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Monday, 10 September 2018 23:42

Academy News: September 2018

I am afraid this regular update is well overdue because of pressures elsewhere. I will be publishing a second article shortly (I hope) but this one is primarily about new and proposed academies and the increasing practice of re-assigning academies to other Trusts when there has been a break down of performance in some way. 

Panorama, 10th September: Financial Mismanagement in Academy Trusts
This is a subject that I have explored many times in these pages, most commonly in the scandal of Lilac Sky Academy Trust and more recently with The SchoolsCompany Academy Trust. I have enclosed a comment outlining the issues with the two Trusts at the foot of this page. 

Another ten schools have become academies this year, bringing the Kent total to 89% out of 101 secondary schools including applications in progress, and 37% of 456 primaries. In Medway 16 out of 17 secondary schools and 54 of the 79 primaries are academies. You will find all the latest conversions below, along with new applications to become academies, and a full list of Kent and Medway academies here.

The number of Multi Academy Trusts continues to proliferate, some with ever more exotic names; you will find a full list of Kent and Medway Trusts here.

Please note, I have further academy news which will be the subject of a subsequent article.

New Academies
The following are new Converter academies in Kent since my last round up, all primary.

Sutton at Hone CofE Primary in Dartford has become part of the Aletheia Anglican Academies Trust, the Vale View Community School in Dover to be part of the Whinless Down Academy Trust, Valley Invicta Primary School at East Borough, Maidstone, has joined the Valley Invicta Academies Trust. St Mark’s CofE Primary, Eccles near Maidstone has become part of the Pilgrim Multi-Academy Trust and Wrotham Road School, in Gravesend joining the Pathway Academy Trust.

In Medway, there are Bligh Infant and Junior Schools joined the Barnsole Primary Trust; Maundene School having joined the Inspire Academy Trust; and Hilltop Primary with the Greenacre Academy Trust.

Edenbridge Primary, after a disastrous period in which KCC failed to take appropriate action was placed in in Special Measures last November. It has now been taken over as a Sponsored Academy by the Pioneer Academy Trust, which runs seven other primary academies in Bexley.

New Applications in Progress.
Proposals to convert: All Souls Cof E, Folkestone; Bean Primary, Dartford; Bethersden Primary; Coxheath Primary; Darenth Community; Deal Parochial CofE Primary; Fordcombe CofE Primary; Hornbeam Primary; Loose Primary; Northbourne CofE Primary; Parkway Primary; Rolvenden Primary, Tenterden; Roseacre Junior; Sandown School; Sholden CofE Primary.

In Medway, Park Wood Infant and Junior Schools are also applying to be Converter Academies.

There are two new sponsorship Proposals in the pipeline. The first of these is for The North West Kent Alternative Provision Service, previously found Outstanding by Ofsted in 2013, but plunging to Special Measures four years later (Safeguarding is ineffective. All aspects of the school’s work have declined significantly since the last inspection. A large number of interim leadership arrangements have been ineffective. Pupils make very limited progress in all subjects. Too many staff lack basic subject knowledge. Teaching is poor. The local authority did not keep a close enough watch on the school between 2013 and 2016). There is rightly considerable concern nationally about such institutions and the long term effect on the pupils who have the misfortune to be assigned to them.

The second is for Holmesdale School, down from Good to Special Measures, that I reported on at the time, now due to be taken over by Swale Academies Trust. However, like the North School also managed by the Trust it is blocked from becoming an academy because of the PFI deal that secured new premises.

PFI Issues

You will find an alarming analysis of the finances behind all Kent’s eleven PFI schools here, undertaken by the investigative website ShepwayVox. Ten of these are currently blocked from becoming academies because of the debts to providers. Over half of KCC’s overall debt of around £740 million to the three Contractors (two of whom are off-shore companies) is still owing. I have written about these issues previously, which have the result of blocking Academy applications, but the finances have deteriorated alarmingly since then and hope to revisit this shortly.

