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Sunday, 29 August 2021 19:53

Academies, Free Schools and UTCs in Kent and Medway

Since the start of this website in 2010, and its predecessor from 2004, I have featured information articles listing all academies and academy trusts in Kent and Medway. These were followed by articles on Free Schools (both operational and planned)  and University Technical Colleges. These four articles have had over 200,000 visitors between them, including many from media and other organisations wishing to consult the only published and comprehensive listing of these schools.

I have recently completely revised and updated each of the four articles, and this article reviews their content, drawing out some of the key findings. I also expand on the following paragraph.

The government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency has a rule that ‘Before escalating an academy complaint to us, you should first complain to the academy. You should follow the academy’s complaints procedure. We cannot change an academy’s decision about a complaint. Our role is to make sure the academy handles your complaint properly’, effectively making all academies non-accountable to parental concerns (see below). The Government Paper ‘Building strong academy trusts’ begins ‘Section one sets out the department’s ambition for all schools to be part of strong academy trusts, in strong families of schools’  (of at least 12 schools!). Currently, 81% of the 118 local secondary schools are academies, with just 26 of these in Trusts of 12 or more schools. Meanwhile, the government and KCC appear determined to see through the new but unnecessary secondary Free School in Margate, to be built on a cramped unsuitable site with no room for a Sixth Form.

 
In my information article, I provide lists of all academies including Free  Schools and UTCs, in Kent and Medway, together with applications in progress. This follows an introductory section about the background to the academy system,

I have published many articles about individual academies, both positive and negative over the years, accessible via my search engine, and you will also find a profile of every secondary school in Kent and Medway via the links.

Kent Academies
Currently, over three-quarters of Kent secondary schools (79/101) are academies, six of these being Free Schools, and one a UTC. Another three have made a current application (all held up because of PFI issues). You will find a full list here of the 22 secondary schools that are not academies, with some possible reasons for their decisions not to proceed.

41% of all Kent primaries (189/461) are academies, with another six officially in progress, although several approvals date back for some years. 46 of the Kent primaries had failed an Ofsted inspection before being taken over through academy sponsorship, a dismal, but hopefully historical, record for KCC. Three of Kent’s 24 Special Schools are academies, along with one of the six PRUs and Alternative Provisions.

The three approved secondary applications are for Holmesdale School, the North School and Royal Harbour Academy (not yet an academy), all were expected for September although no announcement has yet been made. See previous article. Mundella Primary School in Folkestone had its application to become an academy within the Verita Trust approved last week.

The proposed new Free School, Park Crescent Academy in Margate, is neither needed, nor has a site that is big enough to cope with its planned numbers, and so is going ahead with no Sixth Form provision, the only one of the 13 K & M secondary schools open or approved in the last eight years not to offer an education 11-18 (the only other one this century was Ebbsfleet Academy which was also forced to open on a site too small for it). It is going ahead because the Junior Minister for Education in 2020 overturned a decision to scrap the proposed school after it was realised it was unnecessary. KCC doesn’t appear to be interested in the dichotomy any more and are happy to go along with the proposal.    

Medway Academies
In Medway, 94% (16/17) of secondary schools are academies and 70% (52/79) of the primaries, along with four more in progress. Four of the five Medway Special Schools are academies, as is one of the two PRUs (the second has an application to convert being considered). Medway Council has a policy of encouraging all its schools to become academies,

One Medway school, Fairview Primary, which is not an academy, has notched up an unenviable record, thanks to a rogue governing body. Its application to become an academy was turned down by the Regional School Commissioner the only one on record nationally. Its subsequent behaviour brought it two Warning Notices from Medway Council, a procedure unique in the Authority and almost unheard of in Kent, so clearly lack of accountability is not unique to academies. 

The Cliffe Woods Academy Trust conducted the affairs of one of its two schools, Halling Primary, so badly that the trust has now been taken over by the Aletheia Anglican Academy Trust.

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There are 62 MATs with more than one school across Kent and Medway. These include just nine meeting the government target for Trusts to have a minimum of 12 schools in them, most including schools outside the county, although two of these, the highly performing Diocese of Canterbury Academies Trust (Aquila) and Kent Catholic Schools Partnership, are purely Kent based. 21 have just two or three schools in them, so some way to go before achieving the target, and likely to come under government pressure to amalgamate with others. 13 are classified as MATs with only a single school in them, initially having had the ambition to expand, and 45 SATs, presumably happy to exist on their own. 

The first merger of equals has recently taken place to form the Our Community Multi-Academy Trust, which now has ten primary schools, just short of the desired twelve, although it hardly qualifies as strong. Ten trusts which have now folded for various reasons are also included in my list. Several of these, including the notorious Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust and SchoolsCompany, have seen millions of pounds vanish with them, and others such as Griffin Learning Trust have also proved very profitable. In no case does government appear to want to hold individuals accountable or attempt to recover some of the lost funds.

