It has arisen because the Council failed to object to the proposal in the first place, on completely spurious grounds (see below). You will find the full background in two previous articles most recently here.
The whole thing begs so many questions one hardly knows where to begin. It appears that the loan was necessary because the poor management of the badly run academy after it set up an unnecessary Infant provision left it without classroom space to cope with the extra pupils siphoned off from the two feeder schools. Medway Council felt obliged to step in because the consequence of all this would have been children without a classroom. Blackmail?
The Council Document describes some of the background to the decision not to challenge the school’s expansion by the introduction of an Infant Department:
‘During the consultation the Local Authority provided a response to the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC), neither supporting nor objecting to the proposal. The rationale for this was that other options to provide places were available to the Council in the area and these could be provided at little or no capital investment. As such, the local authority’s position was that if the proposal were approved, the Council would not be able to invest basic need funding into the project. It was accepted at the time though, that the additional 30 places, whilst not essential, would add some flexibility into the place planning system. 2.3. It was also made clear to the school not only at the time but subsequently, that they did not have sufficient space to accommodate this number of children i.e. the usual intake from the two local infant schools and their own intake of 30 per year group. This would result in the school admitting 730 primary pupils when full instead of the 520 they would admit if the proposals did not proceed. This would mean that they needed another 8 classrooms to meet demand’.
In other words, Medway Council decided not to object to a plan for introducing unnecessary extra places in a school to compete with its own Infant schools, where there was insufficient room and no funding to expand. All this on the grounds of a novel concept for Medway, of flexibility in the place planning system.
The model of one all through primary school with the children of two other Infant schools feeding into it is, I believe unique across Kent and Medway, and it is difficult to see the advantages of this ‘flexibility in the planning system’. The document goes on to argue that there will be a 20% increase in the Medway population over the next 15 years, so ‘this additional capacity is likely to become necessary’. I have news for Medway Council which does not appear to have considered the detail. The increase in population will not be in this part of the built up area, but elsewhere where there will be considerable demand for places and resources. I suppose it is good that Medway is focusing on planning for 15 years ahead, but its recent history suggests it would be far better to be considering present issues.
The table below shows the pattern of place offers over the past four years, producing a fall of nearly 20% in take up across the three schools, presumably as local families chased places elsewhere, the whole situation having become toxic. In particular, the take up at Delce Academy has already fallen by over two thirds, even before it was placed in Special Measures, for parents are clearly wiser than Medway Council gives them credit.
|Crest, Delce, St Peter's Rolls 2019|
2019 Year R
|Year R October 2015||PAN|
|St Peters Infant||21||20||37||29||40||40|
The Council paper gives two other options for a situation they should never have found themselves in and which could and should have been avoided if they had challenged the original seriously flawed plan.
The first of these would have been to refuse the request. This apparently would have left children without classrooms, an entirely predictable outcome. Of course these are children who should rightly have been in one of the two Council run schools there would still have been room if this project had folded. Secondly would have been to divert basic need funding away from necessary projects which even for Medway Council might have been a step to far. So how did all this happen? Back in 2010 Medway Council proposed the amalgamation of the then oversubscribed and strongly performing Delce Infant and Junior Schools, strongly opposed by by both schools, but passionately by Karen White headteacher of Delce Juniors (but now CEO of the Castle Trust, having had Delce taken away from her because of its dreadful performance), supported by the Chair of Governors, Richard King, who also appears to have sold out his principles and remains a Member of the Trust. Amongst her arguments were 'Concern that standards will drop if the schools are amalgamated' and 'A school over more than 630 pupils is too big for a primary school and will make the personal knowledge of each child and their family far more difficult than is currently the case. Ms White and Mr King then created the equivalent of the amalgamated school, by opening its own Infant Department, seeing standards fall dramatically in a school with a potential 730 pupils (well above the 630 she identified as the maximum) 'forcing' Medway Council to offer the £400,000 loan. Ms White also delivered a further damning opinion: 'If amalgamated there would not be a provision of equal opportunity for all children as those joining from St Peter's (and also now Crest Infants, which did stick to its principles) would join children who had been pupils at the amalgamated school for several years'. She then proceeds to extend the school totally against her previous principles setting up precisely this situation.
So what are the consequences of extending the school against the previously expressed wishes of headteacher and governors of Delce Junior School. It has now failed its Ofsted Inspection including a withering criticism of the leadership. It joined with Greenway Academy, a Junior School in West Sussex (amazingly also reported to be considering expanding to become an all through primary school possibly by absorbing the nearby Trafalgar Community Infant School) to form the Castle Trust with Ms King as Chief Executive Officer. Delce Academy has been taken away from the Trust because of its dramatic fall from grace under Ms White's leadership. However, she is okay with her annual salary of £100,000 plus for running the one Junior School in West Sussex with the grand title of Executive Headteacher, unless the unfortunate children of nearby Trafalgar primary led by an equally besotted governing body decide to link with the Trust, having been dazzled by its false claims. Unethical hardly describes the machinations of those involved, having moved on without a scratch and left hundreds of children enduring an inadequate education.
And then there are the other big questions Was the £400,000 commercial (?) loan actually paid to the Castle Trust. If so, who is now responsible for paying it back and when and if Medway Council ever recover their 'investment'?
From a Castle Trust Advertisement in April, a month before Delce Academy was placed in Special Measures:
About the Trust
'The Castle Trust is a multi-academy trust comprised of two schools. The Trust’s vision is to create a vibrant learning community, where schools actively pursue excellent outcomes for all pupils. To this end, the Trust is currently working with both of its schools to create capacity for school improvement'.
You will find the advertisement for a non-executive director here, placed by a company specialising in providing a free, bespoke service matching business people and professionals with multi-academy trusts looking to strengthen their boards (it looks as if they failed with due diligence here). What is especially mind blowing is that a month befor the sky fell in on The Trust, it could set out its future plans:
Plans for the Future
1)Create capacity for academy improvement and increasing collaboration between academies in order to share best practice in teaching and learning.
We can ignore (1) as the Trust is down to one small Junior Junior Academy, but is it really the case in the fantasy objectives of (2) and (3) that not one of the Trustees and Members had any idea how low Delce Academy was failing and falling. These included the CEO and previous headteacher, Karen White; Christopher Purchse (chair), a self-employed tutor; Lisa Roper (vice -chair), senior member of staff, Mid-Kent College; Samuel Calvert, an accountant from HM Treasury (now having wisely resigned); Joyce Gundry, with the Trust since its inception in 2014, a Partner in 3J School Improvements Specialists Ltd with considerable experience over the years of supporting Medway schools, through the years when they were amongst the worst performing in the country -how come she fail to notice with her background; Richard King, Chair of Delce Academy before it created the Castle Trust; James Stringer (to be confirmed- is he the The new recruit from Academy Ambassadors.
It has been pointed out that both Delce Infant School (June 2016, now Crest Infants) and St Peter's Infant School (Dec 2018) were found to be good in their Most recent Ofsted Inspection but the strong Key Stage One performances in 2016 have led to the same children now in Year Five being failed by the school according to the recent Delce Academy Ofsted.