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Statement on Kent, Schools and Academies from Paul Carter, Leader of Kent County Council

July 19, 2011 2:38 PM
By Paul Carter, Leader of Kent County Council in Letter to School Governors

Before you break up for the summer holidays for some well-earned rest and relaxation, I thought it would be helpful if I dropped you a line to clarify Kent County Council's, and my own, thoughts on academy status.

When the Secretary of State for Education introduced his new academy model back in May 2010, he emphasised the academies would enjoy certain freedoms. In particular, these new-style academies would be free to set pay and conditions for staff; to control their budgets; to collaborate with private educational providers; to change school opening times; to operate independently of the local authority; and the academies would not have to follow the National Curriculum. Although not written in the press releases circulated, it also became clear early on that the academies converting in 2010 would receive a slightly improved financial settlement than if they had remained under local authority control.

Given that the exact nature of Mr Gove's model was unknown and all Kent schools looked like they would receive an attractive financial package on conversion, I originally suggested that it could be in the best interest of all our schools to become academies.

Over a year later, we are looking at a radically different position. The additional funds given to converting academies are drying up, so those schools still to convert will have a lower budget. This has created a two-tier funding system, whereby the outstanding schools that have already converted have taken with them additional funding compared to those schools remaining in local authority control. I feel very strongly that all different categories of schools should be funded equitably. I am assured by Mr Gove that the inequitable funding system will not continue indefinitely, and all types of schools will move to a standard model. This is why I am supporting further delegations to community schools to make sure we can undertake like-for-like comparisons between community and academy schools' funding regimes (as well as, more importantly, further delegation being the right path to follow). Provided Mr Gove delivers, there will then be little disparity between the funding for different categories of schools.

A further concern is how the school landscape of Kent, which offers maximum parental and pupil choice through its wide range of school types, may be affected after future general elections. One needs to consider very carefully who may be in charge of national government in the future; without being too political, schools need to think long and hard about what impact a future change in government might have on their status and if they will be able to retain their unique ethos and character, when they are under the control of the Secretary of State.

Some of the flexibility the "Gove academy" model offers is the ability to set the school term dates and pay packages, and I understand this may be an appealing offer to some schools. Let me assure you that Kent County Council is very willing to hear from any school which would be interested in applying a different school term model. We responded to the request of Homewood School and Sixth Form Centre some years ago for an alteration to their school year and the school now follows a five term year. With regard to pay, many Kent schools use existing freedoms, but within the context of a national framework. These schools are supported by our personnel department (including occasions when Union disputes occur).

As you are aware, we have a good track record of innovation in education in Kent. This is something we will continue to prioritise and I'd invite all schools to continue to talk to us about innovative solutions, irrespective of their status. We will be pleased to work with you to improve outcomes for the children of Kent.

We should also not forget the considerable effort that has been made over the last 10 years to improve the physical state of our schools. We have been entrepreneurial and creative in finding capital for a substantial modernisation programme, including a significant amount of prudential borrowing - the cost of which falls on the rate payers of Kent. Community schools will continue to benefit from this.

To summarise, our view is that you should not need to become an academy to benefit from the freedoms outlined at the start of this letter - these advantages are available to all schools, and for those of you who do not wish to become academies there is further support available by remaining with the local authority. However, we respect the right of individual governing bodies to choose to become academies, with the support of staff and parents. We will continue to work with schools that may convert in order to achieve our ambitions for children and the Association of Kent Head Teachers will help facilitate this.

Kent schools have a come a long way in the last 14 years in working together as a collective, which has been of enormous benefit to the young people educated in our schools. We must not lose this, which is the main thinking behind the Kent Association of Head Teachers. I am discussing with Andy Roberts what Kent County Council can do to help support your new Association as it develops, through a light touch model of retained support to facilitate the various groupings under the KAHT umbrella.