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Monday, 19 August 2019 06:23

Academy and Free School News, August 2019

This article looks at news items since my previous Academy article in June, together with various happenings earlier in the year that I have not covered before. 

It includes academy conversions at Cage Green, Rolvenden, Brent, Dartford Bridge, All Souls CofE and Wainscott (Medway) Primary Schools. It also considers events at Leigh Academies Trust (with another article on the events at Paddock Wood and Horsmonden primaries to come). It looks at changes at: Barming, Hersden and Lansdowne Primary Schools, together with Phoenix Junior Academy in Medway (shades of the Delce Academy scandal); Bennett Memorial Diocesan School (and its CEO); Cranbrook School; Norton Knatchbull School; Rainham Mark Grammar and St Joseph Williamson’s Schools, both in Medway; finishing up with a brief look at Maidstone & Oakwood Park Grammars and Ebbsfleet Academy. 

Since my last round up, I have also published articles on Turner Schools; Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy; Delce Academy (more to come); Copperfield Academy; Delce Academy (again); and Skinners School, along with more general items. 

New Converter and Sponsored Academies
There has been just one new academy created since my previous round up, Cage Green Primary in Tunbridge Wells, which is being sponsored by the Connect Schools Academy Trust, currently with three primary schools in Bromley, but is also opening the new River Mill Primary in Dartford.

There have also been a number of approvals, including Rolvenden Primary School to join Tenterden Schools Trust. The most oversubscribed school in Kent, Brent Primary, Dartford, is to join the Cygnus Academies Trust , currently comprising four Kent schools (three also in Dartford) in September. To quote the SE Academy Headteacher Board (SESLHTB): ‘Two strong, experienced leaders joining together with skills that complement each other well’. Dartford Bridge Community, having failed its Ofsted in January, will also be joining the Trust in September.  All Souls’ CofE Primary School, Folkestone is to join Aquila (Diocese of Canterbury Academies Trust)

Wainscott Primary in Medway is to join the Primary First Trust in Medway. A sad story this one, for a school which has previously been high performing with a strong Ofsted inspection just two years ago, was placed in Special Measures in March, in spite of a strong history of good performance ‘Dynamic leadership of teaching and learning has resulted in strong provision in all year groups’.  The decision was based primarily on safeguarding issues, with governance coming under specific criticism; yet another failure by a Medway Authority school, this one entirely avoidable. Primary First was chosen: ‘based on strong performance at KS2, their proximity to the school, and that this completes a hub for the trust in Medway’, according to the South East South London Headteacher Board, SESLHTB, a decision making arm of the Regional School Commissioner's empire. The ‘hub’ concept appears to be a growing trend for geographically widespread Trusts.

Leigh Academies Trust
As always it has been a busy period for LAT, including the controversial proposed (or actual) acquisition of Paddock Wood and Horsmonden Primary schools described in a separate article to follow.

The Trust planned to merge the two previous Williamson Trust primary schools it had taken over, on the far end of the Hoo Peninsula, All Hallows and Stoke schools. Both suffer from small numbers, and in the case of Stoke poor performance, since before their acquisition by LAT, so there was a case for the merger, although such proposals for neighbouring villages are nearly always very unpopular and certainly in this case hard fought. Currently the lower Year Groups at Stoke are taught at All Hallows, a mile and a half away with plenty of space being currently less than half full. At the very end of term, and unusually, government announced it had turned down the proposal. It is not clear if parental protests influenced this, but if so this would be rare.

Also in Medway, the new Rainham Leigh Academy which is to open in 2020 has consulted local families on its plans in an extensive publicity drive including a leaflet with further details here. Currently, the three Medway non-selective secondary schools in Rainham and Gillingham have no vacancies, with Brompton Academy in Gillingham the second most oversubscribed school in Kent or Medway, and a total of just 3%  empty spaces in the Authority schools. There has been no news of the proposed all through Maritime Academy announced at the same time, to be run by the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, and originally planned to be opened in Strood in 2019.

Strood Academy, taken over as a sponsored school by LAT in 2016 from the Creative Arts University, carried a financial surplus of over £3 million in its reserves, £2 million of which was earmarked for a new examination centre, completion planned for 2017/18. It appears that this concept has vanished as has most of the surplus. Meanwhile LAT is using part of the current premises as HQ of its Medway hub. 

I have looked previously at the LAT takeover of the Medway based Williamson Trust, headed up by Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School (The Math).

Changes to Academies
Various Academies have had changes to their admission numbers and age ranges approved by the SESLHTB. These include the following.

Phoenix Junior Academy in Medway and run by the FPTA Academies Trust has been given conditional permission to run an Infant section, in direct competition with its feeder school, Greenvale Infants, by the SESLHTB. This is in spite of the scandalous failure at Delce Academy, which was a Junior School also allowed to extend to provide for infants in spite of the direct challenge to its two feeder schools, The permission decision shows the problems are recognised, and the application was previously refused, so one has to ask why this one was allowed, ‘generously’ on condition that Greenvale, which wishes to remain a Local Authority school, turn itself into an all-though school although there is no indication it wishes to. Apparently the Local Authority can see the benefit of creating ‘flexibility’. It ‘believes any impact on places at nearby schools can be managed’! More information on Delce Academy and Medway Council’s failure in creating flexibility and impact to follow shortly.

