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Wednesday, 05 June 2019 22:57

Academy and Free School News: June 2019


Academy Trusts
Leigh Academy Trust
During the year, this much favoured Trust has taken over the Medway Williamson Trust, comprising the prestigious Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School, two non-selective schools, and four primary schools, and has also been awarded  three new Free Schools: a Special School in Bearsted Maidstone together with a new primary school on a shared site, and a new secondary school.  At another newly acquired school in Greenwich, the Halley Academy, the Trust created controversy with what appears to be a financial coup extracting money from the Council. The academy now again been in the news, having laid off or redeployed 19 support staff at the school, which has a high proportion of pupils with Special Education Needs or Disabilities, causing considerable concern from affected families. Meanwhile CEO Simon Beamish is on a salary of £220,000 probably the highest paid academy leader in Kent, just above that of Mary Boyle, now retired head of the moderately performing stand alone Knole Academy on £205,000 (now converted to a healthy final salary pension). Currently, the Trust’s 23 academies cover a wide range of performance indicators.
Turner Schools
I have written extensively on the four Turner schools in Folkestone, about their multiple failures and the financial largesse showered upon the Trust to reward those failures. Just put Turner Schools or Folkestone Academy into the site search engine to find details. Most recently the two primary schools appear in an article on Primary Allocations where both Morehall and Martello schools are identified amongst the most unpopular in the county. A description of new premises for the Turner Free School (TFS) appears to be luxurious compared to the reduced funding currently being offered to most schools for redevelopment, but no funding is agreed, so this may well shrink in scale. The CEO states: ‘The Turner Free School has already got off to a flying start and we are oversubscribed for the second year running’. This is not true as there are just 149 first choices for its 180 places. The increase in PAN has been wholly at the expense of the other non-selective Folkestone school, Folkestone academy which is also run by Turner Schools. As a result of the TFS expansion this has been  left with 84 vacancies at 31%, third highest in Kent even before grammar school appeals reduce numbers further.  
Individual Academies
Delce Academy, Rochester
The following item is copied from my recent article on Medway Primary Schools, Oversubscription and Vacancies.
Delce Junior School was Ofsted Good before it became an academy in 2014, when it formed the CASTLE Trust. The Trust then provided support for a converter academy in West Sussex, Greenway Academy,  sharing its headteacher. Greenway had converted to be a stand alone academy two years earlier in 2012 and then had two Requires Improvement Inspections, making four in a row.  A Monitoring Ofsted Inspection in January 2016, praised the excellent support provided by Delce and shortly afterwards it formally joined the CASTLE Trust, being assessed as Good by Ofsted in June 2017. Unfortunately, Delce Academy was heading in the opposite direction being found to Require Improvement two months before: 'The chair of the local governing body (who is also chair of the Castle Trust), said that too often governors trust what the headteacher (who is also the chief executive officer of the trust) tells them.(Trust Directors) have not been focused enough on the current performance of Delce Academy'. 
For September 2016, the Trust had made the strange decision to extend the age range of Delce Academy down to admit infants, in direct competition with its linked schools, Delce Infants and St Peter's Infants. Pupils at these two schools feed naturally into Delce Academy at Year Three, and are given priority in the Admissions Policy.  It attracted 21 pupils for admission in September 2017 for its 30 places. In order to provide clear water between the two schools, Delce Infant School changed its name to Crest Infant School. For 2018 the infant allocation figure for Delce Academy fell to 12 and for admission in September 2019 it is down further to 10, in contrast to Crest's 75 offers for its 90 places and St Peter's 21 offers for 30 places. Together, there are not enough children to fill Crest and St Peter's with some parents presumably trying to avoid the whole set up. The KS2 performance of Delce Academy is now well below average in Medway. It has a PAN of 130 for external admissions into Year Three, but only offered places to 97, including eight Local Authority Allocations, confirming the unhappiness some families have about the school.
Also strangely, the CASTLE Trust advertises on its website,  a new Free School, the Bridge Specialist Academy,  to offer 40 places in the 5 to 11 age range, for children with  Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) issues and opening in September 2019! The website also boasts (June 2019) that 'We are incredibly proud of all the achievements of the pupils at Bridge Academy'!  I am unable to find any other references to this 'school'. Fantasy land.  
Ebbsfleet Academy
The current and controversial Principal of Ebbsfleet Academy, Alison Colwell, is leaving the school to become Principal of an International School in Mallorca. In doing so she threw a grenade via the national media making a damning indictment of the behaviour of parents from the ‘white working class’. The article I wrote about what is a travesty of reality looks at the background behind this including the poor performance of the academy by a wide range of measures, but I have also learned today that a third of the teaching staff of 33 have left or are leaving this school year (including one who sadly died). Such a high turnover is a reflection of a troubled school.
