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Displaying items by tag: academy

The following article appeared in the first edition of the new "The Reporter" newspaper, reflecting the pressure on the newspaper industry as it replaces the old established Gravesend Reporter and the Dartford Times.


Kent County Council has made a largely successful commitment in recent years to improve the quality of the school building stock following many ‘drought’ years when this aspect of our children’s education was neglected. Projects such as: the ‘Old Style’ academies - 10 brand new luxury schools brought into being (including Leigh in Dartford and Longfield); the six PFI project schools; and the first eleven schools completed under the now defunct Building Schools for the Future programme (including Northfleet Girls, Northfleet Technology, St Johns and Thamesview in Gravesend), have resulted in over a quarter of Kent’s secondary schools being completely replaced.  The Special School Review saw many of Kent’s Special Schools rebuilt or refurbished (including Ifield in Gravesend), and many readers will be aware of major primary school rebuilds, and new schools in the area (including Manor Community at Swanscombe) that have transformed the learning of so many of our children. Kent has also been working on a schedule to reduce major maintenance issues, which saw a reduction in the backlog from £147 million to £98 million over the past four years.

However, all this has come to a juddering halt with government cuts in education spending, some of which is retargeted at other priorities. Seven ‘Old style’ Academies (including Wilmington and Orchards in Swanley) are waiting a government review which will probably provide them with budget new  buildings and KCC has gone to court to try and recover the BSF programme for the remainder of Gravesham’s secondary schools (or more likely the millions of pounds lost in preparation works.  You will find further details of these projects at

Meanwhile, all schools are grappling with a swingeing 80% cut in their own grants for the repair, maintenance and improvement of buildings and provision of ICT from 1 April 2011. Whilst this is a hammer blow, worst affected will be the ten schools which lost out under BSF  (including Gravesend Grammar, Gravesend Girls, Meopham and St George’s). For they will all have cut back on their maintenance and building plans expecting that BSF would solve their premises problems, but now there is no money to carry out essential repairs and improvements. A typical secondary school would have been awarded some £120,000 for this work last year, but now sees this reduced to £24,000, inevitably leading to safety concerns. This comes the week after compensation was awarded to families whose children were taking examinations in the school hall at Minster College (now The Sheppey Academy) when central heating ducts fell on them. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries or deaths, but this will certainly not be the last such incident now that schools have been deprived of sufficient funds to carry out repairs.

All this leaves KCC with a backlog of maintenance problems, currently totalling £90 million, its main hope of shrinking this being to say goodbye to schools who are choosing to become academies. Some of these will be leaving because increased budgets may give them the opportunity to resolve these issues, but when all secondaries have become academies, the pain will need to be shared equally once again.

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THe following article appeared in an abbreviated version (missing out some of what I thought were the best bits!) in Kent on Sunday 16 January


The face of education in Kent is changing with astonishing rapidity, driven by the Academy movement. Currently, there are 28 secondary Academies in the county with another 5 in Medway, and 10 Kent and 2 Medway secondary schools on the way. You will find a full list at Many others have begun the process, so Kent is close to losing 50% of its 101 secondary schools. This is surely well past the ‘tipping point’, where KCC has confirmed it will encourage all remaining secondary schools to become Academies, as it becomes uneconomic to run a system for the rump.  Instead, KCC plans to change its focus to supplying services to schools who wish to buy them in.

What does this mean for the schools, and more importantly for the children? 10 of the original ‘luxury model old style’ Academies, mainly replacing failing schools, have been completely rebuilt at an average cost of around £30 million apiece, so the students are being educated in superb surroundings designed to offer exciting curricula,  often attracting highly talented leaders.  The remaining 6 ‘lean old style’ academies face a more difficult future as the plug was pulled on their building programmes, although several have been promised a watered down development.  However, as this week’s GCSE results tables show, many of these have yet to convert academic promise into real progress.

