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Peter's Blog

You will find the main news and comment articles on the front page of the website here. This page contains secondary or local news items and thoughts.

Monday, 18 July 2016 00:10

Lilac Sky Academy Trust: The end of the Road

Written by Peter Read
 Update: I have now published two subsequent articles, as further information has emerged. You will find them at (2) and (3).
 
I have now established that Lilac Sky Academy Trust is being closed down, as there is an investigation by the Education Funding Agency, on behalf of the Department for Education, into the Trust's financial practices. See new article
One of the very worst academy chains operating in Kent in my view, as illustrated many times elsewhere on this website is Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT), founded by Trevor Averre-Beeson, a champion of for-profit academies, in 2009. It therefore comes as no surprise to learn that the Academies operation of Lilac Sky is to be closed down by the Regional Schools Commissioner, all the schools to be passed over to other chains, with parents being quietly informed on academy websites. The Chair of the Academy Trust has already gone, to be replaced by a new Interim Chair. 
 
LSSAT Logo
 
At present, I have only come across two other academy chains in the country that have had all their academies removed:  Prospects Academy Trust in 2014, in that case for poor performance; and Perry Beeches Trust earlier this year, for 'financial shortcomings'.
 
 
It is not yet clear what has encouraged the RSC to make the decision for Lilac Sky, but it could always have been the track record of some of the Trust's Leaders including those described below. Probably the worst examples of the Trust's operation in Kent were: at the now closed Furness Special School in Hextable, where the Trust was allowed to run up a £1.63 million deficit in the school accounts which was then paid for out of the budget for the remaining Kent schools, when Furness was closed, the school being replaced by Broomhill Bank North; and at Castle Hill Community College in Deal where under Lilac Sky tutelage, the school plunged from OFSTED Outstanding to Special Measures in less than three years....

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Last modified on Saturday, 29 October 2016 12:14

Updated 23 July

Following the news last month that Denise Shepherd, The Trust Chief Executive of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust had been suspended, a letter to parents today (Friday), on what is the last day of the school year for some (why just some?) of the Trust’s schools, announces briefly that she has now ‘decided to leave’ the Trust.

TSAT

As is normal in such situations, it is likely that a financial deal has been done to avoid an expensive disciplinary action taking place, with a newspaper article in The Times reporting extensive evidence supporting claims of alleged snooping on staff email accounts and doctoring parts of an external inspection report, along with other allegations.

Subsequent to the above, TSAT has published a Press release on its website headed "Thinking Schools Academy Trust Appoints New Chief Executive", with tucked under it further details about Ms Shepherd's departure, as noted below....


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Last modified on Sunday, 24 July 2016 12:14

Updated by a much more comprehensive article on a District by District basis, here

I wrote in a previous article, back in January, about Sixth Form Staying on Rates into Grammar Schools and expressed my long held view that there needs to be a healthy transition from non-selective to grammar schools at Sixth Form Level, to allow for late development. Possibly as a result of this article, an FOI request was made to KCC through the 'What Do They Know' website asking for the full data on post sixteen destinations from non-selective schools.

This shows that 513 young people from non-selective schools transferred into grammar Sixth Forms, an average of 16 into each of the 32 Kent grammars, surely a very healthy number. Another 4880 stayed on in non-selective sixth forms whilst 4889 progressed to Further Education Colleges or other Training situations. That left at most 6.5% of the cohort of 11151 young people to become, using the horrible term NEETS, not in Education, Employment or Training, exactly the national average......


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Last modified on Sunday, 17 September 2017 18:55

Last Thursday, I had the privilege of attending the launch of Volume Three of the outcomes of St John's Catholic Comprehensive School awesome Historical Project, entitled “The Valour Still Shines” totalling 1250 expertly researched and professionally produced pages of detail, a superb model of research by any standard. The three book set records the lives and deaths of the 565 names on Gravesend’s Town War Memorial on Windmill Hill, along with much additional and relevant information about the war, the battles and the local history of the town and the Memorial.

st Johns WW1 Project

What is even more remarkable is that such a project has been undertaken by over a hundred History Society students and others following the school Applied History GCSE Course. Not surprisingly, such an endeavour was led by an inspirational figure, in this case, Colm Murphy, a history teacher at the school, who has recently been awarded the accolade of Kent History Teacher of the Year. 

