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Thursday, 16 April 2020 19:29

New Thanet Skies Academy approved by Government overturning KCC Veto

Update 7th September: I have now posted a new article looking at considerable problems with the site of the new school. 

Rather belatedly, this article looks at the government decision to overturn Paul Carter’s veto on a new secondary school in Thanet, originally explored here. This decision was received by KCC in a letter on February 13th.

As a result, the new school, provisionally called Thanet Skies Academy, will built on the somewhat restricted site of the old Royal School for the Deaf in East Margate. It is planned to open in September 2022 as a six form entry 11-16 Free School, sponsored by the Howard Trust based in Medway.

The attached KCC map of Thanet schools highlights the issues, with the population concentrated along the coast and Margate itself currently having no secondary schools.  On current forecasts of pupil numbers, extra demand for places was planned to  be met by  expanding the two oversubscribed schools, Ursuline College and King Ethelbert to the west of Hartsdown Academy. All three schools are situated along the urban Thames Estuary coastal strip. Now, the new school (close to Cliftonville Primary) will be well placed to recruit pupils directly from the current Hartsdown catchment area in Margate and Cliftonville, whilst Ursuline and King Ethelbert will still have no problem recruiting pupils by also digging into Hartsdown's locality. To the south and east, any losses for the heavily oversubscribed Broadstairs schools, Charles Dickens and St George’s, will see them draw from Ramsgate and the Royal Harbour Academy catchment, so no problem for them there. 

When the new school comes on stream it is therefore difficult to see how Hartsdown Academy can remain viable, depending as it already does each year on pupils allocated to it who do not even apply to the school. There were 78 of these in 2020, whose successors will no doubt look to the new school in future. This will be in spite of Hartsdown being two thirds of the way through a multi-million pound new rebuild and with its its extensive grounds. Royal Harbour, which had 109  Local Authority Allocations will keep hold of some of them, although losing others to the two Broadstairs schools. 

KCC’s current Commissioning Plan for Education 2020-2024, described the plan to meet pressure on places without the new school as:

Forecasts indicate a deficit of places for both Year 7 and Years 7-11 over the Plan period. In the short-term this increased demand will be met through temporary additional Year 7 places at Royal Harbour Academy, whilst bringing forward the permanent expansion of King Ethelbert School by 2FE for September 2022. Ursuline College will expand by 1FE later in the plan period to meet the forecast need from 2023.

In other words, in a pure numbers calculation, there would have been no problem until at least after 2024, if two popular and oversubscribed schools are expanded on a permanent basis.

The letter from Lord Agnew, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System (new Policy Advisor, Dr Jo Saxton) to KCC Leader, Roger Gough, states that:

'I have now reviewed Kent County Council’s proposal to cancel the agreed secondary presumption school planned for Margate. I agree that the forecast basic need at secondary level in Thanet has reduced since the original decision was made, but a significant number of places are still required. 'I do not want to see the expansion of schools in the area that are less than Ofsted good, either temporarily or on a permanent basis. The outcomes at local schools are not good enough, with two having a provisional Progress 8 score in the bottom 1% of schools in the country. A new provider in the area will provide an exciting new choice for parents where this is currently severely limited. For these reasons, I cannot agree to your request to cancel plans for the new school and expect that this will now proceed.'

I have discussed the issues in this statement extensively in my previous article and won’t repeat them in detail. However, KCC’s medium term solution to the shortage of places was to expand two popular, Ofsted Good, oversubscribed schools, which appears to fully meet Lord Agnew’s criteria. The problem with it is that it does nothing to address the performance problems of Hartsdown and Royal Harbour, the two schools referred to, both in the bottom 1% of schools in the country at Progress 8, the 187 Local Authority Allocations to the two schools this year certainly proving that parental choice is severely limited. If in any doubt about this, look at the Thanet Section of my recent article on Oversubscription & Vacancies Kent Non-Selective Secondary Schools 2020.

The problem with Lord Agnew’s solution, which will now happen, is that it will draw the large majority of its 180 children from those who would have gone to Hartsdown, along with others from Royal Harbour. This year 187 children have been offered places who never applied to the two schools, all of whom would presumably have happily taken up places at the new (unnamed at present) school, or filled spaces at Charles Dickens School in Broadstairs, which would lose some potential pupils to the new school. The large majority of these would be drawn from Hartsdown, which could become more than half empty overnight.

One can only speculate what the Coastal Academies Trust, which runs Royal Harbour and King Ethelbert as well as Hartsdown Academy, will do in this situation. The Trust has already made clear via its Annual Report for 2019  (p34) that the Trust is having to support Hartsdown financially to the tune of an outstanding deficit of £727,385 at the end of the financial year 2018-19.  The main cause of this is the shrinking number of children at Hartsdown, as shown by the October 2019 census, with each year group losing up to a quarter of its numbers over the four year range from October in Years Seven to Eleven. There is no indication that this situation is going to improve.    

The Table below shows in detail how Hartsdown Academy is failing to attract and retain pupils who start at the school. It looks at the number of pupils in each of the current age groups, according to the October 2019 census, and how each cohort has shrunk by an average  of 19%over two years. The Planned Admission number for the school is 180. The current Year 11 cohort started out with 163 pupils in 2015, a loss of a quarter of its pupils since they started at the school.  

One can only speculate how Coastal Academies Trust is responding to this decision, and how it will plan for Hartsdown's future in the light of the news of the new school. Presumably, Dr Jo Saxton, the new government Policy Adviser for the school system with her extensive knowledge of the problems of East Kent coastal schools will now be able to advise.   

Hartsdown Academy Census
October 2019 Cohort
  2019 2018 2017
Loss over
two years
Year 7 144      
Year 8 109 112    
Year 9 123 135 150 27 = 18%
Year 10 116 138 147 31= 21%
Year 11 123 137 149 26=17%

There is also a problem with pupils leaving Royal Harbour, but this is much smaller, although the equivalent year groups still lose 10% of their initial roll over the same two year period on average. Coincidentally, both these two schools lost 18% of the pupils placed in them in March 2019 by the time of the census above, in the following October.

One final thought: picture the views of the 57 Thanet families whose children having been found suitable for grammar school this year, were then told there is no room and instead, for the large majority, they have been allocated to Hartsdown or Royal Harbour.  See Oversubscription & Vacancies Kent Grammar Schools 2020.




Last modified on Wednesday, 30 December 2020 06:41


  • Comment Link Tuesday, 21 April 2020 12:32 posted by Folkestone teacher

    Surely her solution will be to spend more of the country's spare millions of pounds on further consultants (preferably Americans flown over for the purpose). They will come up with an unworkable solution that will then be implemented at great expense.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 21 April 2020 12:28 posted by Folkestone Cynic

    Nothing to worry about here. Jo Saxton, having brought Turner Schools in Folkestone to its knees will now be advising Lord Agnew's successor on how to solve the problem by one her flashes of brilliance, guaranteed to bring the house down.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 18 April 2020 13:24 posted by Grant P.

    We have been offered a place at Hartsdown, but are appealing to Ursuline and King Ethelbert. Do you think your arguments that it has no future will impress an appeal panel? PETER: Don't go there. You may wish to persuade the Panel that Hartsdown is wrong for your child, but running it down won't help differentiate you from other appellants. Look for more practical reasons, but above all positive reasons for the school you are looking at, where possible special to your child. Also try:

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