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Peter Read

Wednesday, 15 September 2021 21:35

Gavin Williamson

There is little left to say about this man, who has failed children, teachers and headteachers across the country.  As I don't normally comment on national education matters that are not specific to Kent or Medway I will confine myself to referring to the few articles I have written naming him. 

These included one in June last year entitled: Kent's Plan for Grammar School Selection 2020After reviewing KCC's complete  failure to come up with any strategy for supporting disadvantaged children in the Kent selection process, a failure that was underlined by the seriously flawed outcomes last year, I wrote: 

'This all makes a mockery of the statement by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, that: "We’re going to be looking at working with local authorities who have grammar school systems in their area as to how best we can ensure that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are not disadvantaged as they look at taking the 11-plus in the future."' He may have looked but he certainly didn't do anything which made a difference!

My most frequent mention of Mr Williamson was in connection with his appointment of the CEO of Turner Schools, to a post as adviser in the DfE, after her highly controversial three years of leading the Trust, then promoting her to be Chief Regulator of OfQual, in spite of her record.....

For an excellent record of Mr Williiamson's performance as Secretary of State for Education try:  'U-turns, gaffes and mixed messages: lowlights of the Williamson era' on Page Six of the latest Schools Week

Firstly, my apologies as I had to change the address of my previous article for technical reasons. You will now find it under Government  At Last Takes Action against SchoolsCompany (Indirectly).

The above headline is based on the hypothetical assumption that the founder of the academy Trust SchoolsCompany, Elias Achilleos, along with Heinrich Zimmerman, one of the Directors, appear to have vanished after running a number of companies across the world, most of which apart from SchoolsCompany Limited have now closed down, and most never appear to have operated. I make no comment on the other founding Directors. If any of my assumptions or conclusions are incorrect, then I am of course happy to change or if necessary withdraw the article.

SchoolsCompany

One can only speculate how the track record below persuaded the government that SchoolsCompany Limited, set up in 2011, was a suitable organisation to run an Academy Trust, take responsibility for its finances, and provide its support services. Its founding CEO ran at least three Limited Companies between 2006-2011, all of which were dissolved before the appointment. One was engaged in unspecified business activities (which was wound up by application of its main creditor – HM Government!), one an entertainment company, the third offering administrative and support service activities, with no evidence of any educational background at this stage.  

Updates 14 September: Because of a Technical Issue, this article replaces an identical one previously published on this page. I have now published a second article on my Blog Page, looking at various items of background. 

I first covered the issues at SchoolsCompany in an article back in 2014 as it guided Castle Community College in Deal into Special Measures,  along with Lilac Sky Schools (see below). Both of these companies were highly rated by Kent County Council at the time and had contracts to support several schools. The SchoolsCompany Trust subsequently sponsored Castle as an academy in 2016, renaming it as ‘SchoolsCompany Goodwin Academy’, a pretentious title which went with some of the fantastical schemes hatched up by the trust’s CEO, none of which came to fruition, including the non-existent Royal Academy for Construction and Fabrication in Nigeria.  The Trust collapsed in 2018 after existing for just three short years, reportedly being £8 million in debt, £4 million of which had been run up during SchoolsCompany’s management of Castle Community College.  

SchoolsCompany

The government is finally taking action against four of the previous Trustees of the Trust, after three years investigating this financial scandal, although a Report promised a year ago has still not been published. For some reason, they have evaded a direct intervention, even at this late stage. The arm's length and convoluted procedure explained in SchoolsWeek has the government funding the newly appointed sole current Trustee, a Management Consultant with experience in overseeing dissolved companies, to sue previous trustees in an attempt to recover £2.8 million of 'lost public funds’, the remaining millions having been written off. In the intervening three years, according to SchoolsWeek, Elias Achilleos the former Chief Executive appears to have vanished completely.

SchoolsCompany no longer comes under the government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency which is responsible for academies, having had all of its schools removed, and has amazingly become a charity. BBC SW screened an Investigation in February 2020 analysing the financial affairs of SchoolsCompany, to which I contributed. The programme reported that the police were examining the company’s finances to see if fraud had been committed, but we have heard no more of this. 

Update 12 September: Swale Borough Council is holding a meeting on Sheppey open to the public on Tuesday 14th September. On the agenda is an item to discuss the current crisis in secondary school provision, based on the enclosed document. I look at this in more detail below.    

Update 9th September: It has been suggested that the school's GCSE performance this summer may have been a factor in Miss Lee's departure. Interestingly, in his statement to KentOnline (below), Rev Chalke made no mention of these, which would have been a good indicator of the real progress he talks about. 

 The latest Principal of the Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey (OAIOS), Tina Lee suddenly left her post without notice either in July or over the summer holiday according to different reports, and has now been replaced by another new temporary Executive Principal, the eighth leader of the school since it became an academy in 2009.

