We spoke to West Sussex County Council’s new cabinet member for children Peter Evans to see what he thinks about the coalition’s changes to the education system.
Mr Evans extended his portfolio, taking on schools and education after the elections last month.
And it’s a tough time to be in education, with the changes to academies, the emerging free schools and ambitious changes to GCSEs.
On coping with the transition to academies – in West Sussex 37 schools will be academies in September – he seems optimistic.
“The transition to academies will take time and, in the meantime, there is a need to support county-run schools but in different and more cost-effective ways,” he said.
In the Chichester district, by September, most of our secondary schools will be academies – although there is still a way to go when it comes to primary schools.
As it stands, only Tangmere Primary School, Seal Primary School and Portfield Primary School have made the move to academy status.
Secondary school options include two academies (The Academy, Selsey and Midhurst Rother College), two transitioning academies (Chichester High Schools) and one faith school (Bishop Luffa Church of England).
In September there will also be a free school. And let’s not forget the two independent schools in the district: Petworth’s Seaford College and Lavant House.
This means only St Anthony’s Special School will be left under West Sussex County Council’s control.
The council may seem very much out of the picture but it has described its position as a ‘strong strategic role’ as ‘champions for parents, families and vulnerable pupils’.
Times are changing
Supporting the move to academies, Mr Evans said: “Of the four well-established academies in West Sussex, two are now judged to be outstanding and one is good. All four made better progress than the average of other West Sussex schools in their exam results in 2012. This is a sound basis for expecting good things from the other academies that have recently come on stream, or will do so soon.”
The Academy in Selsey is said to be ‘improving’, but the most recent Ofsted report came back as ‘inadequate’, despite the school’s move to academy status nearly two years ago.
The Observer reported last week the Chichester High Schools and The Academy, Selsey, are due to join together under The Kemnals Academy Trust (TKAT) by sharing teachers and a sixth form. Only time will tell whether primary schools will follow in the footsteps of the secondary schools, joining to try and improve a group of schools.
By September, TKAT will run 14 schools in West Sussex – 38 per cent of the academies in the county. What’s more, of the seven schools in the Chichester district which will be academies by September, six will be run by TKAT. Only Midhurst Rother College is run by a different trust: United Learning.
Added to this mix is Chichester Free School, due to open its doors in September – the first of its kind in the county.
Speaking about free schools, Mr Evans said: “These are in their very early days and we watch with interest. There is some national evidence to suggest they do better when the groups running them already have a sound experience of running schools.
“Free schools will also play a role in meeting the burgeoning demand for new school places.
“However, we also know that, like all schools, they will not succeed without strong and effective leadership.”