Coincidentally,……


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Last modified on Wednesday, 07 December 2016 16:46

See more recent comment on Simon Langton here, and on Thinking Schools Academy Trust here. Resignation of Chief Executive of TSAT here.

I make no apology to returning to this subject but events are unfolding so fast it is difficult to keep up.

My previous article written just on Saturday, described events at the two grammar schools, with the CEO of Thinking Schools Academy Trust, flagship school The Rochester Grammar School, being suspended The Times alleging amongst other claims that she snooped on staff email accounts and doctored parts of an external Inspection Report. Although the suspension took place back in April, it wasn’t until The Times went to press that it became public, and today the Trust has issued a statement as a result.

Rochester Grammar

By contrast the Headteacher and Governors at Simon Langton Girls Grammar School in Canterbury, appear to be getting into deeper water daily, with a letter sent out yesterday from Patrick Leeson, Head of KCC’s Education and Young People’s Services Department, requiring a re-run of the Governing Body decision to apply for Academy status last November, on grounds of maladministration. Surely more importantly, the GB should have been focusing with concern  the strong evidence of the school’s sharp fall in popularity as explained below, an issue that has been raised by several commentators concerned for the future of the school.

Simon Langton girls


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Last modified on Monday, 10 October 2016 03:33

For update, go to here.

Kent County Council has published a draft Report on Grammar Schools and Social Mobility, prepared by a Select Committee of County Councillors to be approved at a final Meeting of the Committee on June 6th before going to full Council. There is widespread agreement that the proportion of able children from disadvantaged families gaining access to grammar schools in Kent is too low, although once the children are admitted there is clear evidence they perform almost as well as the whole cohort of grammar school entrants. This Report establishes some important principles and recommendations to be put to full County Council on 14th July for approval, as set out below, and it is hoped that KCC will agree to promote these for the sake of those children.

For me the key statistic is that just 57.4 % of children on Free School Meals Ever (FSE, my preferred measure) who have achieved a commonly recognised grammar school standard of two Levels Five Plus in their Key Stage 2 Reading, Writing and Maths, begin grammar school, compared with 78.7% of similar ability children not in this category. This has to be wrong, especially as many of the reasons behind this disparity lie in the education sector itself………


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Last modified on Tuesday, 07 June 2016 16:42

Update: See latest article here. 

According to The Times, Denise Shepherd, who is Chief Executive of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, where she is paid £215,000 a year, was suspended from her post last month. The reason put forward by the newspaper is that the suspension was for alleged snooping on staff email accounts and doctoring parts of an external inspection report.

 

Rochester Grammar

 

Meanwhile the controversy at Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School in Canterbury is spiralling to an almost unbelievable level for any school, certainly a state of open warfare the like of which I have never before seen in a school. The protagonists have made extensive claims about the actions of Headteacher and Governors relating to the school’s application to become part of a Multi-Academy Trust whilst absorbing the struggling Spires Academy into the Trust. Kent County Council is being heavily drawn into the controversy with no obvious strategy to ease the problems

Simon Langton girls.......


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Last modified on Monday, 13 March 2017 19:17

I was invited on Radio Kent yesterday, to comment on the effects on schools of the decision by Redbridge Council to purchase Howe Barracks in Canterbury to house 208 of the families on their Housing Waiting List. Canterbury City Council also tried to purchase the premises but were outbid, so local homeless families have been deprived of this accommodation. Not surprisingly, there is concern about pressure on local services including schools. 

In the past two months I have carried out surveys of Kent’s Primary and Secondary school allocations, for each District in Kent, looking at oversubscription and vacancies, the summary position for Canterbury is that at the time of allocation of places, there were 74 vacant spaces at Reception Year and not one for Year Seven in non-selective schools.

