I have received the following plea from a parent who moved to Medway last year and who sought my advice about primary schools. Unfortunately, it was too late for me to offer significant support, but I did work through the dreadful interaction she endured with Medway Council (Tagline - Serving You) school admissions department. Sadly she is not alone and only this week I have been advising another family which has been given the run around by the same department with different officers offering completely opposite advice with no particular expertise apparent.
However, there appears little hope when only last week the Medway Council Cabinet Member responsible for Primary and Secondary Schools commented on the sharp fall in the percentage of children receiving their first choice secondary school, and the near doubling of the number being offered none of their six choices. He considered in the thinnest of press releases, that it was 'great news that a vast majority of children have been offered a place at one of their top preference schools' His more senior colleague carrying the whole Children's Service's Portfolio was more circumspect observing that 'I'm pleased many children have been allocated a place at a school they preferred' clearly dodging the worsening statistics and the near doubling of those who hadn't. Is it that these senior politicians aren't being told the truth by their officers, or that they simply don't care? By contrast, in Kent where the Local Authority has been working hard to identify additional school places, the Education Cabinet Member provided the reality: '“As we predicted, this has proved Kent’s most challenging year due to record numbers of applicants' about a slightly worsening situation with a rising population, but nowhere near as bad as that in Medway.
Whilst following up another issue on the website, I made the perhaps astonishing discovery that two thirds of the twelve the most visited news items featured the failings of Medway Council all clocking up between 32 and 65 thousand hits (see below)!
Updated with Government Press Statement
Inspire Special Free School, the only Free School in Medway, based in Chatham, has been placed in Special Measures by OFSTED following an Inspection in January, less than two years after opening. You will find the full headlines of the Report later on in this article.
The then struggling Silverbanks Centre, a Pupil Referral Unit, was broken up into two parts in September 2014, following an OFSTED Inspection that failed the Unit, judging it to have Serious Weaknesses. Inspire, which was set up as a Free School strongly supported by Medway Council, and currently catering for 37 children with social, emotional or mental health needs has failed spectacularly, with leadership and management at all levels judged inadequate and a highly qualified governing body not fully understanding the issues faced by these same leaders, nor recognising that the quality of teaching and learning has declined.
You will find the initial Medway Secondary school allocation figures here, showing that 84.3% of Medway children were offered places at their first choice school, with just 2.6%, or 77 children, offered none of their six choices, these being allocated a local school by Medway Council. I have also prepared parallel articles on oversubscription and vacancies for Kent grammar and non-selective schools. I now have more detailed information showing that the most popular school in Medway by far was Brompton Academy, which turned away 108 first preferences, followed by Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School with 42.
The Victory Academy has most vacancies, 110 on allocation, twice as many as the next school, Chatham Grammar Girls’ with 55.
158 of the 197 children from outside Medway taking up places in local schools at this stage come from Kent, with 113 of these taking up places in Medway Grammar schools, 48 at The Rochester Grammar School. 140 of the 142 Medway children going out county are taking up places at Kent schools, mainly non-selective.
As well as further details below, I look at the implications of these figures on the decision to turn Chatham Grammar School for Boys into a co-educational school from September 2017.
You will find a more recent article here.
Last month I reported on the controversial proposal by Chatham Grammar School for Boys to become co-educational. This article looks at an even more controversial aspect whereby, with the school to be capable of expansion up to 180 children, a committee of governors would be able to fill any vacancies after school allocation each March with children they choose, using their own interpretation of ‘grammar school ability’.
To enable this to take place, the proposed new school Admission Policy states: “From National Offer Day, any available spaces will be allocated to those children who have provided sufficient evidence to the Admissions Committee of being of grammar school standard”.
Another factor emerging is the low proportion of boys being assessed suitable for grammar school in recent years, being 19% of the total number from Medway primary schools in 2015 (target is 25% of girls and boys), which may itself have precipitated the proposal if the school is desperate to make up numbers.
At a Parental Consultation meeting on the proposal it was implied that Medway Council supported the proposal. It would be useful to know if this is true, as I cannot see why any secondary schools other than those in the Thinking Schools Academy Trust would support this proposal......
Kent’s secondary schools continue to show improvement at OFSTED with seven of the 27 inspected in the past year seeing their assessment rise up a level, against three that slipped. The new OFSTED framework that was introduced in September places an even greater importance on academic performance, so the gap between grammar and non-selective schools has widened. This has been reinforced by decisions about what government counts for GCSE performance. A number of vocational, or “lesser academic”, subjects have been cut out of the approved list, which, together with a decision to exclude re-takes, has benefited grammar schools even further and seen many non-selective schools slip in the league tables that feed OFSTED. In Medway, just one non-selective school was inspected.
However, pride of place must go to the Special School sector, with three of the six schools being awarded Outstanding status and three Good, four of these having improved their assessment.
This article covers all inspections published between September 2014 and July 2015, although there may be one or two late ones whose results won’t be published until later this month, in which case I will return and update the figures.
