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Thursday, 12 March 2020 18:10

Holmesdale Debacle Re-Emerges as KCC Director of Planning and Access Post Deleted

Kent County Council has recently carried out an external led inquiry into events at and around Holmesdale School in 2018, which I have written about in two previous articles. The first of my articles was in March 2018 after the school had plunged from Ofsted Good to Special Measures in four years under KCC control, although I produced evidence throughout this period that it was going downhill rapidly. The second was in January 2019 based on a series of email exchanges that had been sent me under FOI. These contained serious allegations about KCC actions that amongst other matters left the school without support for much of the previous year, and also attempted to block the appointment of a new headteacher and staff.

Swale Academies Trust has now been running the school since November 2018 and it is greatly improved as a consequence, as explained below, offering a decent education to its children. Those whose education and life chances suffered under KCC control will not be compensated in any way.

KCC has proposed an organisational restructure in the Children, Young People and Education Directorate, following its failures in SEND provision as identified in a highly critical Ofsted Report in January 2019. The post of KCC Director of Director of Education Planning and Access will be deleted, and replaced by two new Directorships. As a result Keith Abbott, the current Director, is being made redundant and leaving his post at Easter. Although Mr Abbott was heavily involved in the Holmesdale debacle, I have been asked by a KCC spokesman to make clear that there is no connection between the two events described in this article. In practice there looks to be no real change in structure, with the new Director - Education taking over Mr Abbott's role and the Assistant Director Disabled Children & Young People Services role being simply upgraded to full Director, in spite of the damning failures in Kent services for children with special needs and disabilities fo which he presumably took some responsibility. 

The good news is the transformation at Holmesdale, following Swale Academies Trust (SAT) eventually being given a contract to manage the school at the end of 2018. GCSE Progress 8 last summer placed Holmesdale in the top half of Kent non-selective schools, up from second lowest in Kent the previous year under KCC control. 21% of pupils gained at least Level 5 at GCSE in English and maths, just below halfway and above a number of highly regarded schools. Whilst numbers applying for the school are still low because of its past reputation, children are now staying in the school whereas by October 2017, 34% of those enrolled in Year 7 five years earlier had left the school, by some way the highest proportion in Kent (still high in 2019, at 11% but much improved). There has been no Ofsted Monitoring Inspection since July 2018. This was a Report which followed on from the Special Measures verdict, was a shocker and took place before Swale took the school on. This lack of a follow up inspection is surely exceptional for a school in Special Measures, so why has it not taken place?  

Although some details are still sketchy, the external led inquiry into KCC’s actions was commissioned following a series of complaints about their conduct from Swale Academies Trust over Holmesdale. These led to a confidential Report which I have not yet seen, but which is reported to be highly critical of KCC officers including ‘malicious actions’ by staff. I have been promised a copy of the Report but, given the level of interest raised by my enquiries it may no longer be forthcoming!

Unsurprisingly, neither organisation is willing to talk to me further about the matter.

My second article was written after I was sent a cache of emails between Swale Academies Trust and KCC about these issues in December 2018, following an FOI request. I had planned to use them as the basis for a further article. A number are explosive and are likely to have informed the Inquiry conclusions but, whilst I was considering how best to present them, the short term future of Holmesdale was settled satisfactorily. I then made the decision to shelve the project as there was no reason to destabilise the new arrangements. What is clear however, is that the emails highlight a breakdown in relationships between the two organisations, with KCC attempting over a lengthy period to block SAT’s attempts to get the school working properly again for the benefit of its pupils. The emails also reveal how the dreadful The Education People worked closely with KCC officers to undermine Swale Academies Trust. 

The North School
Meanwhile the situation at The North School in Ashford continues unresolved as far as I am aware. Here, SAT was awarded the management of the school back in 2014, after it went into Special Measures and brought it up to Ofsted Good in 2017. KCC decided to cancel the management contract at very short notice at the end of last summer term, although SATs management structure was fully integrated into the school, including the excellent headteacher who they employed. The reason given was that because SAT had raised the standards at the school, they were no longer needed. As with Holmesdale, SAT had been working on the basis that they would take on the school as a Sponsored Academy with both being subject to Academy Orders. However, PFI issues blocked the transfer as explained in the article. A makeshift arrangement was put together to keep the school running from September whilst matters were resolved. The last I heard was that it was still in place, although an FOI I sent in on the matter in December has not yet produced a response.

