All posts tagged 'academies'

The standards gap: why are less well-off pupils in Kent so far behind?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, January 26 2012

The publication of school league tables show many things - possibly too many - but the one striking feature of this year's data is that, for the first time, the achievements of disadvantaged pupils can be compared to others.

Kent's secondary school results>>>

The measure used to make this comparison is the numbers on free school meals or in care. In Kent, the figures show that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are half as likely to get five or more good GCSEs than those that are not. That is behind the national average by 6%.

Why? The temptation is to blame - or explain - the difference on Kent's selective system. Recently, Kent county council's own director of education told county councillors that there was less social mobility achieved in Kent than elsewhere - although he did not go on to articulate the reasons why he thought that was the case.

I'm not so sure that it is as simple as pointing the finger at the grammar school system. It is undeniably the case that grammars in Kent have far fewer children on free school meals - a handful have none at all. On the other hand, in some as many as one in five children are disadvantaged - more than many non-selective schools.

When you sort the tables for Kent by point score, the percentage of children on free school meals at those grammar schools in the top 20 range from 0% to 41%.

To add to the complexity, among the top 20, there are many non-selective schools where the 'added value' to pupils' progress is astonishingly good.

Nonethless, the results do beg important questions of those politicians who routinely argue that Kent's so-called 'mixed economy' of schools can work equally as well as areas where there are comprehensive systems. And one key question ought to be whether some of Kent's grammar schools are doing enough to give opportunities to those from disadvantaged backgrounds given that is the system we have. 

Kent accounts for roughly one in ten of the 107 schools nationally that are failing to meet basic targets.

This is not to say that the county education chiefs do not recognise the problem. County Hall has set up its version of the National Challenge to target support at those schools that are under-achieving (although it won't say which schools are on its list). 

This is said to be having some success although without the authority detailing which schools might be benefiting it is hard to tell.

The problem for Kent is that the government's move to give schools greater freedoms and autonomy through the academy and free schools programme is further fragmenting an already complex jigsaw of schools that exists.

Academies are not answerable or accountable to KCC and although much has been made of the collaborative spirit among Kent schools, for headteachers the key priority is how well their own pupils are doing.

The government is right to shine a light on to how well - or poorly - schools are doing by their less advantaged pupils. Talent is undoubtedly going to waste and in Kent, it seems more of it might be gong to waste than elsewhere.

That is unacceptable.

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Categories: Precept

Kent's academy dilemma. And another interim manager at KCC

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, May 20 2011

PETER Mandelson once said Labour was 'seriously relaxed' about people becoming rich. I don't imagine that Cllr Sarah Hohler, the cabinet member for education, had him in mind when she said KCC was relaxed about schools becoming academies.

But I wonder whether KCC is genuinely sanguine about the pace at which schools - especially secondary ones - are becoming academies or applying to become academies.

One in three Kent secondaries join academy rush>>>

Where I do think she is right is in her view that schools are joining the academy revolution not out of deep ideological conviction but because they see certain financial advantages.

Being an academy allows schools to hang on to cash they previously would have had to hand over to KCC to pay for support services. It is a fact that good or outstanding schools generally have less call on some of these services than others in more challenging circumstances.

As one head put it to me,  a key incentive in becoming an academy is not necessarily more money but the freedom it gives them to spend their budgets how they wish. In the case of a large secondary in school, that could be as much as £450k a year which previously went to KCC.

KCC's dilemma is knowing how to position itself in the post-academy era. Education chiefs have been locked in darkened rooms deliberating how best to respond and are considering an arms-length commercial enterprise to sell back its support services not just to Kent schools but others in the south east.

But the make-up of the commercial model is proving tricky, primarily because this is unchartered territory. Having said that, KCC has a track record in fairly successful commercial enterprises and plenty of experience to call on.

The problem is that it can't guarantee that all academies will buy the same level of support and that this looks like being a fairly competitive market. KCC certainly won't be alone - in Kent alone, schools buy back £8m of services a year.