Rebrokering

Folkestone Academy
Re-brokering (change of Multi-Academy Trust, usually on intervention of Regional schools Commissioner) has become one of the themes of 2018, beginning with the transfer of Folkestone Academy from Sir Roger De Haan Academy Trust to Turner Schools in January. The De Haan Trust never delivered results sponsoring the Marlowe Academy, Kent’s first purpose built, in 2005. My 2015 article about the school’s closure outlines much of the controversy leading up to its failure.

In April 2017, Turner Schools, a new Academy Trust took over the management of Folkestone Academy, leading up to a re-brokering of it in January this year. Over the eighteen months of Turner Schools control, its reputation has fallen further, with high staff turnover, pupils looking for alternative schools and a fall in morale, as outlined here, update here.

Williamson Trust and Elaine Primary School
At present, Medway’s Williamson Trust is in ‘merger’ discussions with the much larger Leigh Academy Trust. I believe the reality is that this is a takeover as explained in my article, mainly because of the poor performance of the Williamson primary schools. Already one of these, Elaine Primary, has been removed from the Trust because of its failure and re-brokered to The Inspire Partnership, a small London Academy Trust.

The acquisition of the Williamson Trust sees what is probably the county’s wealthiest school pass into the hands of the county’s most acquisitive. The school, which has superb facilities, much provided by the Sir Joseph Williamson's Charitable Trust, received a donation from them of £244,677 in 2017, which will have gone to a further capital project.

Cornwallis and New Line Learning Academies, and Tiger Free School
Cornwallis Academy, once one of the county’s most popular schools has slumped in popularity as can be seen from its individual profile in spite of (or because of) completely new premises. New Line Learning Academy has struggled ever since it was formed in new premises from the amalgamation of two struggling schools. The two schools were run by the Future Schools Academy Trust, along with the Tiger Free School, a primary which was Kent’s first Free School.

It has now announced a ‘merger’ to have taken place on 1st September, with the Every Child, Every Day Academy Trust comprising two secondary schools Grey Court School in Richmond (Ofsted Outstanding) and Hollyfield School in Kingston.

In terms of performance, popularity and Free School Meal measure (NLL 50.2%) both Outer London schools can be seen to have very different populations to those serving South Maidstone. The Maidstone schools have also been under pressure from the DfE to improve standards, a Warning Notice in January 2017 issued to NLL referring to pre-warning letters to both schools also criticising leadership. This year Cornwallis had 54 vacancies (11 Local Authority Allocations) and NLL 33 (80 LAAs) in March, which will have increased by now.

It looks very much as if the Regional Schools Commissioner has proposed this as a re-broker, with the new schools expected to raise standards.

SchoolsCompany Goodwin Academy
SchoolsCompany Academy Trust has provided a disastrous experience for the schools and children for which it was responsible, as chronicled here. It was given three PRUs in Devon and what became the SchoolsCompany Goodwin Sands School in Deal. It took the latter from Outstanding Ofsted to Special Measures in three years, and then financially crippled it. The Trust was served with a Financial Notice to Improve by the Education and Skills Funding Agency. It received a stabilisation grant of £704,895 in 2016/17.  The most recent Company Accounts note that the Trust is in significant debt to the Department for Education and would need significant further borrowing for 2017/18 which will now have been written off. This was reported as £3 million earlier this year with some 30 staff being made redundant to try and reduce costs. As in other scandalous Multi-Academy Trusts it has taken a large amount of money out of school budgets, although we shall never know the total as a Trust that has folded does not need to publish its final accounts.

The School has now been re-brokered to the Medway based Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) which, whilst thriving internally has been the subject of a number of controversies described in these pages, for example here, with the Schools Adjudicator finding in my favour in nearly every respect, to be covered in an article shortly.

TSAT has done very well out of the takeover, for Goodwin Academy took delivery of £25 million of new premises and, under excellent new leadership, has seen the number of first preferences for admission shoot up from 77 in 2017 to 174 in 2018.