Unsurprisingly, some controversial trusts have received considerable coverage in these pages (follow the links) with Turner Schools probably top of my list, but strongly favoured by the government, as can be seen by the financial benefits showered upon it. Sadly, there are plenty of other candidates, some of which are struggling and surely at risk as the government seeks to back the strong. Amongst others at the other end of the scale is Swale Academies Trust with its strong record of turning failing schools around, although it appears to be almost continuously in conflict with KCC as it single-mindedly focuses on delivering quality. Many other trusts work well and deliver to a high standard for their children, but never make the headlines.

The biggest question of all is of course whether academy trusts deliver better for their children than the Local Authorities, as the government claims? I believe the jury is still out, with plenty of trusts across both Kent and Medway demonstrating both sides of the argument, the key factor simply being the quality of leadership in each organisation.

Meanwhile, 45 academies operate as Single Academy Trusts (SAT), along with the 13 MATs with only one school in them, perhaps ambitious to expand. The government has a clear view: “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 are told (wrongly) and repeatedly that best practice is to be found in large trusts. What about rural Graveney Primary School, near Faversham,  one of the smallest academies in Kent with just 103 pupils, and a capacity of 105? Exceptionally, this is one of just two Kent primaries academies that is set in a MAT where it is the only school, although it appears to have none of the difficulties the government identifies. Key Stage Two results are sound, and its most recent Good Ofsted Report states that ‘Leaders understand the importance of collaborative work at all levels and have developed new partnerships to extend this work still further’, so they are not sitting in splendid isolation. Rural Faversham also has two other strongly performing primary school SATs, Luddenham and the Ofsted Outstanding oversubscribed Sheldwich, the latter of which I know also has strong collaborative links.  

This was originally a concept making it possible for parents, teachers, charities and businesses to set up their own schools from 2011, the first Kent free school being Tiger Primary School opened in 2012. You will find a full list of open Free Schools in K & M here, with those in the pipeline here.

Altogether there have been 19 Free Schools opened, six secondary, ten primary and three special schools. In the pipeline are six secondary schools, three primaries and one Alternative Provision centre. One proposal, the Hope Community School in Northfleet lapsed in 2017, on the false grounds that KCC considered there was no need, and has now been replaced by another, Springhead Park Primary.

University Technical Colleges
Sadly, this is another failed government initiative, with 12 out of the 50 UTCs which opened, having now closed having failed to attract students, run into financial difficulties or more often both. Many others have changed their character in order to survive, by attracting additional pupils including the two local UTCs, Leigh UTC, Dartford and the Medway UTC, now re-named Waterfront UTC.

You will find further details on the two sad stories, via the links. At the foot of the page is my 2015 take on the ambitions of the two UTCs.

Complaints About Academies
When I ran my consultancy this was one of the top areas of concern by parents, utterly frustrated by the lack of accountability of academies when dealing with complaints, and I still get contacted by desperate parents trying in vain to find a way through.

The main exception relates to complaints from parents/carers of children with special educational needs concerning the provision made at the school (SEND Policy). If such a complaint remains unresolved after the academy procedures are exhausted, the complainant can appeal to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability), if the case refers to disability

discrimination, or to the Secretary of State for all other cases.

Otherwise, if the academy has followed its own procedures properly, there is nowhere else to go. Only if parents can demonstrate fault with these procedures can they take the complaint further to the government’s Education and Skills Funding Agency as explained here.  The Local Authority has no role.

Some parents will try and enlist the support of their Member of Parliament, others will try putting pressure on via the media, although I have heard of very few cases where either of these have been successful. Occasionally, parents have demonstrated that an academy has acted unlawfully although that may not help the individual child concerned. I can think of more than one M.P. with highly controversial academies in their constituency, who come out supporting the institution, oblivious of the mistreatment of children.

In other words, there is no external accountability for academies with regard to actions leading to complaints.

 

Last modified on Saturday, 04 September 2021 05:54

3 comments

  • Comment Link Monday, 30 August 2021 13:33 posted by Gerry

    Brilliant!

  • Comment Link Monday, 30 August 2021 12:43 posted by Andrew Prince

    How on earth does the government hope to persuade this wide range of Academy Trusts, in terms of style, make up, philosophy, geography amongst other factors link up with others to form groups of at least 12 schools? Williamson and his stooges have no idea.

  • Comment Link Monday, 30 August 2021 10:00 posted by Richard Jackson

    Wow, That's what I call a blog! What an amazing piece of research. How much time did you put into this? Oh, by the way, it is invaluable to me, so I have put in a donation. PETER: Thank you. In answer to your question and for your donation. I have built up the data base over the past ten years, so impossible to quantify.

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