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Tuesday, 20 August 2019 23:49

The Secret of Leigh Academies Trust and the Academisation of Paddock Wood and Horsmonden Primary Schools

Written by

Updated 21 August

Back in December, parents of Paddock Wood and Horsmonden Primaries were told that governors of the two schools were considering options for their future, including academisation, although the DFE website showed that applications to become  academies with the Leigh Academies Trust had already been submitted, and approved on 14th March this year.

There then followed five months of confusion and misinformation, with a Consultation ending on 3rd May nearly two months after the application had been approved, and culminating in the Chair of Governors and the CEO of the LAT launching factually incorrect attacks on KCC and Roger Gough, the Cabinet Member for Education at KCC. To date the only indication on the LAT website that either school is going to join the Trust is a brief comment by the Chief Executive in the Trust summer Newsletter, welcoming the two schools for September, although they do not even appear in the list of 'Forthcoming Academies'.  The primary schools are both too shy to mention it, possibly knowing the decision is not universally popular. 

As well as neither school appearing on the ‘Forthcoming Academies’ section of the  LAT website, there is no mention on the websites of either of the two primary  schools, apart from the Governing Body Minutes at Paddock Wood most recently as far back as February 2019, which claim the matter is still under consideration. There is no mention of the process on the Horsmonden site.

The website Education Uncovered has looked closely at developments, summarised here (but look at the full story of the false propaganda published in the three articles on the site).

The headteacher of both schools is Mr Scott Opstad, who enjoyed a good reputation at his previous school Folkestone Academy (primary section), and more recently as headteacher at Paddock Wood, but was only appointed to nearby Horsmonden in addition last year.

Parents were told on December 6th last year that governors were reviewing options, including academisation, although the DFE website showed it had already submitted an application to become an academy. On December 20th an announcement appeared on the Leigh Academies website, welcoming Paddock Wood and nearby Horsmonden to their Trust. At Christmas the LAT Newsletter stated that

Paddock Wood and Horsmonden Primaries Choose Leigh Academies Trust
Headteacher Scott Opstad and the governing bodies of Paddock Wood Primary School (PWPS) and Horsmonden Primary School (HPS) have agreed that, subject to due
diligence, both schools wish to become academies within Leigh Academies Trust (LAT).

 In January, the headteacher of Mascalls Academy in Paddock Wood (also a Leigh Academy Trust school) sent a letter home to parents welcoming Paddock Wood and Horsmonden to LAT, although governors subsequently insisted that no decision had been taken, but it had! However, the Easter Newsletter of LAT, rowed back somewhat from the announcement of the December issue, declaring that  

Paddock Wood and Horsmonden Primary Schools

Throughout January and February, consultation events were held for staff and parents at Paddock Wood and Horsmonden Primary Schools, giving stakeholders a chance to find out more
about the benefits of joining Leigh Academies Trust (LAT). Feedback was very positive, allowing us to move the project forward

 A consultation had begun in March ending on May 3rd. However, before well before this finished this on March 31st, the SESLHTB issued an Academy Order for the two schools to become academies under Leigh, after the application had been approved on March 14th. It is therefore very difficult to determine the purpose of the Consultation. The decision (of which Education Uncovered has published a copy) originally carried a comment and a condition for the application to go ahead: ‘Following this approval, the board expects the trust to undergo a period of consolidation until all new academies have been fully integrated into the trust’; ‘Approved with one condition 1) the trust limits growth for a period of 12 months until Easter (2020)’. Sometime later, the approved Minutes were changed removing these two items! The power of Leigh Academy Trust!!

The Chairman of Governors at Paddock Wood chose to launch an attack on KCC and the quality of education offered and, whilst I have my own criticisms, I don’t accept that:‘ “recent and significant changes to the way Kent County Council influences the running of its schools means that there is considerably less time for school leaders to lead learning and teaching beyond delivering the core curriculum,” with the quality of education on offer to pupils said to be likely to suffer if this was allowed to go “unchallenged” within the  next year’. Not surprisingly, Roger Gough, KCC Cabinet Member for Education politely queried these allegations only to receive a factually incorrect onslaught from Simon Beamish, the £220,000 annual salaried CEO of Leigh, for querying the views of parents (although the consultation had not yet finished!