The remaining Academies are the new ‘Gove’ models, having converted since September, the government aggressively encouraging all schools to change status. It promotes the following advantages: freedom to reward staff appropriately; freedom in the delivery of the curriculum; freedom to change lengths of terms and school days (why not offer all these to all schools?); and freedom from Local Authority control. However, to quote the headteacher of one such Academy this week: “parents and children will not have noticed the difference; for us the main advantage is a short term financial gain of some £350,000 for the year”. The first crop of  Gove Academies are OFSTED ‘outstanding’ schools, so one is unsure why they need to be financially subsidised at the expense of others, as school budgets shrink to pay for them and because of the national financial crisis.

Kent County Council will probably continue to  support the majority of Primary and Special Schools (just 4 primaries have changed so far, with another 2 underway), otherwise it will be reduced to offering key services such as Special Education Needs and School Admissions, although these will be undermined by the independence of Academies.

It is already evident that there is a worrying lack of accountability of the Academies, with parental concerns having nowhere to go except the Department of Education that hardly appears geared up to deal with them. Some schools are already bucking the Admissions system with no sanction available, and others are actively discouraging children with Special Needs, so that shortly these will become a greatly disadvantaged group. I have already expressed concerns about pressure on primary school places in West and North West Kent, and cannot see how KCC can carry out its planning role in the new climate, as new provision moves over to the market place for individual schools  which wish to expand. One interesting development is the encouragement to successful schools to take over others, and there are successful examples of this, but no rationale to the decisions being made; indeed one civil servant is reported to be visiting Academies with a shopping list of primary schools across a wide geographical area, encouraging bids to take them over.

Soon nearly all secondary schools in Kent will be Academies, each ploughing their own furrow.  One can already see some adopting business models, seeking to expand their activities rather than putting the education (not just the league table outcomes) of their pupils first. Kent County Council which once billed itself as ‘champion of children’ has no role in the new set up so there will be no one who will stand up for the children of Kent as a whole, until government recognises there needs to be accountability and takes more central control. Then, when the number of schools is too great, it will set up local centres to administer schools. Presumably these will be without local accountability, unless they delegate responsibility back to KCC following the Eric Pickles philosophy of localism.

One final question. If government has the power to close failing schools and turn them into Academies, what will it do with failing Academies?

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Thursday, 18 November 2010 00:28

The Irony of the failing Marlowe Academy

Today, Michael Gove has announced that schools with 'Good' OFSTED Reports can apply to become Academies. Historically, Academies were failing schools that by changing to become Academies, by some alchemy suddenly become a good schools (or is it the resources that do it!). What then happens to failing academies? For today, a published OFSTED Report for the Marlow Academy, Ramsgate, serves it with a 'Notice to Improve' - that is to say, the Academy is failing!

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Wednesday, 13 January 2010 18:14

Academies: KOS Jan 2010

Kent and Medway secondary schools have suffered from a historically low level of investment into school buildings. However, in recent years there has been a transformation of many premises to produce school buildings of which we can be proud, a tribute to the investment policies of Kent and Medway councils.


With programmes such as Private Finance Investment (6 schools) and Building Schools for the Future (10 schools underway), the pace of redevelopment is increasing in line with the target of replacing all Kent secondary schools in the next 12 years. These two initiatives rely heavily on private finance, which needs to make a profit, and so they face uncertain financial futures in terms of running costs. What happens at the end of the borrowing term? What about the current difficult financial climate?


However, as each new school flourishes, alongside it there is too often a school that is not so fortunate, often which has worked hard to achieve high standards, that then suffers by comparison. An unfair world, where many children benefit while others are at good schools that go into decline.


Academies are in a different programme and are the flavour of the day, bringing much-needed funds from government to build plush new premises, often on fresh sites. They also need to attract sponsors who often put up a small proportion of the total costs, and are independent of the local authority, controlled by the sponsors. Church and university sponsors no longer need to invest funds.


Increasingly local authorities are also minority sponsors. Between them, University of Kent at Canterbury, Christchurch University Canterbury, and the University of Creative Arts are minority sponsors of most local academies.