Updated with Medway permanent exclusions 2014-15.
How much worse can it get for the children of Medway? My previous article recorded the dire statistic that Medway primary schools had the worst KS2 results in the country for 2015, and overall for the period from 2009 to 2015, whilst earlier in the year, Medway Primary schools published figures show that the Authority came bottom in the country in 2013-14 for OFSTED outcomes.
Now come the latest national figures on fixed and permanent exclusions, which cover the school year for 2013-14 and show Medway has the second highest percentage of primary school fixed term exclusions in the country. This is the equivalent of one fixed term exclusion for every 3.37% of the school population, over three times the national average and an astonishing rise of 34% over 2012/13.
A previous article I wrote about permanent exclusions showed that permanent exclusions in Medway rose astonishingly over the same period by over three times from 22 to an astonishing 70, the third highest proportion of the school population in the country. In 2009/10 there were just three permanent exclusions in Medway.
Couple this with the two most recent Inspections of local authority arrangements, the first for the protection of children in 2013, which were found to be Inadequate, the second for looked after children services in 2013, also Inadequate.
Surely, now there is now enough evidence for a full investigation into the quality of education and children’s services in Medway taking all these factors into account, followed by a replacement of Education and Children’s Services part of the Children and Adult Services Department which is clearly not fit for purpose, before the children of Medway suffer even more....
OFSTED has published a critical Report into Medway Council's arrangements for supporting school improvement following years of underperformance, declining on an annual basis to last year’s nadir of being bottom Local Authority in the country out of 152 for primary schools in OFSTED assessments, although rising to the dizzy heights of 137th in Key Stage 2 outcomes. By contrast, overall Medway's secondary schools that are all academies and out of Medway Council control perform well on both counts.
The Council has a new school improvement strategy, but the Report records it does not: identify clearly enough what needs to change to drive improvement; show how significant gaps will be closed for underachieving schools; provide sufficient detail of targets for improvement to measure success; identify clearly enough how school improvement staff will be held to account for the impact of their work. Without these vital elements it is difficult to see how significant improvement can be achieved.
Good points include: the work of the early years team; recent school improvement work showing some results, but much of this is too recent to see its full impact; the work of the new interim assistant director for school effectiveness and inclusion, appointed a year ago, noting that her actions are starting to have an impact but limited by available expertise in Medway primary schools; School Leaders and governors who spoke to inspectors report a step change in the local authority's approach.
As a result, Ofsted will continue to monitor the local authority’s arrangements for school improvement. These arrangements are likely to be re-inspected within two years.
I look at the situation in more detail below, including the effect on some individual primary schools........
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the abdication of responsibility for the Bishop of Rochester Academy in Chatham, as the Diocese of Rochester, the previous main sponsor, decided to abandon its attempts to improve the standards and popularity of the school. The Academy has now been passed on to the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, headed up by The Rochester Grammar School, incorporating Chatham Grammar School for Boys and several primary schools.
Now comes news of a surprising merger between two more Medway Academy Trusts, an agreement having been reached to merge The Thomas Aveling Academy Trust (TA) with the Fort Pitt Grammar School Academy Trust (FP), under the catchy title of Fort Pitt Thomas Aveling Academy Trust.
What is notable in a Local Authority whose academy chains are currently dominated by grammar schools (the third chain being the Sir Joseph Williamson’s Academy Trust), is that this time the non-selective school appears to be at least equal in status.
|Decision Update Published here|
I have been contacted by a number of parents since my previous article on the likelihood of Twydall Primary school becoming a fast track sponsored academy, run by the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, headed up by The Rochester Grammar School and the All Faiths Community Primary School in Strood. At a Governing Body meeting on Thursday 24th July, with just seven days notice, a binding resolution forcing the school to become a sponsored academy will be debated, three additional Local Authority Governors having been added to try and ensure the motion is carried. Parents are not being consulted although, at a meeting to discuss the OFSTED Report there was a strong majority against the idea.
Clearly, Medway Council is trying to force the takeover in a hurry, irrespective of the key 2013-14 data, which unofficially shows over 80% of the school’s pupils achieving the government floor standard of Level 4 in both English and maths, in the top quarter of all Medway primary schools. In addition, 51% of pupils passed the Medway Test against the 25% average across the Borough. This in a school that has a much higher than average number of children with special needs and with statements of SEN, and is designated as a centre for children with physical disabilities and complex medical needs. The school remains very popular and was oversubscribed with first choices for its 75 spaces.........
First the good news: Kent's secondary school OFSTED outcomes are well above national averages, with 90% of non-selective schools inspected this year being classified Good or Outstanding.
Then there is the primary news. In Kent, there are five outstanding primary schools, but 12 inadequate, over three times the national average. Overall, no improvement on low standards.
And finally: Medway primary schools dreadful again; 8 schools have been awarded a lower grade than before, just two better, none Outstanding........