Miss Lee had already been humiliated last September after Oasis brought in an Executive Principal over her head, but he only lasted a term and it appears that her performance in the interim may not not been sufficient to keep her job. I have written extensively on the failures of the Oasis Trust to turn the school round since it sacked the most successful Principal it has ever had, when it took over OAIOS in 2013 after another Trust had failed with the school. At the foot of this article, you will find a list of some of the previous reports I have written on this ongoing calamity.

Oasis Sheppey

According to Kent Online: ‘The Rev Steve Chalke, the founder of Oasis Community Learning, insisted Miss Lee had not left "under a cloud." He said: "The reverse is true. Tina has done a great job. For the first time in years, we have a full intake of Year 7s and are having to use the Sheerness site again. We have also just received a really good letter from Ofsted saying the school is making real progress. We are not 'good' yet but we are heading in the right direction. It takes a long time to turn a school around. For years huge numbers of children have been bussed off the Island every day." These claims are looked at in more detail below. 

Since the start of this website in 2010, and its predecessor from 2004, I have featured information articles listing all academies and academy trusts in Kent and Medway. These were followed by articles on Free Schools (both operational and planned)  and University Technical Colleges. These four articles have had over 200,000 visitors between them, including many from media and other organisations wishing to consult the only published and comprehensive listing of these schools.

I have recently completely revised and updated each of the four articles, and this article reviews their content, drawing out some of the key findings. I also expand on the following paragraph.

The government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency has a rule that ‘Before escalating an academy complaint to us, you should first complain to the academy. You should follow the academy’s complaints procedure. We cannot change an academy’s decision about a complaint. Our role is to make sure the academy handles your complaint properly’, effectively making all academies non-accountable to parental concerns (see below). The Government Paper ‘Building strong academy trusts’ begins ‘Section one sets out the department’s ambition for all schools to be part of strong academy trusts, in strong families of schools’  (of at least 12 schools!). Currently, 81% of the 118 local secondary schools are academies, with just 26 of these in Trusts of 12 or more schools. Meanwhile, the government and KCC appear determined to see through the new but unnecessary secondary Free School in Margate, to be built on a cramped unsuitable site with no room for a Sixth Form.

Perverse & absurd, but KCC keep paying their offshore PFI contractors
The above headline appears at the top of a recent article by the campaigning website Shepwayvox, which had its genesis in several articles I wrote in 2013, setting out the basis for the scandal. I have returned to the issue several times, notably here, which shows that the escalating debts on the various contracts are predominantly owed to offshore companies, who only have to sit back and rake in the profits from the KCC education budget. Remarkably, company accounts show that not one of the six profiting companies has any employees!
 
My original article identified a capital cost of £100 million for six schools rebuilt with money borrowed through PFI and looked at the enormous interest rates payable over the next 30 years. According to Shepway Vox, even the Department for Education's latest estimates predict that the ten KCC schools at the centre of this scandal will cost about 70% more than if they had used non-PFI borrowing
 
I became involved when the first of the Kent PFI schools controversially became an academy in 2013. This was Swan Valley School, which became Ebbsfleet Academy, producing the anomaly that KCC is still paying for the cost of the loan to provide premises for an academy that is independent of the authority. Other academies bear no such financial cost for the Authority.

My best wishes to all who are receiving their GCSE results today, may they be what you wish for.

Most of you will have decided the next step to take in September, be it staying in your own school or transferring to another, for A Level or vocational courses, or a mixture of the two;  leaving to go to college to take a vocational course; part-time college education, along with employment (which may include an apprenticeship) or volunteering more than 20 hours a week. The law now requires all young people in England to continue in education or training until at least their 18th birthday. 

Sadly, other young people will find themselves missing out on their chosen option, and some will change their minds at the last moment. Whilst many doors will now have closed, others do remain open, and I have written several articles exploring these via links through my Information Article on Sixth Form Admissions and Appeals, which opens up into other possibilities, here.

As with A Level, we can expect similar grade inflation this year, biased towards those who have had the most schooling, in school or remotely. This will put increased but unpredictable pressure on many Sixth Form courses, as schools won't have the flexibility of universities to expand to meet increased demand.  

Revised: 8th August. Kentonline has subsequently published a bland article on the proposal here

The planning application for the proposed Park Crescent Academy in Margate has now been published, exposing the utter poverty of the concept. The education case set out for it is almost non-existent, whilst the site is described as being ‘constricted or constrained where space is at a premium’  and is also constrained by being on two distinct levels, with the very limited recreational and sporting outdoor areas dependent on the nearby public  Dane Park Playing Fields. I have covered both these issues extensively in previous articles, most recently ‘The New No Win Park Crescent Academy’, but this article focuses on KCC's justification for the project.

Picture 1

You will find the full planning application here, published in the Kent County Council weekly planning lists for 30th July,  the consultation to run for four weeks during the summer holidays until 28th August (now extended to 8th October. The most interesting section is the Planning Statement, tucked away inside the series of documents, which sets out the rationale for the project, and reproduced here. My analysis below divides it into two sections: The Education Needs Case; and The Site and Surroundings.