However, as always, the situation is more complex than this, as explained below…..


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Last modified on Friday, 27 May 2016 18:44

This article looks at two OFSTED ‘Outstanding’ Reports close to my heart, for Christ Church Pre-School and The Harvey Grammar School. There is also good cheer for long-suffering Medway as they collect their first Outstanding OFSTED of the year at Barnsole Primary along with some other good outcomes, and four more recent Kent ‘Outstanding’ Reports at: Brookfield Infant, Aylesford; Great Chart; Herne CofE Junior; and Tunstall CofE. Then there is the enigma of the 'Outstanding' Monitoring Inspection of Canterbury Academy!....

Canterbury Academy

The previous OFSTED assessment of Canterbury Academy as 'Requires Improvement', was a surprise to many, 

....


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Last modified on Tuesday, 07 November 2017 20:27
See new article here, dated 29 May
The story below is growing and growing. You may wish to consult the Facebook Forum  to see developing views, or an article in Kent on Sunday which attempts an analyis of the key issues, although these are now so tangled, it is difficult to keep up.   
There is growing controversy over what appears to be a rushed decision by Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School in Canterbury to apply for academy status. The school Governing Body Minutes of November 2015 state that the reason for proceeding with haste was because of the connection, described in the most recent OFSTED Report as an “informal relationship”, with Spires Academy where the headteacher of SLGGS is also Executive Headteacher, and there are close personal links between the two institutions.
 
Simon Langton girls
The fear driving the application was that: “if the decision be held over for a few more months the option of Spires would no longer be available to the school and the decision had to be made by the end of the year as other schools were interested in taking on Spires as part of a MAT (Multi-Academy Trust); and that this could result in being allocated another school (not necessarily a local school)”, which was being discussed by the Academy (see below). Of course, nowhere does this imply that another school taking over Spires is a bad thing for the students of the school, and data presented below suggests it may be even be beneficial for the academy, especially as the Academy was served with a Pre-Warning Notice by the Department for Education because of its low standards. It may well be that the proposed academisation of SLGGS could be seen as a preemptive action to stave off such a take-over. I cannot believe there is another case where the main reason put forward for academisation of a school is to block the future prospects of another school with whom it has no formal relationship. It was reported that a further obstacle to academisation has now been removed in that partially thanks to the good offices of KCC, SLGGS had secured funds to provide new buildings. The headteacher agreed with governors at the November meeting that she would inform staff, parents and students next day of the Governors decision to apply to become a Multi Academy Trust.

It was only when I alerted parents on this website in January that the school had applied for academy status that many people learned what was going on and I was contacted by concerned staff to ask if it were true......


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Last modified on Saturday, 04 June 2016 12:26
Tuesday, 19 April 2016 06:44

Headteacher of Hempstead Juniors Quits School

Written by Peter Read
In a brief letter to parents, the Co-chairs of Hempstead Junior School report that "Mrs S Smith, Headteacher since September 2013 has now retired from Headship and has now left the school". This follows a torrid time for the school over the past few years, as Medway Council supported the Headteacher, whilst good governors who complained about her actions in the interests of the school and its children were snubbed after they sought help from Medway Council, and eventually despaired and resigned, followed by others.
 Hempstead Junior 3
At the same time the school suffered a worrying loss of experienced teachers, unhappy with the way the school was then being run. The troubles culminated with the headteacher being suspended from her post in February although Medway Council refused to confirm this, previous events being described in my article here. This turned out to be the most read news item on the website posted in the past year,  attracting an astonishing 10,669 hits in just two months. 

This retirement follows the recent departure of the equally controversial headteacher of Whitehill Primary in Gravesend, and it is reported that both schools have now returned to their previous positive and happy states.......


