This report outlines the Leigh Academy Trust’s proposals to amalgamate Stoke and Allhallows primary academies, the questions and concerns raised and the formal response made by the Council.
The Head of Education introduced the report which informed the Committee of a proposal by Leigh Academy Trust to amalgamate Stoke and Allhallows Primary Academies, along with the concerns and formal response raised by the Council. He explained that following the publication of the report, the Headteacher Board of the Regional Schools Commissioner’s office had referred the matter to Lord Agnew, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, who had made the decision to refuse the merger of the two schools.
Members then raised a number of comments and questions which included:
· Local authorities loss of power – concern was raised that academisation had weakened the strategic control of the Council and therefore decisions such as the one regarding this proposal were no longer the responsibility of the Council when they relate to academies.
· Council Motion – reference was made to the Motion passed at Council on 18 July 2019 which requested the Cabinet to commit to keeping rural and village schools open for the benefit of the local communities in so far as its powers allow. In response to a question about how this would be taken forward officers confirmed it would be included as part of the Annual School Place Planning Review, which was due to be considered by this Committee in October.
· Reasons behind Lord Agnew’s decision – in response to a request for the detailed reasoning of Lord Agnew’s decision, officers explained that it largely related to the speed at which the academy trust put forward the proposal and the importance of supporting rural communities and their schools. However, officers undertook to request for more detailed feedback on this decision and would circulate this to the Committee.
· Nursery provision at Allhallows Primary Academy – reference was made to the plans for nursery provision at the site of Allhallows Primary Academy, which was part of the amalgamation proposals put forward by Leigh Academy Trust. It was asked if the nursery provision, which would be a welcomed addition to the area, could be explored further with the Trust and in response, officers undertook to do so.
· Concern of future proposals – concern was raised that the proposal to merge the schools would be raised again in the future and it was asked how the Council could help safeguard against this and support continued education provision in the Stoke community. Officers explained that they were in close communication with the Regional Schools Commissioner’s office on this issue and would continue to make clear the importance of maintaining and supporting Medway’s rural schools. Reference was also made to the emerging Local Development Plan and to the partnership working with local planners in looking at education provision strategically in relation to future development across the peninsula.
· Provision issues at Stoke Primary Academy – reference was made to the notification parents of pupils at the school had received on the last day of term in relation to children from some year groups being transported to Allhallows Primary Academy for their learning from September due to structural concerns at the Stoke site. Officers confirmed that they would be writing to the school about this issue as they had not been made aware of this.
· Consultation of academies – concern was raised about consultation by the Leigh Academy Trust with students when it was merged with the Williamson Trust as students at affected schools had not been consulted on this. Officers agreed consultation across academies could be improved and undertook to work with academy trusts to encourage them to complete thorough, timely and meaningful consultation and officers also undertook to raise this issue with the Regional Schools Commissioner.
· Supporting Stoke Primary Academy out of ‘Requires Improvement’ – concern was raised about the Ofsted category of Stoke Primary Academy, which had been ‘Requires Improvement’ for a number of years prior to Leigh Academy Trust taking over the running of the school. Officers reassured Members that this issue was and continued to be raised with the Regional Schools Commissioner.
The Committee noted the report and the decision by Lord Agnew, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State to refuse the proposed merger of Stoke and Allhallows Primary Academies and requested that more feedback be sought in relation to the decision.