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Tuesday, 16 February 2021 07:15

Academy and Free School News, February 2021 (Part One)

You will find Part Two here

Six new Free Schools have opened in Kent and Medway since my previous Academy and Free School article in August: Bearsted Primary Academy, Ebbsfleet Green Primary School, School of Science and Technology Maidstone and Springhead Park Primary School; together with two Special Schools, Aspire School and Snowfields Academy. Folkestone Primary separated from the senior part of Folkestone Academy, as a new Sponsored Academy. The DfE has approved a new school, Chapelfield Primary in Maidstone, along with two more new schools in principle, the Gravesend Central School and Coningbrook Cof E Primary in Ashford. 

New Converter Academies are: Eastchurch CofE Primary School, Sheppey; Holy Trinity CofE Primary School, Gravesham; Kingsdown & Ringwould CofE Primary, Marden Primary Academy, Maidstone; and Oaklands School, Medway along with the North West Kent Alternative Provision Service which is also a Sponsored Academy, all discussed in the August article.  

Applications by Chartham Primary, St Stephen’s Infants and Worth Primary to convert have all been approved, with Fleetdown Primary in Dartford, Mundella in Folkestone and Sandwich Infants also having made applications. There is no current movement in Medway Schools. Whilst Holmesdale School and The North School appear to have cleared all obstacles to becoming Sponsored and Converter Academies respectively as part of Swale Academies Trust, there appears to be some form of blockage to the process.  

The SE and South London Headteacher Board acting on behalf of the Regional Schools Commissioner has very surprisingly rejected an application by Fairview Community Primary School in Gillingham to join the Westbrook Trust.

Leigh Academy Rainham is opening in Medway in September 2021. The school will be a mixed 11-18 comprehensive on the edge of Rainham in Medway. 

There is a lot of news to cover, and so I have divided this article into two parts, this one focusing on new schools and conversion to academies. Part two will look at other matters, including two academy mergers: The Potential in Everyone Academy Trust & The Village Academy, together with Brockhill Park Performing Arts College & The Abbey School. 

This article has three further sections: Schools opened in September; New AcademiesNew Free Schools Approved; Applications to Become Academies 

Schools opened in September
The link will take you back to my previous article on the new Free Schools. Because they do not become part of the co-ordinated admission process in their first year, levels of uptake were not initially known, but I now have the Autumn 2020 census information which shows how they have got on.

The School of Science and Technology Maidstone begin the year filled to overflowing with 192 pupils in Year Seven for its 180 places, although there were no successful appeals. As forecast, this saw numbers fall at Cornwallis, down from 249 offers in March to 174 places taken up in September, and New Line Learning down from 180 offers to 111 places, although some of these will also be through children lost to grammar schools on appeal.

The two Ebbsfleet primary schools had very different experiences, with Springhead Park, Gravesham, run by the Primary First Trust,  filling 58 of its 60 Year R places, admitting another 68 children in other Year Groups, moving into the new houses or transferring from local Northfleet schools.  But Ebbsfleet Green, Dartford, run by Maritime Academy Trust, has been hit by a serious delay with its new buildings as explained here, being introduced in phases with temporary structures before the full building is erected in September 2021. The school website suggests there are still no children on the permanent site at present. Not surprising take-up has been low, with just nine full-time pupils, five of whom don’t arrive until the summer term, and with nine full and five part-time for its 30 Reception places, another 13 children taking up places in Years 1& 2. The school badly needs to be on its new site. Bearsted Primary Academy has also not filled, with just 37 children enrolled for its 60 places.

Aspire School, Sittingbourne, and Snowfields Academy, Maidstone, are both Special Schools which only admit children with Education, Health and Care Plans, will take time to fill to capacity.   

The uncomfortable union of the primary and secondary sections of Folkestone Academy has been severed, with the creation of the popular Folkestone Primary (sponsors Turner Schools clearly like to leave off the ‘School’ epithet for some reason, as with Martello Primary) as a separate school. This September, Folkestone Primary admitted 80 Reception children, going well over the Published Admission Number of 60 for the first time. This is likely to focus the problems of Folkestone Academy which have seen Year Seven numbers tumble by nearly half from 287 in 2016 to 154 last October, Year 12 almost completely collapsing over the same period as it has dived from 185 students to 48. The Sixth Form page on the school website now appears to describe a fantasy offering for these 48 students, including a report on last summer’s A Level impressive destinations which has had to be removed. Surely, this school is reaching a stage when the DfE should be considering re-brokering to a Trust that has the ability to manage it, easier now it stands alone. 

Leigh Academy Rainham is opening in September 2021, a six form entry 11-18 school, described as 'a comprehensive school' which will be in competition with the three nearby oversubscribed schools Brompton Academy, The Howard School and Rainham School for Girls. There is enormous pressure on non-selective places in Medway at present, with just 34 vacancies in Year Seven amongst the 10 urban Medway  N/S schools in October 2021. This is counterbalanced by four schools with a total of 94 pupils above their Published Admission Numbers. These new places will therefore draw to a certain extent from the three most vulerable schools. 