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Last modified on Tuesday, 19 April 2016 21:05
Friday, 01 April 2016 21:14

Compulsory Academisation

Written by Peter Read

I think my views on compulsory academisation are clear from comments in articles I have written recently on a variety of topics, as this is a proposal that now appears to pervade everything to do with education in schools. However, I have not yet had opportunity to write at greater length on the issues and consequences for children in Kent and Medway because of other pressures on my time. I did have time to contribute an interview to the new 'Paul on Politics' show on KMTV, which you will find here, including a quite mild excerpt from my views. The Academies Section starts 9 minutes and 15 seconds into the programme........


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Last modified on Saturday, 16 April 2016 07:57

Updated with Government Press Statement

Inspire Special Free School, the only Free School in Medway, based in Chatham, has been placed in Special Measures by OFSTED following an Inspection in January, less than two years after opening. You will find the full headlines of the Report later on in this article. Inspire Free

 The then struggling Silverbanks Centre, a Pupil Referral Unit, was broken up into two parts in September 2014, following an OFSTED Inspection that failed the Unit, judging it to have Serious Weaknesses. Inspire, which was set up as a Free School strongly supported by Medway Council, and currently catering for 37 children with social, emotional or mental health needs has failed spectacularly, with leadership and management at all levels judged inadequate and a highly qualified governing body not fully understanding the issues faced by these same leaders, nor recognising that the quality of teaching and learning has declined.


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Last modified on Monday, 04 April 2016 18:25
Thursday, 24 March 2016 06:46

Medway Council: Not in the Public Interest

Written by Peter Read

Update: The application was rejected by Government in August 2016, details here. 

I have covered the apparently unstoppable move by the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) to turn Chatham Grammar School for Boys into a co-educational school in previous articles. One thing above many others puzzled me; the decision by Medway Council (Slogan: "Serving You") not to disclose to the people of Medway if it had made objections to a proposal which inevitably will have a serious negative impact on grammar school provision and admissions in Medway. Indeed, the Council turned down my Freedom of Information request on the amazing grounds that  it was not in the Public Interest to disclose their objections. 

"Our country can't afford a two tier education system with London streaking ahead and areas like Knowsley and Medway lagging behind. It’s morally wrong and economically self-defeating"
Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, in her speech to justify all schools be academised, using Medway Education Department to make the case. 

Following an Internal Review (complaint) I have now obtained the Medway Council submission, which turns out to be a strong, if overly polite, attack on the proposal. This begs the question of why were they ashamed of critical arguments revealing the problems this proposal will now cause, that should have influenced other respondents to the ‘Consultation'?  Given the strength of these objections was there not a case for marshalling the opposition? You can still only read the full objections here at present, although Medway Council may wish to explain why they are not otherwise available.

I have covered most of the following issues in previous places, but not being aware of other proposals by the Sir Joseph Williamson’s Trust, had not realised full the impact of giving priority for grammar school places to children in primary schools of the two Trusts, which is likely to deprive children in some other Medway primary schools, especially in the Hoo Peninsula and Rainham, of grammar school places in the future. Surely this aspect must now be halted somehow for both Trusts. Medway Council has once again let its residents down appallingly in failing to raise this issue publicly at the right time.


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Last modified on Monday, 07 November 2016 20:03

The Leigh Academy Trust is proposing to extend the age range of the Leigh UTC (University Technical College) to cover the age range of 11-14 with the support of KCC, to increase the number of secondary school places available in Dartford. One must applaud any sensible opportunity to ease the pressure on Dartford places, however the proposal raises a number of important questions.

Leigh UTC 1 

The plan is to build an 11-14 ‘school’ on vacant land opposite the current premises, called ‘The Inspiration Centre’ to cater for an intake of 120 children from September 2017, also working with Dartford Council to create an adjacent outdoor sports complex for all students (it is not clear if this is exclusively for Leigh Trust students).  The students will follow a normal curriculum before going on the UTC offering with its increased focus on engineering and computer science from Year 10 onward, being joined by up to 30 students from other schools. 


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Last modified on Saturday, 04 February 2017 22:41
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