What is clear in the article about the North, and others, is that part of the tension between SAT and KCC arises because of financial disagreements as SAT seeks to secure what it regards as fair and proper payment for the services it supplies which are clearly considerably greater or more expensive than KCC considers necessary. It is also partly because SAT insists on freedom to improve schools in the way it thinks best. My article on SAT's taking Meopham School from Special Measures to Outstanding explores these issues further, looks at other parallel successes by the Trust taking on KCC failures, and contrasts them with events at Holmesdale. 

Keith Abbott, KCC Director of Director of Education Planning and Access
At the Kent County Council Meeting next Thursday, the Council is asked to approve the deletion of the post of Director Education Planning and Access, in the Children Young People and Education Directorate, to be replaced by two new posts: Director of Education; and Director of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. The reason for these changes is fully explained in a Council briefing document, here (Pages 55-70), but in summary is claimed to be because the post has become too large. In fact, all that is happening is that the new Director of Education title is a straight swap for Keith Abbott's role. The Assistant Director for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities ( who is directly accountable to the Corporate Director and not to Mr Abbott at all) is being made up to  full Director, as demonstrated by the position charts and job descriptions, Pages 59 - 70 in the Appendices. This  follows the requirements for improvement which have emerged from the highly critical Ofsted Report last March. The Report looked at the effectiveness of KCC in implementing the Disability and Special Educational Needs reforms as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014 and demanded change. A KCC spokesperson assures me  that the redundancy of Keith Abbott at Easter is solely related to these proposals and nothing else, although I cannot actually see a redundancy here. The new Interim Director - Education is the excellent David Adams, currently Area Education Officer for South Kent; with Interim Director - Special Needs and Disabilities, Mark Walker, who is currently Assistant Director Disabled Children’s Service. However, Corporate Director Matt Dunkley gives the game away by stating: 'David is currently Area Education Officer, South Kent and brings a wealth of experience to fill the very large shoes of Keith Abbott'.i.e. no change in role. 
 
 
There is no indication that KCC recognises the dire need to overhaul Kent's School Improvement service 'The Education People' which theoretically works at arms length from the Education Department. I have quoted it numerous times in articles, either where schools are failing  under KCC control or else having failed have been subsequently rescued by an effective Academy Trust. In both cases, The Education People or its predecessor, the Kent School Improvement Service failed completely to deliver its responsibilities and so failed Kent's children.  In the case of Holmesdale it is clear from the email exchanges that The Education People are directly interchangeable with KCC officers. 
Last modified on Tuesday, 14 July 2020 12:35

7 comments

  • Comment Link Sunday, 15 March 2020 17:11 posted by Joan Piddock

    It is both sad and yet heartening to see KCC employees expressing their unhappiness with the quality and integrity of some of their leaders.
    Some senior KCC officers act with a high handed disregard for children's education and should rightly be sacked (or made redundant).

  • Comment Link Saturday, 14 March 2020 16:31 posted by Gary Hopkins

    So who investigates this cover up? The media haven't caught up with it. And are they interested? I can;t see KCC's enormous Conservative majority holding anyone to account.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 14 March 2020 16:28 posted by KCC ground troop.

    What a cover up. Keep up the good work.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 14 March 2020 16:24 posted by SEN Teacher

    Your update shows that there is no reorganisation, merely a replacement for Director of Education, Keith Abbott's job in practice. Sounds an expensive way to get rid of him, with the 'Assistant Director' responsible for SEND being upgraded after his Department is rightly slated by Government.

  • Comment Link Friday, 13 March 2020 19:23 posted by KCC CYPE Employee

    Peter, I am pleased to see that at least you care about the Holmesdale children whose futures have been harmed by senior KCC Officers' failure to act, except when they do so vindictively. Where is the KCC apology to those children? Sorry, of course we don't apologise. I feel ashamed to be part of this.

  • Comment Link Friday, 13 March 2020 19:17 posted by Richard W

    So, the reorganisation is a sham, the only practical outcome being that the unlamented Keith Abbott is leaving, no doubt with a good package. You clearly believe there is much more behind this. I hope someone can fill in the story. PETER: So do I

  • Comment Link Friday, 13 March 2020 09:09 posted by Jerry P

    Peter you have left any mention of the incompetent The Education People, supposedly responsible for school improvement, but who have failed Holmesdale and so many other Kent schools. They are wholly responsible for much of the academization that has taken place in the county. PETER: I couldn't agree more and have amended my article to take note of this.

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