It is the only one of the twelve new secondary schools in Kent and Medway, open or planned since Ebbsfleet Academy in 2013 not to have a Sixth Form, a decision clearly made because of space limitations. Coincidentally, I was also in at the birth of Ebbsfleet Academy, and received assurances at an open meeting from the then KCC Cabinet Member, that the new school would not be built on the current site as it was too small and had no room for a Sixth Form. Ebbsfleet was built there, hasn't a Sixth Form, and has struggled ever since.

Published in Downsmail: July 22nd 2021. 

Covid-19 and the Kent Grammar School Selection Process for 2022 Entry

Registration for the Kent Test this year has now closed, with many families wondering what contingency plans will be put in place this year to manage the expected rise in Covid cases amongst young people by 9th September, the date of the test. Sadly, the 2021 selection procedure was set in stone and no allowances were made for the education lost over the previous year, with the inevitable result. The then Education Cabinet Member claimed KCC would do all that was practical and possible to address all forms of disadvantage. The Education Secretary made a similar promise.  These proved completely empty promises and nothing was done, apart from a delay in testing. As a direct result the proportion of children in receipt of Pupil Premium and those in East and Mid Kent who passed the Kent Test plummeted, boys in general underperformed, passes for children from West Kent, private schools and out of county increased.

One of the most startling outcomes was at Maidstone Grammar School which had 14 vacancies on allocation in March, whereas it was previously heavily oversubscribed. Oakwood Park had 32 vacancies. In contrast, 12 first choice girls were turned away from Invicta Grammar after not filling last year whilst Maidstone Girls, saw an improvement but still with 23 vacancies. 13 East and Mid Kent grammar schools had empty places on allocation in March. Appeals have now taken place. MGS will certainly have filled, whilst Maidstone Girls and Oakwood will have been very generous as in most previous years.

So what of entry for 2022? Social mobility, already damaged by tutoring and private cramming schools, will inevitably take another knock in this year’s assessment process unless the Education Department changes its attitudes. Shellina Prendergast, the new Cabinet Member for Education and a County Councillor for Maidstone Rural East, is well aware of the local issues, and Christine Innes, the new Director of Education bring fresh ideas, so the opportunity is there.

To be precise, unless there are changes in the selective assessment procedure we shall see another betrayal of ‘ordinary’ Kent children looking for a grammar school place.

Last year KCC Officers and politicians put forward the argument that there were just two models of selection available to them, the Kent Test followed by Headteacher Assessments in their current form, or assessment by headteachers without a test. I came up with a third without difficulty, requiring no change in regulations, which overcame some of the problems. I am sure there are others, but the refusal to contemplate any alternatives led directly to the present failure.

You will find details of all the data referred to above at: https://www.kentadvice.co.uk/peters-blog/news-a-comments/item/1404-the-kent-test-2021-in-the-face-of-last-years-failures.html

I apologise for the greatly delayed publication of this item.

I have subsequently included an update exploring Medway Council's forecasting of the dramatic fall in numbers described below

There is no doubt that the big news for primary allocations in Medway this year has been the fall of 10% in the number of children being allocated places at local schools, resulting in many more vacancies. All Medway children looking for a local place were offered one, along with a small number living out of the area. In total 3277 places were offered, down from 3447 in 2020 leaving 16% unfilled, well up on previous years. That also means far fewer families were disappointed with the offers they received, with 92% getting their first choice, up from 88% last year. 51 local children were allocated places by Medway Council after they were given none of their choices, well down on previous years, almost certainly having limited these choices to a few popular schools. This fall was forecast, although underestimated, by the Council in its Annual Review of the School Place Planning Strategy in October last year, see new section below, the decline now forecast to continue for each of the next three years.   

The one form entry The Pilgrim School in Rochester is by some way the most primary oversubscribed school in Medway, turning away 35 first choices, even more than the 30 places it offered. Next were the three schools that headed the list last year, Barnsole (down from 49 to 24 first choices disappointed), Academy of Woodlands (down from 27 to 24); and Cliffe Woods (down from 50 to 19), separated by Brompton-Westbrook on 21. St Thomas More Catholic saw the most remarkable change in fortune, having gone from 13 vacancies on allocation last year, to being 14 first choices oversubscribed for 2021 entry.

Pilgrim 3    Barnsole Woodlands

Not surprisingly, apart from the Hoo Peninsula, all areas saw an increase in the number of unfilled places, most in Chatham (up to 19% from 12%), and Gillingham (up to 17% from 10% in 2020), contributing to the high proportion of satisfied applicants. Nearly two-thirds of the 69 schools had vacancies, way up on the 36 of 2020. Five schools had more than half of their places unfilled on allocation, a situation which, if continued will present them with financial difficulties. 

I look more closely at each Medway area separately, below, links as follows: Chatham; Gillingham; Hoo Peninsula; Rainham; Rochester; Strood, Walderslade, together with the situation for Junior Schools, here

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