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Former headteacher, Peter Read the man behind the Kent Independent Advice Service, examines a growing tension between Kent County Council and the growing number of schools opting to become Government Funded Academies

 Kent County Council (KCC) has submitted written evidence  to the Government Select Committee on Education’s inquiry into Academies and Free Schools which began on Wednesday.  It addresses concerns about both accountability and performance of academies, choosing The Marlowe Academy as an illustration. However, KCC could equally have chosen Tree Tops Academy and Molehill Copse Primary School, both run by the controversial Academies Enterprise Trust, which previously 'ran' Marlowe for a year. 

KCC's proposes that underperforming academies should revert to Local Authority accountability, but the weakness is that there is an assumption the LA is up to the job. I have written extensively on Medway Council's repeated failure to manage standards adequately, and they clearly do not have capacity to improve schools, whilst Kent is not yet a beacon of excellence. For, although it is improving, it has still too many primary schools fail OFSTED Inspections recently, all vulnerable to takeover by Academy groups (nine already on their way).  

This week’s news about the culling of sixth form courses for financial reasons whilst the Free School budget appears to have no bounds, underlines the illogical nature of current education policy, and KCC makes some very good points about the problems with Free School philosophy and implementation  .......

Much of the supplementary evidence to back up assertions in this article can be found on my website: www.kentadvice.co.uk......

Published in Newspaper Articles

UPDATE (22nd October): It is becoming very apparent from Telephone Consultations and other enquiries, that Trinity School, the Sevenoaks Christian Free School, is likely to be considerably oversubscribed for 2014 entrance. Also, its distance measurement to determine priority for the 60 places awarded on nearest distance is taken from the centre of the Knole East proposed school site to the child's home. 

Kent County Council has agreed with the Trinity Free School and the Secretary of State for Education that the Free School should share the old Wildernesse School with the proposed new satellite grammar school from September 2015. This would be conditional on the Secretary of State actually giving approval for the satellite, although this is starting to look a given. At a public meeting last week, outline plans for the two schools were revealed.

wildernesse

            The site of the old Wildernesse School

With all three parties supporting the proposal, this would avoid the potential costly legal battle that threatened if the two schools were in competition for the same site, as initially seemed likely. Whilst the Trinity School has consistently supported the idea of site sharing, KCC was initially opposed but now clearly recognises this is the sensible way forward.

I have written a number of previous articles which analyse issues such as the potential source of students and describe the story as it has unfolded. If you put Sevenoaks in my search engine, or pick up the tags at the bottom of this page you should find all of them. 

One potential obstacle still exists to the plan, assuming the Secretary of State approves it. For the interpretation of the law that allows the setting up of a mixed satellite by a single sex grammar school remains open to legal challenge, and there are still interested parties who would be happy to see it fail, although their threat appears to be diminishing......

Published in News Archive
Saturday, 25 May 2013 08:08

What a difference three days makes

Took three days holiday this week in gap caused by half-term between preparing clients for appeals. Naturally there was a sudden outbreak of news including the following, some of which I will cover over the next couple of days:

1) Judd School announces it is considering setting up its own 11 plus tests for 2015 entry.

2) Judd school confirms no successful appeals this year.

3) Two new proposed Free Schools announced for opening in 2014 if approved. Jubilee Primary, in Maidstone, will be run by  Jubilee Church. Also the INSPIRE Special Free School will initially have 40 places and be based next to Silverbank Park in Churchill Avenue. Medway Council has worked in partnership with three schools in submitting the bid to the Department for Education: Willimaosn School Trust; Bradfields Special School; and Greenacre School. I don;t have any further details yet.

4) Kent County Council has begun its consultation on the proposed Sevenoaks Grammar School satellite

5) The usual assassins keep putting the boot into the Trinity Christian Free  School on the 11 plus website (not sure what it has to do with the 11 plus!) proposed for the same site

6) An OFSTED for Dame Janet Primary Academy in Ramsgate. formed out of Dame Janet Junior and Dame Janet Infants (failed OFSTED) receives shocking OFSTED  showing that  becoming an Academy is not the solution for everyone.

7) KCC to debate unacceptable delays in preparing Statements of Special Education Need. It is claimed that these are down to failures by the medical services to provide timely appropriate evdence. 

