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Friday, 02 July 2021 20:11

Academy and Free School News July 2021


Private Finance Initiative: Holmesdale, The North, Royal Harbour Academy
These three schools each have their own long-running story about academisation, all created by a 2013 decision when a Kent PFI school, the Swanscombe School, academised under the name of Ebbsfleet Academy, the story here and elsewhere. This left Kent County Council to pick up the PFI financial cost for the school, estimated at some £31 million and so KCC introduced a policy not to allow other PFI schools to go down the same route. It was only last year that the issue was resolved for The Holmesdale and The North schools, driven by Swale Academies Trust, as explained here. My website search engine will take you to multiple stories about the chequered history of these three schools, including the following links: Holmesdale, The North, Royal Harbour. An internal KCC letter, dating back to 2019 quotes the then government Minister Lord Agnew as stating he: ‘has been very clear that once the PFI issues are resolved he requires KCC to prioritise the conversion of schools with DAOs (Direct Academy Orders issued to struggling or failing schools) over others therefore, whatever the timescales we end up with, The North will not convert before Royal Harbour or Holmesdale’. Well, not quite, although approval for Royal Harbour to proceed to academisation has now been given. 

In February, the SE Headteachers’ Board (SEHTB) acting on behalf of the Regional Schools Commissioner again deferred a decision on Royal Harbour becoming a Sponsored Academy under Coastal Academies Trust (CAT), which has formally managed it since 2018. CAT has supported the school since 2016 when the school’s Special Measures Ofsted Report noted that it had begun the process of becoming a Sponsored Academy under the Trust! The much more positive 2020 ‘Requires Improvement’ Report simply notes that the government Academy Order for the school had still not been enacted. The February SEHTB Meeting Notes recorded:HTB acknowledged the improvements made and the level of challenge but recommended the RSC should assure herself that the trust had helped the school make sufficient progress and that it has sufficient capacity to secure further improvement alongside supporting their other schools. The board also flagged the impact the new free school in Margate might have on the trust’ (see below). However, the March Meeting of the Board approved the decision without demur so we must presume these assurances have been given and we can expect an announcement shortly. 

Other PFI schools that may now look to convert to academies are: Aylesford School; Hugh Christie Technology College, Tonbridge; The Malling SchoolSt George's CE Foundation School, Broadstairs; and three schools from Gravesham, Northfleet Technology College, St John's Catholic Comprehensive School, and Thamesview School. If all were to convert, these would leave just Dartford College of Science & Technology and Northfleet School for Girls as Kent’s only maintained non-selective schools.

I was pleased to see that the new Director of Education, Christine McInnes had paid a visit to Holmesdale last week, and found out about the extensive work they are doing to promote good attendance. She is certainly getting about and creating a positive impression so far, expressing clear views on her ideas, in contrast to several of her predecessors.

New Academies, previously reported on here.
Chartham Primary and St Stephen’s Infants have come together to form the new Inspira Academy Trust, which begs two important questions. Firstly, DfE policy is now to encourage schools looking to academise, to join larger existing Trusts on the grounds that these ‘provide outstanding support for both children and staff, through their collaborative approach and being able to pool resources and knowledge’ (DfE quote) and a new Trust of two schools appears to go directly against this principle (see below).  Secondly, the SEHTB expressed the concern that ‘St Stephens Juniors should be part of this discussion. Perhaps look to governors to see whether there are any options to bring the infant and junior school together’. I thought the departure of a strong-willed headteacher from the Junior School last summer would ease the tensions which I understood to exist between the two schools and might have drawn the Juniors into this partnership. This follows from the government making crystal clear the way the wind is blowing, according to an article in Schools Week: Death of the single academy? Leaked documents reveal DfE vision. Quite simply, I don’t believe the Junior School was prepared to relinquish its independence, which included a headteacher on probably the highest salary for a primary head in Kent with a salary of £115,000 in 2018-19 (and see below). 

Sandwich Infant School had the same potential issue with its linked Junior School which currently remains with the Local Authority but has now converted to join Aquila, the Diocese of Canterbury Academy Trust. Quote:‘RSC’s steer has been that Infants and Junior should join the same trust. However, the junior school has shown no immediate interest in converting to academy status’. However, both are linked through the Star Alliance, a group of local schools ‘who have chosen to work together with the principal aim of working collaboratively for the greater good of the children in our shared community’, suggesting this is not a problem. The second issue, raised by the SEHTB was ‘The Board is to engage with Aquila on how their vision fits in on how inclusive they are for non-secular schools’, although they then approved the proposal for their first secular school, so clearly there was no problem. You can see a full list of the 13 CofE Primary schools of the Trust, together with Sandwich, here. Subsequently, the two secular schools of the controversial Cliffe Woods Academy Trust are to join the Aletheia Anglican Academies Trust (whose CEO Steve Carey is a personal member of the SE Headteacher’s Board) echoing the government’s drive for more Church Academy Trusts, see Part Two.

After the above complications, it is easy to report that Fleetdown Primary in Dartford joined the Galaxy Trust and Worth School near Sandwich joined the Deal Education Alliance for Learning Trust, both conversions going through smoothly.

New applications to become an academy
There is just the one since February across Kent and Medway.

Will Adams Centre, Gillingham, Medway.  The school has applied to join the Alternative Learning Trust, which at present comprises The Limes College in Sutton, a Pupil Referral Unit, and the North West Kent Alternative Provision Service. This is in line with a Medway Council expectation that all of its schools would convert to become academies over five years, beginning in 2018.    

Park Crescent Academy, Margate
This controversial new secondary Free School is planned to open in Margate in 2023. My article here is the most recent in a series exploring the vetoing of the project by Paul Carter, then Leader of KCC on the correct grounds that there is no capacity need for it, its reinstatement by a Schools Minister shortly after he retired from his post, and the unsuitability of the site. An earlier article in January 2020 sets out the issues in some detail and ends with my view that ‘In the meantime, further generations of Thanet children are going to have their life chances seriously damaged, but as usual no one in authority is culpable. It won't help, but there should be immense anger about this cock up’. 

Back in August 2020, KCC organised and managed a Consultation for the new premises, in conjunction with The Howard School, to be sponsors of the new academy, to which I contributed. In February this year, surprised there had been no reported developments, I submitted an FOI to KCC only to discover to my astonishment that they had carried out no correspondence on the matter and were unaware of the outcome of the consultation according to the FOI response. Despite these drawbacks, I now understand that KCC is lodging a planning application for the school later this month. As my previous articles demonstrate, if Park Crescent Academy opens it will have a damaging effect on the viability of the two CAT schools, Hartsdown and Royal Harbour academies (above). 

Last modified on Thursday, 26 August 2021 20:24

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