New Academies
I have covered the background to most of these in my previous article here. In addition:
Kingsdown and Ringwould CofE Primary School, near Deal.
I first reported this school being in discussion with Deal Education Alliance for Learning Trust, DEALT, two years ago, when it appeared to back away from joining the Trust as an academy, but continued to cooperate as a member of the Deal Learning Alliance, a larger grouping of local schools. It was the only Kent school to convert in January 2021, although you wouldn't guess it from the website,  whose only mention of academisation is documentation dating back to 2018. 
North West Kent Alternative Provision Service
This was also covered in the previous article, describing a very bumpy ride under KCC, but the school has now joined Limes College in Sutton, South West London, to form the Alternative Learning Trust. The Limes College has an Outstanding Ofsted (2015) and became an academy two years ago. According to Ofsted: 'The Limes College caters for students who have been permanently excluded from school or who are at risk of permanent exclusion. It also provides short-term respite placements for students in Key Stages 2 and 3. Most Key Stage 4 students will remain at The Limes College for the rest of their school career', so it appears an excellent fit. 
New Free Schools Approved
Chapelfield Primary School in West Maidstone, near Maidstone Hospital, off Chapelfield Road, is the only Kent or Medway school which has been approved in the government’s latest Wave 14, of 21 approved new Free Schools.  The 2021 KCC Commissioning Plan (Page 105) confirms that the county has purchased land for a 2 FE (Forms of Entry) school off Hermitage Lane, but considers that the school is not anticipated to be required prior to 2025-26, so it may be some time coming. Chapelfield Primary will be sponsored by Chancery Education Trust, currently comprising three primary schools in Bromley and Croydon. 

Two other local schools have been approved in principle, subject to certain conditions. These are

Gravesend Central School is to be sponsored by the Endeavour MAT from Dartford, which opened Stone Lodge School, a new secondary last year, and also runs the two Wilmington grammar schools. The condition is that a site be found, but if the ‘Central’ of the proposed name indicates a geographical ambition, this is likely to prove a challenge. The press release explains that the school will have a Unique Selling Point offering opportunities in the creative and digital industries to complement, rather than replicate the offer within the local area. Such skills are anticipated to be in exceptionally high   demand in the Gravesham area, given the proposal to create a multi-billion pound entertainment resort on the Swanscombe peninsular and the creation of the large Garden City Development with leisure facilities in nearby Ebbsfleet. The 2021 KCC Commissioning Plan (P99) is hardly pressing for a new school, but records there will be shortage of capacity over the next five years, of 2 FE. However, whilst Meopham, St George’s and St John’s are amongst the most oversubscribed in the county, a new school, usually of 6 FE, will certainly create competition for students between the other three local schools.  

Conningbrook CofE Primary School is being provided by the developers of a new estate in Ashford in exchange for Planning Permission. It is unclear what the conditions for approval are. According to the latest KCC Commissioning Plan, it is not expected to open until 2025, in spite of the pressing need for primary places in the area, with temporary solutions being sought should they be required.

Applications to become Academies
The applications of St Stephen’s Infant School, Canterbury, and Chartham Primary School to convert and form a Multi-Academy Trust was considered by the South East and South London Headteacher Board for the Regional Schools Commissioner, which has authority over such matters. There were concerns about the size of the schools and their finances, but there is growth in the area to manage. The Board considered that St Stephen’s Junior School, which has been an independent-minded stand-alone academy for ten years, should be part of this discussion to consider bringing the two Canterbury schools together. This may be easier with a change of headteacher at the Junior school. The proposal was approved, with unpublished conditions.

Sandwich Infants School presented another issue, as a secular school looking to join Aquila, The Diocese of Canterbury Academies Trust, which to date has 13 schools, all church-affiliated. In addition, the RSC’s steer has been that both Infants and Juniors should join the same Trust, but the Junior school has shown no interest in converting. KCC has raised concerns about the school’s viability, although there are no indications of this in the Kent Schools Commissioning Plan or the October 2021 census, which shows 47 of the 56 Year R places filled. The Board is to engage with Aquila on how their vision fits in on how inclusive they are for non-secular schools, but the application was still approved.

Worth Primary School, in a village near Sandwich, and one of the smallest schools in Kent, has chosen to academise and join the DEALT Trust of seven schools in and around Deal, four miles away. In the most open discussion on academisation I have seen, published on its website and here in 2018, and running to 26 pages, the school lays out in full the reasons for considering going down the route of becoming an academy. It was then forced to come to a decision by the departure of the Head of School. The school has had an Executive Head overseeing its work for some years, Jo Hygate, a National Leader of Education, who also oversaw the Deal Alliance of Schools, so perhaps the decision was inevitable after most of these schools academised to form a single Trust. However, an almost complete change of governors saw a change from the decision to appoint a new Head of School, the document explaining how all options were considered including that of being forced to close by KCC, as it was deemed impossible to continue as a standalone school in premises unfit for purpose and only 64 pupils.  The discussion included an evaluation of the four possible MATs to join: DEALT, Veritas, Whinless Down and Aquila, before settling on the first. The application was approved in September, without demur.

Mundella Primary School, Folkestone, which still has the freedom to convert in spite of a Requires Improvement Ofsted Report a year ago (but which highlighted many good and improving aspects to the school), has chosen to make an application to go with the small Veritas Trust, also based in Deal, in what appears to be a sensible decision with no obvious more local alternatives.  

Fleetdown Primary School's application to join the Galaxy Trust in Dartford, was approved very rapidly in December, within a month of application, aided no doubt by its Outstanding Ofsted report, although dating back to 2014.

Fairview Community Primary School, Medway, had a shock result following its application to join The Westbrook Trust, when it was completely rejected by the RSC Headteacher Board. I wrote positively about the proposal in the summer, but since then have had concerns about it expressed by parents, which influenced the Board to turn it down, against many other precedents for a strong government imperative to encourage schools to academise. Westbrook had certainly looked a strong option with its four local primary schools all performing well, and I wrote supportively of the proposal in the summer, without knowing of the parental opposition at the time. You will find the full story explored here, including the controversial events of three years ago, which may have played their part.   

Last modified on Monday, 27 September 2021 06:50

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