Published in Peter's Blog
Wednesday, 09 January 2013 23:13

Wye Free School Debacle

A new Free School in Wye, catering for secondary school pupils, was approved in principle by the Department for Education back in July. The Department of Education and United Learning, the Academy Group which has taken over the development of the Free School, have now destroyed the rationale for its existence. The proposal for a Free School was based on a vision that saw a College in the centre of the village, founded in 1447 for training the priesthood and which had served as an educational institution almost continuously since that date until 2009, be resurrected to serve the children of Wye.

By all reports, Imperial College who owned the premises, was sympathetic to the project which was to be run by United Learning, a charity already running 20 academies and 11 private schools, including Ashford School.  One can catch a flavour of United Learning in an analysis by the admittedly critical Anti-Academies Alliance, here. I see no flavour of any appreciation of heritage here, and can do no better than quote excerpts from the excellent response by Wye and Hinxhill Parish Council to United Learning's consultation document.......

Published in News Archive

Kent's three new secondary Free Schools, Hadlow Rural Community School, Sevenoaks Christian School and Wye Free School are all accepting applications for September 2013, and places will be offered independently from the KCC process for admission in 2013. This means that parents may apply to the Free Schools as well as completing the Kent Secondary admission form which allows up to four maintained schools to be named, with confidence that neither application will be harmed by the other. Schools will not be told if children have received a second offer elsewhere, so that such children will receive two offers on March 1st if they qualify for a place at one of the free schools.

I anticipate that this additional opportunity will encourage many double applications, so that the new schools may be swamped, and some of those offered places may well not be serious candidates. The down side of this is that of course 240 Kent children will be holding two offers in March 2013, when offers are made; and schools will have no idea which way those 240 children will go.........

Published in News Archive
Wednesday, 11 May 2011 00:00

Free Schools

(last updated July 2017)

The inspiration for Free Schools, government funded, privately owned, free of most of the constraints government sees fit to lay with maintained schools is Sweden where these have operated for many years. In May 2010, Swedish education minister Bertil Ostberg is reported to have said in a widely quoted interview: "We have actually seen a fall in the quality of Swedish schools since the free schools were introduced." "The free schools are generally attended by children of better educated and wealthy families, making things even more difficult for children attending ordinary schools in poor areas." He added: "Most of our free schools have ended up being run by companies for profit"; More recently, government has sought to show the success of some Charter Schools (the US equivalent of Free Schools in in New York and Chicago) is evidence of the potential opportunities for English Free Schools. However ,there is considerable evidence that whilst some high profile Charter Schools are very successful, overall results are moderate. One can similarly expect that some high profile Free Schools in this country will be successful where there is excellent leadership, but such leadership can operate in all types of school and is not unique to Free Schools, unless they can all offer higher salaries to attract the best headteachers out of mainstream schools.

Although Government policy has backed away from requiring that all schools should become academies or Free Schools by 2020, the push to create new Free Schools has revived.  

Kent and Medway now have eight Free Schools operating, with one opening in September. Three more on the way for 2018, all having been held up because there has been enormous difficulty in finding temporary or permanent sites. Indeed three of those currently operating are still in temporary accommodation.  All are described below, with another eleven new Free Schools approved for a planned 2019 opening. 

The Tiger Primary School  in Maidstone was the first to open in September 2012. It is on  the site of the New Line Learning Academy operated by the Future Schools Trust, that runs both New Line Learning Academy and the Cornwallis Academy also in Maidstone. It admitted 60 children in both Years R and Year 1 that year. Key distinctive features include (in order): a focus on Mandarin alongside English; training to improve numeracy; encouraging all children to play a musical instrument; being open from 7.30 to 6 p.m. of particular benefit to working parents; and a healthy breakfast, lunch and tea on offer to all pupils. Now in its third year of operation it is proving popular with parents, 14 first choices turned away for September 2015 entry.

Opened in September 2013.

