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Friday, 02 July 2021 20:11

Academy and Free School News July 2021

Index

Medway Matters
I have extensively covered the scandals of the Cliffe Woods Academy Trust and Fairview Community Primary School in previous articles. The issues at the Cliffe Woods Trust now appear to have been resolved with the Trust being dismantled and both schools joining the Aletheia Anglican Academies Trust, although the damage inflicted on Halling Primary School will take time to repair, some of the staff forced out will have seen their careers blighted, and children will have lost too many valued teachers and perhaps their trust in the school.

 I am in the process of writing a further item about the disgraceful behaviour of the Fairview Governing Body, based on correspondence provided by Medway Council under FOI. This includes most importantly the revelation that the Council has issued two Formal Warnings to the governors about their proceedings, with regard to academisation, and considered replacing them with an Interim Executive Body.

The Leigh Academies Trust proposed for a second time to amalgamate Stoke Primary Academy and Allhallows Primary Academy, both on the Hoo Peninsula, a scheme previously put forward in 2019. This time around the SEHTB reported that: ‘Since then, the level of support for the amalgamation has increased with a high proportion of positive responses to the consultation. The Board noted that Stoke had received a good judgement since joining the Leigh Academies Trust following a sustained period as requires improvement but the numbers of pupils at the academy had decreased further presenting challenges for continuing to provide an effective educational experience for remaining pupils and jeopardising the academy’s viability. The board discussed transport provision for children that have to travel’. It deferred the decision to obtain written confirmation from the trust on minibus provision. For 2021 admissions 24 pupils were offered Reception places at All Hallows, with just nine at Stoke. In 2019, All Hallows had 14 places offered for its PAN of 30, Stoke all 20 of the available places were filled (although the year group is now down to 13 children). This suggests that parents are voting with their feet, perhaps in anticipation of the amalgamation going through. 

After a calamitous seven years since academisation, Delce Academy in Medway has been re-brokered to the Inspiration Partnership.  

Kent Catholic Schools Partnership
After its troubles last year, KCSP appears to have settled down with the appointment of a new CEO, Annemarie Whittle, and headteacher at St Thomas’ Catholic Primary School in Sevenoaks, Geraldine Leahy.

One of the issues that activists at the small one-form entry St Thomas Catholic Primary School campaigned on was the fear that the Trust would extend its policy of bringing schools together into Clusters to include their school. With the dismissal of their headteacher in November, KCSP has followed this through, with St Thomas joining the South West Cluster also comprising the larger St Augustine’s, Tunbridge Wells, and St Margaret Clitherow, Tonbridge. The cluster is still under the leadership of Executive Principal Annemarie Whittle until a replacement is appointed. Her appointment as CEO of the Trust looks as if the Trust has gone for a safe pair of hands after her predecessor, the high profile Clive Webster, left under controversial circumstances last September.

Other Decisions by the SE England and South London Headteacher Board
Many academies and other schools temporarily expand their Published Admission numbers in March (secondary) and April (primary) to cater for additional pupils for whom they have capacity. Maplesden Noakes School in Maidstone and Wilmington Academy have been given permission for a permanent physical expansion, presumably with funding.
 
Hillview School for Girls has been given permission to run a  new Post 16 level 1 and 2 provision in a small-scale study centre in Tonbridge to support students who thrive better in smaller environments, emotional wellbeing during learning and to support the prevention of NEETS, which seems an excellent initiative. 
 
Other News
After some fifteen years of failure and mismanagement by KCC, and then by the REAch 2 Trust, Copperfield Academy has been found Good by Ofsted in one of the first full inspections since Covid restrictions eased. 
 
Government Policy on Promoting Academies
From  Schools Week in April: 'In a speech Education secretary Gavin Williamson outlined a raft of policies to revive the academies programme by nudging schools into converting and growing MATs. Plans include formalising ‘try before you buy’ MAT membership, supporting growth of religious trusts and looking at forcing conversion of long term ‘requires improvement’ schools. He said the government’s “vision is for every school to be part of a family of schools in a strong multi-academy trust”…… Academies minister Baroness Berridge told Schools Week it was ministers’ role to issue a “clarion call” to the sector'. The preferred minimum in a strong academy Trust appears to be about 12, which excludes a large number in Kent.

