these increasingly uncertain times and of supporting ordinary families, or any alternative, having set up a false description of it to dismantle!

    Written on Wednesday, 05 August 2020 10:35 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • The Struggling Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey Appoints its Fourth Leader in Seven Years.

    Oasis Academy Trust is trying once again to reverse the inexorable decline in the fortunes of Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey (OAIOS) by bringing in a new Executive Principal over the head of Tina Lee, the current Principal.

    Oasis Sheppey

    Ian Simpson, currently Principal of Oasis Academy Lister Park in Bradford, makes the eighth leader since the school became an academy in 2009. Most of his predecessors have been moved on after failing to turn the school round. Both of the previous two post holders were appointed from within the school only after the Trust failed to attract anyone from outside, despite extensive advertising. Both have been a disappointment. It is not clear if the role of Executive Head is permanent or just a short term firefighting job.

    All this is taking place in the context of a forecast crisis in the provision of non-selective places in Sittingbourne and Sheppey, which will come to a head in 2021, if it has not already arrived. 

    Written on Friday, 31 July 2020 06:45 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Government 'Expectation' on Managing Selection Test Arrangements in Kent and Medway

    Hot on the heels of Kent County Council's confirmed arrangements for the Kent Test, as reported in my previous article, the government has now released its formal advice on assessment processes for selective school admissions. This is quoted extensively below in blue and italics. It greatly expands the frameworks set out by KCC and Medway Councils, urging admission authorities to look closely at minimising disadvantage for protected groups, socially and economically disadvantaged children and children who are unable to attend the test centre, as I had hoped KCC itself would. The current KCC proposal heavily discriminates against lower-income families who can't afford private education or extensive private tutoring.  It remains my conviction that, if KCC were to adopt a model such as the one I have proposed before, it would go a considerable way towards meeting the requirement to minimise this acknowledged disadvantage in the current circumstances which has not yet been addressed. However, there is still the flexibility to do so. Medway Council has a more structured procedure for assessing children, but no apparent will to change it as this document advises, so I have little hope that greater fairness will emerge there.  

    Several pieces of government advice, considered further below, relate to the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers which is likely to be magnified by their absence from school during the coronavirus outbreak’. In particular, ‘we therefore strongly advise that tests for grammar and partially selective schools are moved back into late October or to November if local admission co-ordination processes allow’. Along with the other recommendations below which now need addressing, this is considerably more radical than the KCC and Medway decisions which place the revised test dates in the first half of October and offer no further mitigation of disadvantage. 

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    Written on Saturday, 25 July 2020 11:59 3 comments Read more...
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    Written on Friday, 24 July 2020 15:54 1 comment Read more...