Hadlow Rural Community School To my mind this is the most interesting of the five, based on and at Hadlow College which primarily offers 'land-based' courses for students aged from 16 through to those taking degrees and beyond. The school website notes: "With the same ambition and drive for excellence for every young person, Hadlow College wishes to set up a Free School to provide opportunities for young people to access education through rural provision. This will provide an alternative curriculum for those young people for whom land based is a first choice route and for those that have found it difficult to access a traditional education.The Rural Community School will offer the opportunity for young people to learn through a practical curriculum which would support the development of the English Baccalaureate curriculum through an innovative delivery model". It is designed to cater for local children from Year 7 onwards. My main caveat is whether this is too soon to be pointed towards such a specific course of study, but it does promise a distinctive ethos and curriculum for local children who currently travel to Paddock Wood or Tonbridge for their secondary education. The school is now planning its new buildings and appears to have few problems in achieving its aims. Popular for 2014 entry, and expanded its number of Year 7 places from 30 to 60 to accommodate all who wanted a place. In August 2014, the school received a Financial Warning from the Department for Education "to serve as a written notice to improve financial management, control and governance at the Trust as a result of our concerns relating to the Trust’s delivery of its capital new build project, non-submission of required financial returns and failure to provide an adequate response to our June Financial Management and Governance Evaluation visit recommendations". As a result, "all of the delegated authorities  will be revoked, and all transactions by the Trust of this nature (regardless of size) must come to the Education Funding Agency (EFA) for approval". However, by February 2015, the position had improved to the extent that the Financial Notice to improve was lifted. In June 2015, the school was found to be Good by OFSTED, who described it as (excerpt)"Hadlow Rural Community School is an academy free school which opened to students in September 2013. It was set up by Hadlow College and is located within the college grounds. There is a strong association with the college, which provides many support services. The school is much smaller than average. Currently, it has students in Years 7, 8, 10 and 11. The 60 places available in Years 7 and 8 are not quite filled and there are 58 students due to join Year 7 in September 2015. The 15 places available in Years 10 and 11 are filled.The school is housed in temporary accommodation. The construction of a new school building, which is scheduled to open in 2016, has started. The proportion of students from minority ethnic groups or who speak English  as an additional language is well below average.  The proportion of students known to be eligible for the pupil premium, is lower than the national figure. The proportion of disabled students and those with special educational needs is well above average. All students follow a land-based curriculum at Hadlow College one day a week". 

Trinity Schoolin Sevenoaks.  This was the most politically contentious of the proposals, opposed by Kent County Council and suffered a campaign of denigration from other parties designed to destroy it before opening. The school is a four form entry secondary school, opened with the aim of admitting 50% of its children with a Christian background. In the end it admitted 92 children to its temporary home in 2013, a converted office block, but after many political turns, now has a permanent site planned for 2016 on the grounds of the old Wildernesse School, probablysharingwith the proposed new grammar school satellite.  Its future looks promising; in spite of the current unpromising temporary buildings for 2014 entry it turned away 38 first choices for its 120 places. For 2015 it had risen to 82. However, there are concerns over the delay in beginning the new buildings, caught up in a political wrangle, so they won't be completed until at least September 2016. Some parents are reported to be unhappy that their children will spend a third year in temporary accommodation, albeit moving to temporary classrooms on the new site, but it will also be a building site. Found Good by OFSTED in Jun 2015, it was described as (excerpt): "Trinity School is an expanding school which currently educates children in Years 7 and 8. At the time of the inspection, it had 236 students on roll. It is smaller than average-sized secondary schools. Trinity School is oversubscribed. It has enrolled more than its stated number of students as it has lost a number of parental admissions appeals. The school accepted a number of students into Year 7 during the course of its first year of operation and grew quickly from an original intake of 89 to its full capacity of 120. Trinity School is scheduled to move into temporary accommodation in July 2015, on the same site as its new premises, which are due to open in September 2016. Trinity School plans to open a sixth form in September 2018. The proportion of disadvantaged students, those eligible for the pupil premium who attend the school is well below the national average. The number of disabled students and those with special educational needs is also well below the national average. The school is situated on the outskirts of Sevenoaks, approximately 12 miles from the nearest secondary faith-based school. The trustees of Trinity School are committed to ensuring at least good-quality faith based education for a maximum of 50% of its cohort. Admission criteria are clearly set out and strictly enforced".