On Single Academy Trusts (SAT): For the person sitting in their splendid ‘outstanding’ isolation, think carefully about what is your moral purpose of not sharing your excellent single academy trust with a wider group of schools.” Personally I simply find this offensive, especially as we arel told (wrongly) and repeatedly that best practice is to be found in large trusts. 

You will find a list of all academies in Kent and Medway arranged by MAT, together with Single Academy Trusts here  (awaiting update), which includes 42 small Trusts many with just two primary schools that clearly do not fit the criteria, and 53 MATS with just one school and SATs, of which 32 are secondary schools.

Chartham Primary and St Stephen’s Infants (above) joined together to become the Inspira Multi-Academy Trust on 1st April, possibly getting their decision through before the above policy firmed up. When Brockhill and the Abbey School had their proposal to join together in a single Trust turned down (previous article) not only was the SEHTB critical of the arrangements put forward, ‘The HTB questioned the process for determining the composition of the proposed board and the assessment of skills required to underpin it. They also questioned whether there would be an open process for the appointment of the future CEO. The HTB felt there was a lack of clarity about the school improvement capacity of the proposed new MAT, and questioned the proposed top slicing policy’, but they concluded by proposing that the two schools consider joining an established MAT. The pressure is on!

If in doubt read the Government Paper ‘Building strong academy trusts’ published in May, which begins ‘Section one sets out the department’s ambition for all schools to be part of strong academy trusts, in strong families of schools’ and contains clear strategies to bring this about. One key section with implications for many local situations reads:

In addition to and separate from this assessment, RSCs need to consider the strategic fit of the academy trust with the region in which it operates or plans to operate. To this end, when considering the growth or consolidation of academy trusts RSCs will examine • the existing profile of academy trusts operating within an area, and whether further growth to one academy trust may prohibit future developments, such as the future entry of an alternative high-performing academy trust into the region • how to avoid the geographical isolation of individual schools within an academy trust, which may lead to performance or financial difficulties • how to support academy trusts to develop geographical clusters of schools, if they think there is capacity to do so effectively • how to avoid arrangements which leave a single academy trust running all or an overly significant proportion of schools within a local area • how to avoid individual schools – especially small ones in rural areas – becoming isolated outside of an academy trust, with limited options for joining an academy trust in future.

I can think of local situations that fit into several of these categories, including the appalling one of having both non-selective schools in Folkestone run by the notorious Turner Schools, the link taking you to my most recent article which raises serious questions about the moral purpose of the setup, to use a term in the government lexicon above. It is quite reasonable to think that the Government wants to persuade the thriving Brockhill School, with plenty of Folkestone pupils that have escaped from  Turner Schools swelling its numbers, to join it as indeed they have tried to encourage other local schools to do so. Leigh Academies Trust is also close to having a monopoly in Dartford with five out of the seven local N/S schools now it is absorbing the failed Brook Academy Trust including Ebbsfleet Academy.

There are various examples of the perils of SATs having a lack of accountability, including the case of the HT of St Stephen's Junior School (above), on probably the highest salary for a primary head in Kent with a salary of £115,000 in 2018-19. He managed to make himself redundant last summer, quite an achievement but managed somehow by being replaced by two co-heads, allowing him to take home a final package of £170-180,000. Not surprisingly, the academy had a deficit of £64,000 at the end of last year according to its company accounts, neatly equalling the probable amount of the redundancy payment. Then of course the recently retired head of Knole Academy with her inflated salary of £205,000 - now there is a pension!  Those such as the underperforming Future Schools Trust must be very much at risk, following the takeover of Brook Learning Trust and The Williamson Trust by Leight Academies Trust, although I suspect Turner Schools is safe with its political friends.  However, there is a much larger number of success stories serving their locality well in the county.  

Kent and Medway certainly have a number of large MATs, including: The Diocese of Canterbury Academies Trust (Aquila); Kent Catholic Schools Partnership; Leigh Academies Trust; Swale Academies Trust; Thinking Schools Academy Trust; and Valley Invicta Academies Trust, most of which are strong and all of which appear regularly in these pages. There are also large MATs with a smaller presence in Kent, Academies Enterprise Trust, Griffin Schools, Oasis Community Learning, REAch2, TKAT, United Learning, many of whose schools come under the ‘geographical isolation of individual schools within an academy trust’ category and, on the local evidence of some of these, large is certainly not the same as strong!

 


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