A critical government inspectors’ report (noted elsewhere in this edition) on Rye’s Primary School has brought a response from the trust which runs Rye’s schools.
That report refers to financial problems at Rye’s schools and the need for the trust to merge with another larger academy – which is now progressing rapidly.
In an interview with Rye News on Wednesday March 14, Tim Hulme, Chief Executive of the trust, accompanied by Andrew Ferguson, Director of Finance, were invited to review recent developments since Mr Hulme’s appointment in 2016 and the future direction of travel for Rye Academy Trust as a whole.
The first priority had been to turn round the financial management and stem losses running at some £750,000 per annum. A break-even budget for 2017/18 had been set and was on course to be achieved. This had necessitated some hard decisions, including staff redundancies and the closure of the Studio School in July at the end of this current academic year.
Tim Hulme had recognised last year that Rye Academy Trust could not be viable as a £6 million turnover business and would need to merge with another academy. The DfE advocates that the optimum size for academies is ownership of 12 colleges of education. The recent Ofsted report on the primary school reinforced this message and drew attention to the September 2018 deadline for a merger.
The search for suitable partners has been ongoing for the last six months, as reported in Rye News in October 2017, and the Aquinas Academy Trust based in Bromley, Kent has been identified as the best fit. Aquinas comprises eight primary schools and one secondary school (all in the Bromley area) and is looking to expand. The concept of community schools fits well with its own vision, and it has already provided much-needed support for Rye, with the secondment of Barry Blakelock, Head of Rye College, and Lynda Doel, another specialist teacher.
Negotiations have reached the ‘due diligence’ phase and are proceeding smoothly towards ‘re-brokerage’, the current jargon word for amalgamation. This would provide larger-scale benefits with over-arching trustee responsibilities, with specialist staff managing compliance issues such as Health and Safety, and central services for human resources, estate management etc. There would be joint management but allowing each college its independence, its own culture and ethos.
Last year the Department for Education (DfE) provided new phased grant aid to fund the introduction of a new core curriculum, and this is now being introduced. Working closely with DfE has also brought the offer of funding for a major refurbishment of the college buildings at a cost of between £4-5 million. This is expected to be confirmed in May this year, with work starting in September, in a project planned to take two years to complete. One section of the buildings would be closed at a time, with the newly vacant Studio School providing temporary accommodation to allow the teaching to continue. The refurbishment project will bring the facilities into the 21st century, comprising electrical and mechanical work, roof repairs and redecoration throughout.
Prior to and following the Ofsted report, various staff changes have taken place. Jane Howard has resigned as Head of the Primary School, being replaced by her deputy Kelly Martin, assisted by Vicki Isted, Val Bradshaw, a very experienced SEND co-ordinator ( for special education needs and disadvantaged children) has been appointed, and two further teachers have joined the staff, on secondment from the Beacon Academy at Crowborough. The College now has two leadership teams, responding to Barry Blacklock. A review of the core curriculum has been instituted to ensure that this is properly resourced and stress-resilient, to ensure high quality of teaching. The student roll has remained steady at 1200 pupils and forecast numbers for the next year are up.
Finally, we turned to the forging of links with the local community. There are various initiatives, some well-established, some new. The theme of creative design as developed by the Studio School students has existed as an important component of earlier years in the college. A new apprenticeship scheme offering in total some 10-12 places, is planned to be launched shortly for the hospitality industry, sponsored by the George Hotel, the Mermaid Inn and by other leading local restaurateurs.
As Tim Hulme nears the end of his assignment – he leaves at the end of April to take up a post at the new East Sussex College, comprising Sussex Downs College, Brighton and the South Coast College, Hastings – he can look back on some important changes during his short assignment, but in his words: “we are on a journey and there is still a long way to go.”
Photos: Kenneth Bird