The Wells Free School, Tunbridge Wells. The school website states: "People wanted something more intimate with smaller class sizes, giving children the chance to be genuinely known and understood yet purposefully guided by their teachers to be the best that they could be. Furthermore there was a desire for breaking down barriers within the community, enabling people of all backgrounds and all generations to connect and feel involved. Together we will educate the next generation to achieve excellence; offering structure to feel secure, freedom to grow, and passion to inspire a lifetime's love of learning". It is seen as a response to the chronic shortage of primary school places in Tunbridge Wells discussed in several places on this website, including here.  However, with a planned intake of 22 children it is debatable whether it will make a great impact on the place pressures, although the small classes in a state funded school will be very welcome for those families whose children gain places.  January 2013 - The Wells Free School continues to argue its philosophy of a small school with small classes. If only government had made funding available for more maintained schools to remain small with small classes, as these are clearly popular! However, government funding does not allow this for maintained schools. The school writes: "We are negotiating with Berkeley Homes, who are keen to have TWFS as part of their brand new development on the old Kent and Sussex Hospital site. A new-build will necessarily take longer to achieve than the available time we’ve got until opening. Therefore we will be using temporary accommodation in the meantime. We are working to ensure that this temporary building is located on the K&S site, however to ensure fairness in our application process, we will be using the permanent building as our point of reference when allocating places". In other words, the school would serve the new build, except that places will be allocated before the new houses arrive; but in the longer term it will make little if any impact on the shortage of places in Tunbridge Wells. Proving popular with families, with 19 first choices turned away for September 2015 admission, although five other TW primaries were more popular.

Wye School, Wye near Ashford. The proposal is for a small, comprehensive (non-selective) secondary school in the village of Wye, hopefully situated in the premises of the historic buildings previously occupied by Wye Agricultural College. The website states: "An all ability, co-educational school for 11 – 18 year olds providing excellent teaching within a caring, supportive environment;Strong pastoral support so that the strengths, weaknesses and individual needs of every pupil are known and provided for .The important core curriculum plus an extensive range of extra-curricular activities to enhance and support the core;  academic success is key but  the acquisition of a wide range of skills is equally valuable;A powerful sense of mutual benefit, the pupils giving to and gaining from the local and widercommunity".In fact, this proposal is for a fairly standard offering, catering mainly for the children of Wye and surroundings, contrary to current thinking that a secondary school needs to be of a size to cater for most interests and aptitudes. They could have particular difficulty in supporting the range of extra curricular activities they anticipate, a common test being - will there be enough boys to form a football team?  You will find full details here. At present it sounds very idealistic, seeking to attract all abilities across the polarised grammar/non selective system in Kent. Private schools in East Kent mainly cater for children who have not been found selective under the Kent Eleven plus, and similarly one sees very few parents of able children being attracted such a small comprehensive school. The proposal to focus on the academic curriculum curriculum of the English Baccalaureate indicates the philosophy of the proposers, although their website paints a highly ambitious programme, apparently catering for all interests and aptitudes (nothing wrong with that) which may be difficult to achieve in such a small school. Part of the thinking behind the proposal may be for children to avoid the large and socially diverse non selective schools in Ashford and Kennington, and again, there is nothing wrong with self interest - its just that it would be paid for out of the shrinking funds available for state schools nationally. The school opened with a full roll of 90 children in Year 7, which had been reduced from 120, indicating a limited interest from the community. It has also opened in temporary buildings, but there has been enormous local controversy  over its long term site. It now has temporary planning permission for use of its current buildings for three years, but as yet no firm indication of a permanent site. Very popular for 2014 admission, turning away 44 first choices on allocation in March, 74 in 2015.  Children living further away than 4.37 miles were not offered place although this will increase after successful grammar school appeals take some of the children away. Still at the temporary Kempe Centre in summer 2015, with no obvious news of a permanent site.

Opened in September 2014

Jubilee Primary Schoolin Maidstone is described in a Press Release as: “Jubilee Primary School will be a two form entry school which will eventually cater for 420 pupils. It will open with two Reception classes with the potential of a Year 1 class if there is sufficient demand. The School will teach the National Curriculum, using it as a springboard for a dynamic and holistic education, tailored to meet the needs of the individual child and specialising in the Arts and in Sport”. It is sponsored by the Jubilee Church based in Upper Stone Street, Maidstone which is a member of ‘Church of the Nations’ an evangelistic and bible teaching based movement of some 200 churches in 40 countries. "The school will be a mainstream primary school with a faith ethos and will be open equally to children of all backgrounds regardless of faith".Like most Free Schools at this stage it is currently without premises, although the Department for Education will be working hard with the sponsors to identify and develop a site for the school. Has opened in an office block previously used by the Kent Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service(CAMHS), apparently with playground space available. In a newspaper interview, the school stated that the Department for Education liked new Free Schools operating in offices.  Nearly full in Year R October 2015 in second year of operation. Some problems with permanent premises.  