His letter included: “You and Paul have always been such supporters of LAT.….Have you taken this action in the case of every academy conversion in Kent?...I wonder if [this] is related to the very small, but very vocal, anti-academy and NEU [National Education Union]-linked local Paddock Wood lobby group...We and Scott [Opstad, the two schools’ headteacher] have kept a dignified silence on all of this and will carry on doing so. The vast majority of parents and staff have found it distressing as well…We are simply following very carefully the process laid down by the Conservative Government’s policy on education to encourage academisation which I am surprised you take such an agnostic view towards locally as part of a Conservative-led county council. I expect governors will also be interested in the reasons why Conservative policy locally is at odds with Conservative policy nationally, but then very little surprises me in politics these days.”

What arrogance!

The Paul mentioned above, is presumably Paul Carter, Leader of KCC, who was a Director of LAT between 2007 and 2010. To the best of my knowledge he has always shown himself agnostic towards academisation in his written and verbal public communications, so this can hardly be the surprise to Mr Beamish he claims.  

The ‘very small anti-academy group’ was presumably behind a petition calling for the community to be given a “binding vote” on the school’s academisation had been signed by 471 people including more than 300 signatures from postcodes in which Paddock Wood parents lived. Hardly ‘very small’. When asked for their evidence of parental support, LAT could only waffle. The 'small group' will also have included a parent, Charles Marshall, who has been very active in the campaign. 

Neither school is mentioned on the Leigh Academies Trust website as part of the Trust or one of its forthcoming academies, except in a throw away line from the Summer Newsletter's Message from Simon Beamish 'We look forward to welcoming two more primary academies at Horsmonden and Paddock Wood from September', from which we must assume they are starting out in the brave new world then. 

Whatever debate there was is not even mentioned on the school websites, except in the case of Paddock Wood in a heavily redacted Governing Body Minute back in February that removes any understanding of events.

A Freedom of Information Request from Charles Marshall to the Regional Schools Commissioner finds Mr Beamish arguing that: ‘Other than pupils who go to grammar from the two schools, virtually all the rest go to Mascalls in Year 7, already in LAT. The all-through education links are a bit of a no-brainer and fit perfectly with the LAT approach’. This is a powerful argument, and if the school communities wanted academisation would indeed be a no-brainer, but there is no evidence that they do, and the dishonesty of LAT’s policy, part applied through its own Mascalls School, was hardly likely to endear them to the Trust. 

Since my previous article, I have had several messages from past and present members of staff at LAT, and there is a certain consistency about the messages. It is clear that Mr Beamish's personality dominates the Trust. He takes criticism by the media badly, one informant saying he describes them as 'trolls under the bridge'. Several refer to the financial model of squeezing those on the front line, but seeing higher salary management roles proliferate. Bullying of staff is alleged. One hopes that Mr Opstad is going into this with his eyes open. 

On a completely separate subject, Jeremy Kite, long term Leader of Dartford Council became a founder Director of the Trust and its predecessor since before it became a City Technology College 1990 and has continued to this day. Mr Kite has led Dartford Council to take a very positive view of education and supported a wide range of developments (contrast with next door Gravesham Council which has shown no interest in education for the past 35 years at least).  Mr Kite’s was a very astute appointment, as the school and the Trust’s other Dartford schools appear to have benefited strongly from the connection ever since.

I have asked both LAT and Mr Opstad to explain where the two schools now are in the process of academisation and have updated this article incorporating the LAT response.

Read 1169 times Last modified on Wednesday, 25 September 2019 10:36

2 comments

  • Comment Link Monday, 26 August 2019 17:09 posted by Teacher

    Agree 100% with article's comments about leadership and priorities of LAT.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 22 August 2019 10:14 posted by Leigh Trust teacher

    I agree with everything you say about Leigh Academies Trust. Nothing More to say.

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