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Displaying items by tag: North School

Friday, 02 July 2021 20:11

Academy and Free School News July 2021

The biggest news since my previous round-up of academy news in February is that the conversion of The North School and the sponsorship of The Holmesdale School, both to join Swale Academies Trust, is now set to happen for September as all obstacles to academisation have been removed. It also signposts the freedom for all of the other eight PFI schools to convert if they wish. These include Royal Harbour Academy in Thanet, a maintained school despite its title, for whom government approval to proceed has now been given under the sponsorship of Coastal Academies Trust.

In March, Worth Primary School joined the Deal Education Alliance for Learning Trust. In April, Chartham Primary and St Stephen’s Infants in Canterbury came together to create the Inspira Academy Trust, Sandwich Infants joined Aquila, the Diocese of Canterbury Academy Trust, and Fleetdown Primary in Dartford joined the Galaxy Trust, all five as converter academies. These take the proportion of Kent primary schools having academised to 43%, with the government proposing to put more pressure on schools to convert (see below). Mundella Primary School in Folkestone has had its application to join the Verita Trust in Deal approved and it is proposed that Will Adams Centre, an Alternative Provision School in Medway will join the Alternative Learning Trust.  Approval for the controversial new Free Secondary School in Thanet is further delayed.

Other items look at: Halling and Fairview Primaries in Medway; the proposed merger of All Hallows and Stoke primaries on the Hoo Peninsula; Kent Catholic Schools  Partnership; other recommendations by the SE and South London Headteacher Board; Copperfield Academy's Good Ofsted; and expanding academies. 

The article concludes with a look at new government policies working towards seeing all schools becoming academies, with several local mentions.

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Updated below, 8th Feb, drawing on a KCC Education Committee Report

I have covered disputes over the proposed conversion of Kent schools built under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) to become academies for many years. These first surfaced around 2011, my initial article being here, with the schools involved including Holmesdale Technology College and The North School.  

Ten years later, these two schools are still at the heart of the issue and I have chronicled their misfortunes under Kent County Council (KCC) control over the years, although up to another eight PFI schools may well be looking on with their own plans to convert. Both of the two schools are now managed for Kent County Council by Swale Academy Trust, whose plan, alongside improving them, has always been to secure academy status for both. I have received correspondence from FOI requests over the past two years which confirms the difficulties encountered in attempting to achieve this, but now shows that all obstacles appear to have been removed. A letter from KCC to Swale, of 11th September 2020, concludes I see no reason why these conversions should not proceed with little contention between ourselves‘. This is quite explicit although, despite the view that ‘We are both working to the same objective, the swift, smooth transition of the schools into the Trust’, it appears that KCC has been stalling on implementing the conversions for a further five months, having possibly only taken the single step of appointing solicitors to oversee the conversions. As a result, the agreed conversion date of 1st September 2021 appears very much at risk, in which case Swale Academies Trust could decide to pull out completely and hand the schools back to KCC, whose record is one of having led them both into Special Measures.   

This article explores the issues, including KCC's role, more closely and widens them out to consider the situation relating to the other PFI schools still under KCC control, notably Royal Harbour Academy. 

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Update: The Schools Week website has followed up on this story. Also contains further updates

Kent County Council is pulling out of its management agreement with Swale Academy Trust for The North School, Ashford, at very short notice, formally serving that notice on 22nd July that the contract would end 31st August. Until that point it had  providing no formal reason for its action, leaving considerable uncertainty about arrangements for September. This follows a similar decision by KCC last year at the Holmesdale School in Cuxton, which proved highly controversial, created chaos and which I covered extensively here and here.

Swale Academies Trust has managed The North since early 2014, after the school was placed in Special Measures by Ofsted in December 2013, although there is a considerable background  to this as described here. Swale took the school back up to Good less than four years later, although managing to overspend some £200,000  pounds per year to achieve this, reducing a financial surplus of £244,000 to a large deficit of  £768,357 at the end of this financial year, which now needs to be paid back. The Trust took robust actions to achieve the strong performance, its usual style and although the school  suffered a slump in popularity, with for example the large staff turnover, it has now recovered this following the successful Ofsted Inspection.

The North 2

There is no doubt that the school and the Swale Trust are now integrated to a considerable extent through: staffing - some teachers being Swale employees; school support; and the Swale culture, through combined training events for staff, etc It could be that this is just a money saving decision, saving £150,000 per annum management fee, although there has been no such suggestion put forward, but there is surely a contract between the two parties in place. To tear this apart at such short notice will be immensely damaging to the school. Whatever, there will be no £200,000 extra to spend next year which is going to lead to considerable economies.  According to Schools Week, SAT’s chief executive Jon Whitcombe has warned staff that the possibility of the school joining SAT is “now in doubt”. 

It is reported that shockingly no information has been sent to parents about this damaging situation. 

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This article looks at two new Catholic academies in Kent and two fresh applications to become academies in Medway, for January.

It also considers the progress of the North School sponsorship by Swale Academy Trust, together with other issues relating to change of status of Private Finance Initiative schools, some of which will place a further financial burden on those schools remaining with KCC.

The North 2

The North School

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Most of the activity of conversion to academies this year has been in the primary sector, as those secondaries looking to convert have already done so. There is one batch of secondary schools that, even if they are willing to convert, are still in difficulty about doing so. These schools were built under Private Finance Initiative and would incur heavy charges for themselves and KCC if they converted, as explained in two previous articles I wrote last year and a follow up to come.  

Once again, the majority of the nine conversions listed below are to join church academy groups either by federation, or under sponsorship for underperforming or failing schools. 

My information pages on academies and Academy Groups provide a comprehensive list of all academies open or in development across Kent and Medway. 

Currently in Kent, 72% of secondary schools and 28% of primary schools have converted to academies, are in progress or are Free Schools. The corresponding figures for Medway are !00% secondary and 42% primary. These figures are based on my own records and are not official. 

I also comment on three schools that have run into difficulties over possible conversions - Twydall Primary in Gillingham; Kings Farm Primary in Gravesend and The North School in Ashford; together with the proposed new Free School in Sittingbourne for children with high functioning autism.......

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