Norton Knatchbull School, Ashford has seen its PAN enlarged from 149 this year, to 210 in 2020-21, although it only offered 170 places for September. The school has a pattern of encouraging a large number of successful appeals, allowing 46 out of 66 last year, the fourth highest success rate of any Kent grammar school, and 37 out of 66 for 2019. This brought its intake up to 193, so one would have thought there was plenty of spare capacity, even given the rapid increase in housing in Ashford. A physical expansion has been approved by the SESLHTB which means funding will be provided.

Bennett Diocesan Memorial School, Tunbridge Wells has also been given permission and funding to expand further, having taken additional pupils for several years to ease the pressure on non-selective places in Tunbridge Wells at each of its three Ofsted Outstanding schools. Bennett has tight admission criteria focusing on a strong religious commitment attracting many pupils from outside the county and from private schools, displacing local children to schools outside the town. CEO Ian Baukham, head of the Tenax Trust led by Bennett along with seven primary schools, has gained fame from the website Education Uncovered, in an article entitled: ’how does he find the time?’  He was an elected member of the SESLHTB from its founding in 2014 to 2017 amongst four other roles. He is currently: a board member at Ofqual, the qualifications regulator, also serving on its “standards advisory group”; Sex and Relationships Adviser to the DfE; Chair of a New DfE Advisory Body on Character Education; appointed to the Inspectorate’s overarching “curriculum advisory group”; an external adviser on a group advising Ofsted on modern foreign languages in relation to its new inspection framework; a board member of both the National Foundation for Education Research and of NFER Trading Limited; on the board of  board of the Confederation of School Trusts, formerly FASNA, a charity which supports and lobbies for academies and director of its related company, CST Professional Development Limited.

He was awarded a CBE for services to education in 2017.  

Cranbrook School, which changed from having a main entrance age of 13 to one of 11 (although still admitting one class of pupils at 13) admitting 60 day pupils, has now been given permission to admit boarding pupils at age 11, six in the first instance.

Sir Joseph Williamson’s and Rainham Mark Grammar, both in Medway, both always oversubscribed, have also both been awarded a physical expansion. The Math has a PAN of 203, up from 180 in 2018, but topping up with a considerable number of successful appeals in previous years (but will this have happened this year with the increased PAN).  RMGS has been admitting 235 pupils for several years with a PAN of 205, (topping up with around 5 successful appeals each year). Both schools saw all successful appeals in 2018 awarded to pupils who had passed the Medway Test.

Hersden Primary School, near Canterbury and Lansdowne Primary, both run by Stour Valley Academy Trust, have had expansions approved by the SESLHTB, the former to manage a building development and controversially changed its name to Water Meadows Primary School.

Barming Primary School, Maidstone has been given permission for a physical expansion of premises expansion as it regains popularity under its academy sponsorship with Orchard Academy Trust. As a KCC school it suffered terribly as explained here, falling into Special Measures then being let down further. 

Oakwood Park Grammar School in Maidstone has been hit by the actions of the underperforming Maidstone Grammar (not an academy), which was funded for an expansion of 30 places by KCC two years ago to an intake of 250 boys, although there was and is still a surplus of selective boys' places in Maidstone. For the 2019 appeals it is clear that MGS has been widening its ability range further (it gives priority to higher performing boys), offering places to a number of boys who were unsuccessful at Oakwood on academic grounds.  

Ebbsfleet Academy has replaced its previous confrontational headteacher, Alison Colwell, who hit the national headlines earlier this year in a resignation interview with the Sunday Times (not her first controversial contribution to the paper as she courts a tough love image for the school). This rubbished the school’s families, perhaps in an attempt to hide the multiple failures of the school. Her replacement, Gurjit Kaur Shergill, has had experience as a deputy head (in two good schools) which may well prove helpful as Ms Colwell appears to have missed out that step.

Last modified on Saturday, 29 August 2020 04:07


  • Comment Link Saturday, 14 September 2019 20:12 posted by Vicki

    Peter, you probably already know that although Agnew blocked LAT from amalgamating Stoke and Allhallows, LAT are still going to pursue it, according to a letter sent by Simon Beamish to Medway Council’s Young Person scrutiny committee in July. Freely available on Medway council website. Hidden in plain sight, as usual. When will the people who matter start challenging LAT’s power? Look at their 10 priorities- Ofsted principles at number 1, children at number 2. They talk a good game about teaching children to think critically, but don’t anyone dare question them! PETER: I share your concerns but I have read the letter you refer to (Appendix 3) and it is very convincing!

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 20 August 2019 20:12 posted by Vicki

    Rather confused about Leigh Academy Rainham Peter. No planning application has been submitted, but the school hopes to open next September? No building work even approved, let alone started, but they are recruiting for teachers according to Indeed. They have spent a fortune on advertising, not only the leaflets, but a billboard in Station Road Rainham too. PETER: So am I, but strongly reflects the situation at Paddock Wood - -see my new article.

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