But time is marching on and having issued a discussion paper back in September, not much appears to have happened.

KCC is keen to maintain some kind of collaboration among and between schools but I sense that the academy revolution is fragmenting schooling in new ways, not least through some of the federations and chains that are emerging.

The irony is where schools are choosing to link up with others, it represents the kind of localism agenda and devolution of power that councils themselves are very keen on.


Lorraine O'Reilly has an impressive CV and Kent county council clearly thinks she will be value for money for the £3,300 a week she will receive for the next five months. I've blogged before that I'm not wholly against the concept of interim managers but County Hall does seem to have a fair number on its payroll.

There are some saying , however, that the failure to make permanent appointments to some of the new senior posts indicates a certain wariness about KCC among local authority professionals. And however good a job interim managers do, ultimately permanent appointments will have to be made.





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Categories: Politics

Will Gove's school revolution make the grade? Plus: Why MPs are powerless over rail fare hike

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, November 24 2010

I've got a feeling of deja vu listening to and reading about Michael Gove's blueprint for driving up classroom standards. There's lots of talk about tradition - natural Conservative territory - the desire to see more pupils wearing blazers and ties and an emphasis on improving the quality of teaching. (Although I couldn't spot the word "diversity" anywhere which was littered through most of the Labour government's various reforms)

Somewhere in amongst it, there are also references to houses and prefects. It all sounds vaguely redolent of Hogwarts so I was slightly surprised to hear no mention of Quidditch and wizadry skills being introduced to the curriculum.

Of course, one traditional feature of education provision is already undergoing radical reform - namely, the role of councils and what future they will play as Gove stirs up a cauldron of reforms.

The issue was touched on by county councillors at a cross-party committee scrutiny meeting at County Hall today and it was hard to avoid the conclusion that many are struggling to grasp the ramifications of changes which will radically diminish their input.

One of the consequences of drives by this government and its predecessor to give schools more autonomy has been to leave councils with less and less direct involvement in schools (although they continue to provide vital support services.)

This has been a deliberate. The Gove mantra is that schools know best how to educate, not distant overly-bureaucratic councils.

That is why we are seeing a new generation of academies and, in time, free schools - ironically, charged with the job of "innovating" new methods of teaching, although presumably only as long as students are dressed in formal suits.

But what happens when things go wrong at a school? Where are the local checks and balances? Where is the accountability? There was a time when education authorities had the job of intervening and acting to ensure that things improved. Interestingly, their statutory responsibilities in this area are steadily being eroded.

Kent's first academy, The Marlowe Academy in Ramsgate, has just been given a notice to improve by Ofsted. But as an academy, it is detached from KCC which will have absolutely no role in tackling the school's shortcomings. (Perversely, as part of Gove's vision to haul up under-performing schools, the Marlowe could in time be "taken over" by the government and forced to become, er, an academy...)

Conservative backbencher Cllr Kit Smith articulated the general frustration felt by many at this impotence with some pointed remarks at today's meeting. "We as KCC have some form of moral responsibility to make sure children get the best education they can. These are our children for the future and if they have a bad experience at school, that reflects on our county. While the government has taken away our statutory responsibility, we still have  a moral would be irresponsible of us as county council not to."

Who would quibble with such sentiments?

Sadly, in the brave new world of academies, free schools, ties and blazers, no-one appears to give much for moral responsibility, let alone local accountability.


Kent Conservative MPs have been quick to condemn the astronomic rises in rail fares for hard-pressed commuters but they, too, are impotent and unable to do anything.

More commuter woe for Kent's rail users>>>

Why? Well, as several have been quick to point out, the fares regime is tied in to complex franchise agreements determined by the previous government and the changes permitted for regulated and non-regulated tickets.

Which means that for the time being, MPs can roundly condemn the increases - but when it comes to representing the interests of passengers or pressurising for some respite, can't actually do terribly much other than sound off about how dreadful it all is.

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Categories: Conservatives | Education | Local Politics | National Politics

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