City academies were originally designed to replace failing schools in socially deprived urban areas, but the concept is changing fast and now even some prestigious independent schools, fallen on hard times are becoming academies in other parts of the country. Already the 17 open and planned Academies make up one in seven of all Kent and Medway schools. Academies do not need to follow the national curriculum, and all students at new Academies start off with free uniforms. So far there is no convincing evidence that they raise standards, although many often do well, some by attracting more able pupils. Others (not in Kent) have been spectacular failures.


I consider that Kent has generally used the concept well, attracting investment into the county and maintaining a level of influence that is lacking in some academies elsewhere. However, local authorities are required to have less than 20 per cent of the voting power on the board of governance of an academy.  Parents are not represented on all governing bodies but can have an influence through parent councils.


Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) statistics for permanent exclusions 2007/8 show the rate of permanent exclusion is twice as high for academies as in council-maintained schools. This confirms that one reason for academy ‘success’ may be their capacity to move ‘problem children’ out into other neighbouring schools - which suffer as a consequence.


I am starting to receive reports underlining one of the main drawbacks of city academies – lack of accountability. Parents unhappy with provision are finding it impossible to get satisfaction and the local authority does not have responsibility for the internal running of Academies. The Local Government Ombudsman has no role, as they do not come under the aegis of local authorities. The correct route is via the DFCS. As yet I have no experience of these, but have followed other education complaints through to the government and have found this to be generally a frustrating, drawn out and negative experience.


Parents who send their children to academies need to understand the risks, although for most it may well be the best option available and a very positive experience.

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The BSF (Building Schools for the Future) project was conceived nationally as a series of annual waves of building programmes and has just been scrapped, with all new projects being cancelled. Kent has 16 Academies in existence or planned, some o fwhich have also seen their building projects delayed with an expectation of budget cuts. In addition Kent has seen six schools rebuilt under PFI schemes. This article on my website was linked to a KOS report about the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future.

Kent was first involved in Wave 3 of BSF. Schools are planned to be completely rebuilt under PFI (Private Finance Initiative) funding schemes, subject to a major rebuild from Government grant, or else receive substantial refurbishment again from direct Government grant.

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A full list of the schools affected with their designations is here.

Headteachers at 28 Kent secondary schools, 8 Special Schools and 4 Referral Centres were devastated on Monday to learn that the plans to rebuild their schools under the Building Schools for the Future programme had been scrapped. The vast number of hours spent by heads and governors in negotiating with architects and officials are wasted. The many hours of planning by staff to develop new methods for teaching and learning using opportunities created by purpose designed premises will be consigned to the scrapheap. Some of the Special Schools are required to admit children with complex physical and learning needs, but will now find it impossible to cater for these unless alternative funding can be found. Also spare a thought for KCC officers who have worked tirelessly through the mass of red tape imposed on them, to try and ensure the best for our schools.

For the following schools in Thanet - Clarendon House Grammar, Chatham House Grammar, Foreland Special, Hartsdown Technology College, Hereson, Laleham Gap (Special), Northwood Centre, St Anthony's (Special), Stone Bay (Special) and Ursuline College; and in Gravesend - Gravesend Boys & Girls Grammars,  Meopham, and St George's CE ,along with Portal House (Special) in Dover, the shock was so much greater. For in these schools building plans have nearly all been finalised and construction due to begin in the near future. They will now have to compete for students with the gleaming new premises of those schools who have benefited from BSF. Hartsdown is not alone in Thanet in having very poor buildings and now little prospect of these being eased. 8 newer Academies already operational or in the planning stage whose replacement buildings have not begun (at an average cost of some 40% more than mainstream schools), are to have any plans reviewed in the summer. It would, however, be bizarre if many of these were upheld, as new Academies converting from mainstream schools join them on an equal basis in September with no prospect of new buildings.

