Last Tuesday, September 18, Rye College held a public meeting to discuss the imminent ‘take over’ by the Aquinas Trust.
Sadly, barely a handful of people turned up to listen to what Andrew Ferguson, the lead executive of Rye Academy Trust, Barry Blakelock, the executive head of the College and the chief executive of the Aquinas Trust, Kathy Griffith had to say. But what they did say was enlightening and certainly should have removed some of the doubts in the minds of parents and others.
First, why the C of E Aquinas Trust as a new partner? The fact is that, having been ordered by the Department for Education to find another academy trust to partner them, the college found that, not only were there not that many other trusts in the market, but there were even fewer who would want to take on an academy with the financial problems of Rye.
So why were Aquinas prepared to consider it? The answer seems to be that they were satisfied that they could turn the situation around. With ten schools already in their organisation (9 primary and 1 secondary) they had experience of taking on failing schools (and Rye Academy fitted that description) including one in special measures, and turning them around. The meeting was told that the new executive head, Barry Blakelock, who had been seconded from Aquinas, had come from just such a situation.
The chief executive of Aquinas, Kathy Griffith said that she was appalled when she saw the state of the buildings and the demoralising effect that underfunding and four head teachers in as many years had had on the staff. There were good people there, she said, who wanted to do well but had neither the incentive nor the conditions in which they could do so. Neither students nor staff were being well served, the school and its facilities were a long way below those of the trust’s other secondary school in Bromley and this had to change.
Full use was to be made of the new building of the Studio School – the library had already been moved there and the modern languages and English departments were to follow. With the backing of Aquinas a grant had now been received of £4.1 million to transform the main structure to make it not only a safe place for the students, but properly fit for its purpose.
There have been a lot of concerns about the religious nature of Aquinas. Kathy Griffith was keen to explain that, although the trust had Church of England affiliations, that did not have to apply to the individual schools. They had both church and community schools under their banner and she emphasised that not only would Rye College and the primary school remain community schools but that it was illegal, under current laws, to convert a community school to a church school, so the present status of the two schools as community schools would remain unchanged.
The formal transfer to Aquinas will take place on November 1. From that moment it will become the responsibility of the Aquinas Trust. Initially, the equivalent of the old governing body would come from the trust, but within a year a local ‘advisory council’ would be responsible. This would be made up of two elected parents, two elected members of staff and six members sourced locally with suitable expertise and experience. The intention is that within three years both schools will be effective local schools that will serve the community well and will be schools that students will aspire to go to, rather than be there because there is no other option
So there is light at the end of a long tunnel for the Rye Academy and we must hope that Aquinas can indeed achieve their ambitions and Rye will once again have a school it can be proud of.
Image Credits: John Minter .