Inspire Special Free Schoolis a very different model, a Special School in Medway, catering for cater for pupils with emotional and behavioural concerns. It initially had 40 places eventually rising to 80, based next to Silverbank Park, a secondary pupil referral unit, . The Oaks building at that Silverbank Park will become a part of the free school, with the rest of the school being built using funds from the government.

The new school was co-sponsored by: Greenacre School; the Williamson Trust (Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School); and Bradfields Special School (presumably under the auspices of Medway Council as it is not an academy). Unusually the Local Authority is integrally involved in the project, which is highly sensible given the difficulties surrounding Statements of Special Education Need and school placements. I look forward to learning more details of what may be a very positive move in Special Education Need.

However, the co-management was a disaster, the school was placed in Special Measures, and has now been taken over by the Parallel Learning Trust, that runs four other Special Schools and PRUs in London.

Opened in September 2015

A new Free School in Thanet, the Ramsgate Free School, opened in 2015, initially admitting up to 60 children into each of Years R and 3. This appears to be an imaginative and proper use of the Free School concept in a District where there is a severe shortage of primary places and, in yet another new model, is to be sponsored by Chilton Primary School, currently a Community school under the control of KCC. The two schools will be led by Executive Head, Christopher Dale, currently headteacher of the heavily oversubscribed Chilton. Nearly full in Year R on first year of operation in October 2015. It has now been renamed as the Ramsgate Arts Primary School, and is part of the Viking Academy Trust, along with Chilton. 

Opening in September 2017 (delayed until at least 2018)
Bishop Chavasse Primary School is to open in South Tonbridge in September 2017, run by Bennett Memorial Diocesan school from Tunbridge Wells, opening having been put back a year. It is planned to be an “inclusive school admitting up to 60 children each year from Reception and will provide a high quality, traditional primary education with a Church of England ethos”, and "and prepare children to transfer to a secondary school of their choice (i.e. not just the church schools)" and could give priority for up to 50% of its intake as allowed for in the Schools Admissions Code, although in an initial statement "It is proposed that 25% of places will be allocated on the basis of parental church attendance, and 75% of places will be open enrolment, available to those of all faiths or none in the local community". Further details here
 
Other applications filed or in progress
Government  announced approval for two other new Free Schools in Kent in May 2015. However, neither of the following proposals will be open for September 2017, probably due to difficulty in finding premises (written July 2017).

A secondary school in Maidstone to be run by Valley Invicta Academy Trust is to be called The Maidstone School of Science and Technology and will focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Its admission number will be at least 180 places. There is expected to be a shortage of places in Maidstone secondary schools from 2018 onwards, so this should absorb the pressure, especially at the neighbouring Valley Park School, regularly one of the most oversubscribed schools in the county, for 2015 entry turning away 145 first choices, the second highest number in Kent. Two schools likely to be hit by this are Swadelands in Lenham, although this is increasingly being seen as a school for Ashford children mainly taking in unsuccessful Valley Park applicants from the south east of the town, and New Line Learning, which always has difficulty in attracting students.

 The proposal for Hope Community School, Northfleet originally aiming to open in September 2017,  in an area where there is a dire shortage of primary school places has been scrapped on the ground sther were sufficient primary places in Gravesham (but not in Northfleet!). It would have been part of the New Generation Schools Trust, run by the New Generation Church, an Evangelical Christian Church that already runs a Free School in Bexley. As with the Jubilee Primary School in Maidstone, with a similar background, it will present issues for some families living in the area, as there may be no alternative to this faith school offered. The preferred location for the school is on the Springhead Development, where KCC turned down the opportunity to open its own school a few years ago, on the grounds there would be overcapacity.

Eleven new Free Schools Announced June 2017.
Government has now given approval for eleven more new Free Schools, across Kent and Medway, target opening date probably September 2019, assuming premises can be found and planning permission approved. You will find details here
 
New Free School, September 2018
Chilmington Green School, the first of a number of new primary schools to meet the major expansion of Ashford, to be followed also by new secondary provision.
Serious Delays in New Free Schools
Government is finding major problems in establishing sponsors and sites for some planned new schools, including two in Thanet and Tunbridge Wells. See article
 


 

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