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New academy plans in Kent and has Boris Johnson survived Partygate?

Kent County Council has not always had the easiest relations with it's Conservative masters at the Department for Education but do we detect an olive branch being extended to County Hall?

The two have not always seen eye-to-eye, with the county council harbouring some residual resentment over the policy of academisation of schools.

KCC is exploring the possibility of creating its own academy
KCC is exploring the possibility of creating its own academy

The feuding goes back to the days when the former Kent County Council leader Paul Carter made no secret of his dislike of the policy initiative and it is easy to see why.

With the government's promise of greater independence and freedom for academy schools - plus a bit of extra cash - it was not long before the council made its feelings known, warning that struggling schools would have even less money to meet the challenges of disadvantaged areas.

And there was the additional complication of ensuring enough school places could be found without being able to compel academies to increase their numbers.

The biggest gripe of councillors across all parties was that there would be no direct oversight of academies; any checks and balances they may have were exercised at national level by the DfE - hardly the most impartial scrutineers.

If you wanted evidence of this issue being one that preoccupies an awful lot of people, it came during a speech by the Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, who told an audience at a rally in Margate that his first priority in education would be to give council's back the powers that they used to have over schools.

Jeremy Corbyn at the Winter Gardens in Margate. Picture: Tony Flashman
Jeremy Corbyn at the Winter Gardens in Margate. Picture: Tony Flashman

The pledge practically blew the roof off Margate Winter Gardens.

Perhaps the government is now seeking some kind of absolution with the announcement that it will permit councils to create their own academy trusts after more than a decade in which it has steadfastly refused to allow them to go anywhere near the idea.

It all seems logically flawed; well, actually it is; the DfE website still boasts one of those “myth-busting” fact sheets that states:

“Successful, sustainable schools will not be forced to join up in a trust with other schools. As it happens, many academy schools have chosen to join a trust because they can see the benefits. Two-thirds of current academies have chosen to be part of multi-academy trusts…but to be absolutely clear - we will never make a successful, sustainable school that is performing well join a trust.”

With the government setting a target for all schools to be part of a multi-academy trust by 2030, the goalposts have once again been moved.

As to councils, don’t expect a rush to make use of this freedom. KCC is exploring the idea but won’t muster much enthusiasm if it is scooping up schools dotted around the county.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Victoria Jones/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Victoria Jones/PA)

IT now seems unlikely that Boris Johnson will be forced out of office over ‘partygate’ after the Metropolitan Police said it had completed its inquiry into breaches of lockdown rules and the PM would not be receiving any further fines.

It is not exactly a triumphant outcome: the whole episode has been hugely damaging for politics, as destructive to the reputation of MPs as the expenses scandal was, leading to a harmful erosion of public trust in government.

Even the Prime Minister’s harshest critics are resigned to the fact that he will continue to hold the keys to Downing Street for the time being.

The Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale who led the charge has reluctantly conceeded that the PM is secure but puts the chances of him leading the Conservatives into the next election as 50-50.

The PM has also benefited from a well-organised operation to put the spotlight on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over claims that he too had breached the lockdown rules. Dubbed ‘beergate’ it has forced Sir Keir to say he would quit if Durham Police concluded he had transgressed and issued him with a penalty notice.

We still have the report by Sue Gray to be published but that seems likely to lay much of the blame at the PM’s advisers; but it could potentially be damaging if it concludes that he attended any social gatherings against advice.

He has strong survival instincts, there’s no doubt on that front and he has benefited from his more assured handling of Ukraine, which not only gave him breathing space but kept his critics at bay.

IT seems Kent County Council is to appoint a chief executive after years without one. The post was axed after a rather turbulent period several years ago and the decision to do without one was depicted as a cost-cutting measure. A new council constitution strikes out the job of “Head of Paid Service” and replaces it with “Chief Executive Officer.” More than that, there’s little to say. At this stage, at least.

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