Pilgrims Way Primary, Canterbury
This is one of those schools that appear doomed to struggle. The school was place under the control of St Stephen’s Junior School in 2012, prior to it becoming an Academy sponsored by them following years of poor performance. The school is first mentioned on this site in 2013, when it failed its Ofsted, the head teacher having been disappeared shortly before the Inspection, as happened too often at that time. Around that time it was taken away from St Stephen’s and became an academy sponsored by the Village Academy Trust. It came under considerable pressure in 2016 taking in children re-located from Redbridge. Pilgrims Way was found inadequate by Ofsted in September 2017, Inspectors reporting: ‘The school continues to undergo considerable turbulence. Pupils leave and join the school at irregular points. The turnover of staff is relentless’. Whatever, the school was either removed from the Village Academy Trust and re-brokered, or by agreement it joined Veritas Multi Academy Trust in May 2018, the only other school in the Trust being the Ofsted Outstanding Warden House Primary in Deal.
 
Panorama, 10th September: Financial Mismanagement in Academy Trusts
The issue arises because of the very loose accountability of academies for financial matters. Neither of the cases below relate to the issues exposed in the Panorama article, although this confirms the opportunity for those who wish to, to exploit a very weak level of control, assuming that those running Academy Trusts will act with integrity in the interests of children. I am sure this is true in the great majority of cases.
 
Lilac Sky Academy Trust
This is not just an issue for Trusts, for the late unlamented Lilac Sky Academy Trust which operated eight primary academies across Kent and East Sussex was making money out of the Furness Special School in Hextable through a management contract whilst it was still a Local Authority School. Sadly, KCC had no interest in investigating the scandal although I was able to produce considerable evidence of malpractice. As a result, Lilac Sky was able to run up a huge deficit in this small school over a short period, by charging exorbitant fees and non-existent services, there being no obvious check. Governors were told by KCC that the school was financially sound two weeks before announcing its closure because of the large and unrecoverable deficit forecast as £1.6 million, this having doubled in just a year of looking after 34 pupils.  Later on, when I produced articles on this site exposing further malpractice  it was in the face of extreme hostility from KCC officers, the Director of Education going on record several times to declare what a fine organisation was Lilac Sky. He finally changed his mind at the very end, as Lilac Sky which had been allowed to run up another huge deficit on its academies ran into financial difficulties, cutting staff and provision to the core. Meanwhile, leaders extracted over half a million ponds directly from the Trust. The Trust received a 'stabilisation grant' of £122,414 from the Education Funding and Skills Agency in 2017 for its central organisation, a further £507,546 being paid to Knockhall Academy, which was already running a large deficit from 2015. In addition, Janet Downs at Local Schools Network reports that in addition, advances of £537,000 were deemed irrecoverable and cancelled. You will find a summary of the financial issues and examples of malpractice here (but put 'Lilac' into my search engine for much more). What is missing is any indication that the Department for Education or the Regional Schools Commissioner showed any sign of concern or monitoring of the Trust which should easily have picked up some of the issues and saved the education service a great deal of money. 
 
SchoolsCompany Academy Trust
This is on a smaller scale, the Trust running SchoolsCompany Goodwin Academy in Deal and three PRUs in Devon. However, when new Trustees took over after the Trust collapsed it was found to be in debt to the tune of £3 million. Too late, the Trust had been served with a Financial Notice to Improve in July last year, my article going into considerable detail about the issues.  This was a Company that had taken over the running of what was previously called Castle Community College in conjunction with Lilac Sky as it plummeted from Ofsted Outstanding to Special Measures in just three years. Just what in this encouraged the Department for Education to place SchoolsCompany on the list of Academy Trusts suitable to sponsor academies remains a mystery. My most recent article records the late CEO of the Trust setting up  the Royal Academy for Construction and Fabrication in Nigeria although it is unclear what are his qualifications for such a role.  
Last modified on Friday, 21 September 2018 16:43

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