This is a sorry end to a project that promised so much. However, it is important to realise what has been achieved. Paul Carter, KCC Leader has taken a personal interest in attracting maximum capital expenditure to Kent, which historically had low levels of investment in school buildings. His drive and vision means we now have new schools worth some half a billion pounds, either completed or in construction. These include all other secondary and Special Schools in Gravesham and Thanet through BSF (most of which are close to completion), 9 Academies, and 6 secondary schools built under separate PFI funding.  Parents in many parts of Kent will be aware of other major investments in new or replacement buildings for schools of all types. Whatever the future holds, these remain and nearly 20% of secondary schools will have been completely or substantially rebuilt; an impressive record of investment in the future of our children.

I saw a few of the complications of BSF as a Governor of Ifield Special School, the first Kent school to be completed with BSF funding. Because of the special nature of our project, involvement with bureaucracy was mainly limited to agreeing contracts for ICT equipment and services. Three governors spent innumerable hours grappling with details of complex documents and requirements to meet impossible deadlines (we are of course all unpaid volunteers). The headteacher and senior staff spent much greater time. However we did have the satisfaction of seeing our work come to completion. What about those governors who see their work junked? Sadly a few will walk away in disgust, never to return. What about children whose education has suffered, as heads and staff have had long periods of absence dealing with BSF issues? That cannot be restored. It would have been good to see Michael Gove acknowledge this labour and sacrifice.

Whether this dramatic purge was necessary in full is for others to pronounce on. I only know it must be wrong to put part of the proceeds towards the bribe to persuade mainstream schools to become academies themselves, with another portion going to start up free schools that will often be set up to suit self-interest groups who have little interest in the education of the majority.

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Monday, 04 October 2010 13:02

Academies, Old and New, KOS, September 2010

As Kent diversifies into an increasingly splintered education provision, it is perhaps time to revisit the world of academies. It appears there are now four types. First up were the luxury model “old style” academies. These have either been completely rebuilt or had plans approved to secure a rebuild on a very generous budget of the order of £30 million each. Secondly, what promise to be the lean “old style” academies, whose rebuilds will be subject to the economies of the Autumn Spending Review. The original concept for these schools was that they were failing their children or were sited in socially deprived areas, and most fit part of that concept.

Then there are the “new style” academies, a very different animal although subject to the same regulations. Currently there is no indication how they will raise funds for major capital projects, so I do not anticipate major rebuilds (but current policy certainly has capacity to surprise). As distinct from the first two groups, the third group are judged “outstanding” by OFSTED, having been offered an exceedingly generous financial package to convert (although there is no evidence that they need such funds!). From October onwards any primary or secondary school can apply to become a fourth model academy, Special Schools being allowed in 2011.

Academies are independent of KCC in most respects although they obey the same Admissions Code. They own their premises and set their own terms and conditions for teachers (Heads of old style academies generally attract salaries of some £30,000 more than for other schools). For group three this will allow highly successful schools to lure teachers away from other schools whose needs are greater.

KCC now has 16 old style academies, and 17 outstanding schools on their way, making nearly a third of the secondary schools in the county.  The Authority appears to be moving to a policy of encouraging all secondary schools to go down this route, arguing that any additional resources from government should benefit all Kent secondary schools. Primary schools have far less infrastructure to support independence and so there are concerns here, although two standalone primaries are going through the process.

You will find a list of all existing and proposed academies on my website

For me, the major concerns are the two tier financial structure being created and a lack of accountability. The threat to a failing school was that it would be closed and turned into an academy. What happens to a failing academy (they do exist and numbers will inevitably increase)? It is worthy of note that the Ombudsman has no role in academies. Any complaints go to the black hole that is the Department of Education.  Against this, there is no doubt that academies are raising the status of schools, and some are notable successes. It is no coincidence that the most oversubscribed school in Kent and most successful on a number of counts is an academy which is now spreading its wings and oversees the working of two others that have seen greatly improved exam results this year. See my website to learn out which it is!!

In conclusion, the jury is still out and the next few years look very “exciting” in terms of school organisation.

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