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Kent County Council could set up own school academy trust after government education u-turn

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Additional reporting by Ciaran Duggan

Kent County Council could be one of the first authorities in the country to create its own academy trust, using new powers set out by the government.

Education chiefs are exploring options for developing a trust that would bring together a collection of schools.

Kent County Council is considering grouping several schools together under an academy trust Stock picture
Kent County Council is considering grouping several schools together under an academy trust Stock picture

KCC has yet to detail how many schools might be involved and where they are, saying it is at the early stages and that it is interested in trialling the idea as a pilot.

In The New Schools Bill, which was laid out in the Queen's Speech last week, the government unveiled new powers, while legislation will require all schools to be a part of a multi-academy trust by 2030.

At a cabinet meeting on Monday councillors were briefed on the government’s latest reforms to the academy model that included local authority academies.

Education director Christine Innes said Kent could help shape policy by trialling a pilot scheme as the government had not yet developed its thinking fully.

“Certainly from the discussions that we've had so far we are interested in putting ourselves forward to pilot this. But again, we will have to have wider consideration about how far KCC would want to be seen to be driving the academy agenda rather than facilitating schools to make a choice over what is best for their own determination," she said.

Many existing schools are already part of academy trusts, with 62 across Kent and Medway. However, several are trusts with only a handful of schools - falling short of the government's target for trusts to oversee a minimum of 12 schools.

The plan to offer councils the chance to set up their own trusts is a major u-turn as the academy programme was partly aimed at giving schools greater independence and ability to do things differently.

KCC leader Roger Gough said the reforms represented a better way forward for the programme.

"I think the approach we've got this time is much more balanced, in addition to the ability to set up a trust of our own ," he said.

Ashford county councillor Mike Hill (Con), who is a director of a local academy trust in his division, warned that multi-academy trusts would lead to schools "losing their local identity".

Cllr Hills, KCC's cabinet member for communities, said: “Our experience has been almost entirely positive since the trust was established.

“Our perception is that our strength comes from being local.

"The trust was given the opportunity to work with another trust right across the county. We decided against it because we thought we would lose our identity and local focus, which in our views is one of our big strengths.”

Meanwhile pledges to convert all schools into academies by 2030, have been met with scepticism by school governors and councillors.

Kent secondary school leaders and county councillors have expressed mixed feelings about the proposed way forward.

Mike Walters, who is the executive principal of St Anselm’s Catholic School in Canterbury, which is part of a multi-academy trust, said: "It has been a positive experience being in an academy trust.

"Whether that is de facto a good way of running schools remains to be seen."

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