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Friday, 05 June 2015 10:46

Oasis Academy Skinner Street highlights key issue with draft Education Bill

The new draft Education and Adoption Bill which includes provision to force failing or coasting schools to become academies, without local or parental views being taken into account, has many flaws, possibly the most serious one being that there is no evidence that, overall, academisation improves standards. You will find plenty of evidence to support this assertion on the Anti Academies Alliance website, admittedly a partisan organisation, but one that carries out a powerful analysis of outcomes.

Certainly not an original view, but I strongly believe that the key to a good school is good leadership and the status of the school is irrelevant if the resources delivered to perform the job are similar.

The second key flaw in the argument is that there is no consideration of what to do with failing academies, and we have plenty of these in Kent and Medway, most recently, Oasis Academy Skinner Street in Gillingham, classified ‘Requires Improvement’ under Medway and handed over, with many of its fellow underperforming schools, to academy chains.

oasis academy skinner street

The most recent OFSTED Report on Oasis Skinner Street, published today, places it in Special Measures, so where next for the school? The Report does not mince its words: “Leaders and governors have an unrealistic view of how well the academy is performing. Leaders do not check weak teaching or underachievement sufficiently strongly to address them promptly”. The Marlowe Academy is of course to close after 10 years of providing a sub-standard education to its students, with little happening from government to force improvement in this period. Castle Community College in Deal, fast-tracked as an Outstanding school to become an academy, spectacularly fell from Outstanding to Special Measures in 2014, in just three years.

There are of course many examples of highly successful academies and county maintained schools in Kent and Medway that are highlighted elsewhere in this website, but this article is written primarily to look at the implications of the proposed Bill for local failing or underperforming schools, identified below…….

I am happy to have any errors or omissions pointed out for correction in the lists below, as this is a very complicated scene. Broadly, schools that chose to become academies, having good academic or OFSTED records, are known as Converters, and may stand on their own or choose to join Federations or Academy chains. Those that have failed OFSTED or have consistent poor performance are put under considerable pressure to convert under a Sponsor, which may be an academy chain. I have attempted to provide a comprehensive list of Kent and Medway academies and groups elsewhere.

The Anti-Academies Alliance has produced a polemic article against the draft Bill that is well worth reading, whether or not you agree with the proposals.

I have not tried to identify “coasting” schools as I have not yet seen a definition of these, but can think of a number who would surely qualify, often with tired leadership or inadequate governance, many in ‘leafy lane’ territory. With leadership the key, they can surely be turned round without this enforced action, rather than be plunged into an uncertain future as a sponsored academy. What is evident is the high proportion of sponsored academies in socially deprived areas, where there is too often little incentive for the best staff to go and work and so quality of teaching and leadership tends to be lowest through no fault of the school. The big advantage academies have here, is flexibility of pay, so that good leaders can be attracted, too often compensated for by low cost or unqualified staff, the latter often put forward as a benefit by government and others who don't see the reality.    

Kent has seen a greatly improved OFSTED performance in its schools over the past two years, but there are too many that failed or underperformed previously under KCC’s control and are now sponsored academies. You will find the 39 primaries listed on my academy page (of whom the five Kemnal Academy Trust Thanet primaries have all had serious difficulties subsequently; Academies Enterprise Trust has had three primary academies taken away from it after failing them; Kent Catholic Schools Partnership is one of lowest performing academy chains for disadvantaged children; Westlands Primary in Sittingbourne failed its OFSTED after being taken over by Swale Academies Trust, declining from ‘Requires Improvement’). You will also find a list of the seven primaries and two secondary schools already in progress to become sponsored academies. At secondary level, there is the closure of Oasis Hextable was suddenly announced by Oasis against the wishes of KCC earlier this year, leaving its 400 children abandoned to find other schools for September; Marlowe Academy; and Castle Community College.

Other Kent primary schools found Inadequate by OFSTED, and so vulnerable to become Sponsored Academies under this Act are: Churchill Primary, Shepway (which fell from Good to Serious Weaknesses in 2013 but which is now making reasonable progress to removing the SW); Kings Farm in Gravesham (Special Measures in September 2014, after the removal of a temporary Executive Headteacher under whose leadership KS1 data was lost, KS2 results were annulled, and the school was subject to a number of investigations alleging maladministration, under the umbrella of a local academy group, as explained here, but the school is now consulting on Federating with the neighbouring Ifield Special School, Outstanding OFSTED); St John’s Canterbury (SM Feb 2014, after problems amalgamating two schools, headteacher removed by KCC, then reinstated, currently reasonable progress to removing SM); St Nicholas, New Romney (SW 2014 “The school has suffered from high staff turnover over a protracted period of time. At the start of this academic year approximately half of the teaching staff are new and of these, half are newly qualified teacher”); Staplehurst (Good progress from SW, Recommendation that next Inspection should be a full one). The majority of these have promising plans to make progress without the need of academisation.

Medway, as the lowest performing OFSTED Authority in the country has naturally had a large number of casualties. Thirteen primary schools, a quarter of the total, are already sponsored academies. Apart from Oasis Academy Skinner Street, most are currently performing better than under Medway Council, an argument for the Bill! There are however, serious worries about Warren Wood, failed for ten years by Medway and still struggling as a sponsored academy according to reports.

There are four other Medway Primaries currently found Inadequate by OFSTED who could be forced down the academy route:  Byron Primary, Gillingham (SM Jan 14, but recent Monitoring Report Good, however the Report notes"Since the last monitoring inspection, the local authority has made changes to the way that it supports schools causing concern. The frequency of the formal meetings to evaluate the school’s progress has been reduced and the next meeting for Byron Primary is not due to take place until January 2016. It is not clear by whom, when and how the school’s progress will be monitored in the intervening period" - surely a matter of concern itself for Medway Council to take action); Greenvale Infants, Chatham (progress from SM); Temple Mill, Rochester( before and since SM, a disaster area for Medway Council's oversight ( or lack of) for the school. "Governors continue to explore Academy status". If and only if they can find the right sponsors they would be well advised to do so, another example of where the Bill would be effective); Twydall (SM. Government tried to force Thinking Schools Academy Trust on it. Governors considered this the wrong sponsor and fiercely and successfully resisted it. The school has made clear it wants a sponsor but if it does not find one soon could be forced back into the hands of TSAT, an excellent example of the wrong behind the Bill).

Last modified on Tuesday, 09 June 2015 21:24

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