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Leigh Academies Trust and EKC Schools Trust to introduce two school system to Isle of Sheppey

Education on Sheppey is set for a major revamp with its failing secondary split into two separate schools run by different trusts.

Under proposals revealed today, Oasis Academy is set to close next September.

Oasis Academy announced earlier this year it was pulling out of Sheppey
Oasis Academy announced earlier this year it was pulling out of Sheppey

In its place would be two new schools, with Leigh Academies Trust (LAT) and the Strood-based EKC Schools Trust taking over from the Oasis Community Trust, which announced last year it was pulling out of the Island.

Oasis currently has campuses in Minster and Sheerness and has received criticism from parents and Ofsted, which rated the school “inadequate” last year.

In a damning report, inspectors painted a shocking picture of bullies running out of control terrifying pupils, "foul, homophobic, racist and sexist language" going unchecked, a lack of permanent teachers and more than half of pupils not even bothering to turn up for lessons.

Despite slight improvements, the school failed to improve its rating during a follow-up inspection by the education watchdog this year.

A joint statement from the Department for Education (DfE) and LAT said: “Following a detailed assessment of the current school and discussions with other local schools, the local authority and local politicians, LAT has developed an outline proposal to replace the existing school with two smaller non-selective secondary schools.

Educational expert Peter Read says the plans look “promising”. Picture: Peter Read
Educational expert Peter Read says the plans look “promising”. Picture: Peter Read

“Under this proposal, LAT would run one of these schools and EKC Schools Trust (EKCST), recognised for its substantial educational contributions in the county, has been identified as the preferred trust to operate the second school. EKCST is now undertaking its own detailed assessment and planning, ahead of presenting a joint formal proposal with LAT to the DfE later this year.

“The proposed new schools would both provide a strong academic offer and the EKC school would also offer technical education. This will provide a real choice of two high-quality schools for parents.

“The DfE’s regional director, Dame Kate Dethridge, has approved EKCST as the preferred sponsor alongside LAT and has agreed the two trusts should proceed to develop a detailed plan and for them to seek the views of the community.

“The plan has been carefully designed to best address the immediate and long-term needs of the community. LAT has proposed significant improvements to special educational needs (SEN) and alternative provision for the Island which are also currently under consideration by the DfE and Kent County Council (KCC). The plan is inclusive, community-based and ambitious. Further details will be announced over the coming weeks.

“The trusts will continue to work with local partners as well as undertaking listening exercises to refine their educational plans. Upon completion, they will present a detailed plan for the future of secondary school provision on Sheppey to the DfE. A final decision on the plan will be made by ministers.”

If all goes well, both sites will be opened by next September, with the first being operated by LAT on the Minister campus. It would be for pupils aged 11-18 and have up to 180 per year group, with a maximum of 250 students in the sixth form. It would be called Leigh Academy Minster (LAM).

The second new school would be operated by EKCST on the Sheerness campus and would be for those aged 11-16 and have 150 pupils per year group.

It would be called EKC Sheppey Secondary. LAT and EKCST are planning to run open events in collaboration with OCT in the autumn term for all existing and prospective parents.

The Minster campus, which is on the Isle of Sheppey, will be run by a new trust next year
The Minster campus, which is on the Isle of Sheppey, will be run by a new trust next year

The trusts insist there will be capacity for all existing pupils to join one of the new schools, with parents asked to specify which school they would like their child to attend, subject to admissions criteria.

Pupils currently in Years 10 and 12 would automatically transfer to LAM.

The statement continued: “By operating two new schools with distinct yet complementary curriculums,0 the community will have access to a more diverse educational offer. Both schools will provide a high-quality education covering academic and vocational programmes. In this way, we hope that more local pupils will decide to stay on Sheppey for their secondary education.”

Both trusts have said they will seek funding from the DfE to ensure all parents of existing pupils will be supported to buy any new uniform which is required by each of the new schools and are different from those now.

LAT looks after 31 academies, primary and secondary, across Kent and Medway, while EKC is in charge of a further six, including the Island’s only “outstanding” primary school in Queenborough.

Education expert Peter Read said Leigh Academies Trust has a great record of turning schools around, adding: "Oasis has tried various models to make it work all of which have been failures, including the rotating door of principals, which hasn't helped. The Ofsted report of June 2022 is by some way the worst and most disgraceful I have ever seen in my 18 years of monitoring the performance of Kent schools.

"There is no doubt that running a school on two sites several miles apart has not helped.

"The proposed model of two schools run by two strong trusts looks like a promising try. EKC, a newish trust on the block with just four primary schools to its name, however, has a strong educational background, most relevantly EKC Sheppey Further Education College, so it knows the territory.

The Leigh Academies Trust (LAT) and EKC will be taking over secondary education on the Isle of Sheppey
The Leigh Academies Trust (LAT) and EKC will be taking over secondary education on the Isle of Sheppey

"It also runs five further education colleges in East Kent and an offering of technical education tops it off.

"This really looks by far the most promising model I have seen and I look forward to it progressing."

Island MP Gordon Henderson has welcomed the news, saying: “This is excellent news and is exactly what I have been pressing for since 2010. Two separate schools, run by two different academy trusts. I am delighted.

“Although this is not going to change secondary education on the Isle of Sheppey overnight, and people will have to be patient, I am convinced this proposal will make a huge difference in the long term. For a start it will provide children on Sheppey with a choice of secondary schools, something that children in Sittingbourne have enjoyed for many years.

“One of the biggest problems we face is that because of the current failing secondary education system on the Island, almost 1,000 children leave Sheppey every day to attend schools in Sittingbourne.

Gordon Henderson MP
Gordon Henderson MP

“This has led to all the schools in Sittingbourne being full, which means many youngsters on the mainland are being allocated the Oasis Academy against their will.

“I very much hope that in time, our two new schools will improve education on the Isle of Sheppey to such an extent that parents will want to keep their children on the Island.”

Kent County Council’s cabinet member for education and skills, Rory Love, said: "I am absolutely delighted that families on the Isle of Sheppey can now look forward with certainty to a great education for their children under this proposal, which will provide a range of exciting academic and vocational opportunities.

“KCC has lobbied extensively on behalf of local families to bring about a two-school solution, and I believe that this proposal will be strongly supported through the consultation process.

"I thank Tammy Mitchell of EKC Schools Trust and Simon Beamish of Leigh Academies Trust for their collaborative work to bring this proposal to fruition. I also thank KCC's education officers and the Sheppey county councillors for helping promote the case for two separate schools, and I am delighted that the DfE has responded so positively to our case.”

Leader of the Labour Party and Swale council, Tim Gibson
Leader of the Labour Party and Swale council, Tim Gibson

“We’ve been saying for years that Sheppey needs two distinct schools to provide the range and quality of education young people deserve, and it’s fantastic to see these concerns have finally been listened to.

“My predecessor Roger Truelove and Gordon Henderson MP worked together with cross party support to really push for better outcomes for local young people and this shows what we can achieve when we work together.

“This news, along with our successful Levelling Up Fund bid, clearly show that we’re serious about delivering genuine improvements for Sheppey that Islanders will benefit from for years to come.”

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