Hadlow College and Rural Community School
I don’t normally comment on FE matters, but the investigations into the finances of Hadlow College and West Kent & Ashford College (just a flavour here), the last two acquired by the specialist Agricultural College after a game of monopoly across Kent FE that makes academy machinations look like Ludo, have a knock on with the Hadlow Rural Community  School, run by the group.  You will find concerns and allegations expressed in the management of the Group in an attached document, here.   In its first year of operation, 2014, the Free School was served with a Financial Notice to Improve by the ESFA, alleging multiple failures in financial control (which were resolved the next year). The small school, specialising in agricultural matters, has proved popular in a rural district benefitting, along with Hugh Christie School in Tonbridge (increase of 22% in numbers Years 7-11), from the unpopularity of the boys’ Hayesbrook School, with 104 first choices for its intake of 75 this year (and an increase of 26% over Years 7-9). However, although numbers are small, it has reversed this trend in the early years, losing pupils in Years 10 and 11 for the past two years perhaps off-rolling, or alternatively lack of enthusiasm for the agricultural curriculum.
The Rochester Grammar School
RGS, lead school of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust is never far away from controversy. Its change of character to give priority to local girls, as above, is anything but straightforward, but it isn’t stopping there and is consulting on scrapping A Level altogether in favour of the International Baccalaureate from September 2020. As usual the Trust makes false claims in this case: As the top state school in the country delivering the IB’ when it is not even the top school in the county. Tonbridge Grammar and Dartford Grammar, both offer the IB exclusively, whereas RGS for 2018 had 128 students taking A Level and just 31 the IB (my reading according to DfE statistics). The claim is a nonsense! It has been suggested that the school is looking to rationalise with the brightest students taking IBacc at RGS, the others looking to the Trust’s other grammar school the controversial (in so many ways) Holcombe Grammar, which is a boys’ school up to 16+, although it has had two failed attempts to become co-educational.
Skinners School
Skinners, a super selective boys’ grammar school, has also made sweeping and complex changes to its Admission rules, as explained here. In this case whilst it has also given priority to local pupils in most cases, these are required to achieve high scores in the Kent Test. The PAN has been increased to 160 boys, and as expected just five boys out of 74 were successful at appeal, creating classes of 33 boys, unless there is a drop out between now and September. I have just published an article explaining how its Registration document places unlawful demands on families.
Minded to Terminate: Copperfield Academy and Twydall Primary School
Both schools have been issued with tough letters from the Regional Schools Commissioner, threatening to remove them from their current sponsors, Reach2 in the case of Copperfield Academy in Northfleet, Gravesham, and Rainham Mark Education Trust in the case of Twydall Primary in Gillingham, Medway. I will be publishing a more detailed look at these two cases shortly.
Academy Performance
There is growing evidence of underperformance in too many KCC controlled schools which have failed Ofsted inspections and subsequently been converted into academies. If their pupils are lucky enough to see their schools taken over by a good Academy Trust, there can be quite startling improvements. Canterbury Anglican Diocese and The Swale Academy Trust appear to both have the necessary skills amongst others, although by very different methods. The scandal of Holmesdale School demonstrates KCC’s growing inability to turn schools round, but seeing them academise to stand a chance. The additional disgrace here was of KCC officers attempting to block improvement delivered from an Academy Trust with a strong record. However, the scandals of Lilac Sky and SchoolsCompany serve as their own warning, as does the misery imposed on Thanet children by TKAT, although this is eventually improving after too many years of failure.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 03 June 2020 23:21


  • Comment Link Thursday, 06 June 2019 21:45 posted by Saddened previous Folkestone Academy teacher

    As a previous member of staff at the Folkestone Academy, who year on year celebrated our success of being over subscribed, I am devastated to read that they have 84 places available, with an already reduced PAN.

    It is beyond belief that the fortune of a school can be damaged so extensively in just two years.

    Please can someone, somewhere take note and do something about these failures. PETER I share your despair. However the message from government appears clear. Turner Schools is to be financially supported however badly they perform! I have now produced so many areas of failure; surely those in charge must be eventually become aware of them. What must other more responsible Trusts think about this extraordinary unfairness.

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