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Saturday, 08 February 2014 18:46

When schools struggle who is best placed to lead them to success: Kent on Sunday 8 February 2013

Former headteacher, Peter Read the man behind the Kent Independent Advice Service, examines a growing tension between Kent County Council and the growing number of schools opting to become Government Funded Academies

 Kent County Council (KCC) has submitted written evidence  to the Government Select Committee on Education’s inquiry into Academies and Free Schools which began on Wednesday.  It addresses concerns about both accountability and performance of academies, choosing The Marlowe Academy as an illustration. However, KCC could equally have chosen Tree Tops Academy and Molehill Copse Primary School, both run by the controversial Academies Enterprise Trust, which previously 'ran' Marlowe for a year. 

KCC's proposes that underperforming academies should revert to Local Authority accountability, but the weakness is that there is an assumption the LA is up to the job. I have written extensively on Medway Council's repeated failure to manage standards adequately, and they clearly do not have capacity to improve schools, whilst Kent is not yet a beacon of excellence. For, although it is improving, it has still too many primary schools fail OFSTED Inspections recently, all vulnerable to takeover by Academy groups (nine already on their way).  

This week’s news about the culling of sixth form courses for financial reasons whilst the Free School budget appears to have no bounds, underlines the illogical nature of current education policy, and KCC makes some very good points about the problems with Free School philosophy and implementation  .......

Much of the supplementary evidence to back up assertions in this article can be found on my website: www.kentadvice.co.uk......

KCC’s evidence leads with one of the government's most laudable education priorities, to reduce the achievement  gap for disadvantaged pupils. KCC demolishes the government claim that academies are leading the way here, citing evidence showing there is no narrowing of the achievement gap by academies. Further, it expresses concern about a fall of 12.5% of take up of Free School Meals in sponsored academies nationally compared with the schools they replaced, as some of those academies chase pupils who will improve their performance.

The document provides evidence showing there is no overall increase in GCSE grades at academies as compared to maintained schools, and looking at the recent Kent GCSE results, this is easy to believe, with nine of the twelve lowest performing schools being sponsored academies, the lowest also an academy - Castle Community College.  

As the evidence records: "In terms of overall pupil achievement, recent research has found that there is no direct correlation between being an academy and improved attainment levels, reflected in Ofsted judgements. The critical characteristic to raising attainment in a school is the individual capacity of the school leadership. Many sponsored academies are improving the quality of education and pupil outcomes, as they have often replaced very poorly performing schools". However, the end of this paragraph sadly comes close to demolishing the argument put forward by KCC, as these "very poorly performing schools" were previously run by Local Authorities such as Kent. A classic example is Wilmington Academy that, in its previous incarnation, was a KCC school in Special Measures. Four years later, under outstanding leadership, it is one of Kent's top performing non-selective schools.

The document is critical of the Department for Education's actions in improving failing or underachieving academies and rightly expresses concerns about the accountability of academies and Free Schools . It highlights the history of the Marlowe Academy, described in several articles on my own website: "It has been the subject of an OFSTED  Category (failing) twice and to date, the principal sponsor remains (Government is reported to have tried to force him out in 2011) and the Academy Trust does not appear to have been transparently held to account by the Secretary of State.  No Warning Notice has been served on this Academy Trust to date”. In fact the Academy was told in a pre-warning notice in 2012  that GCSE standards were unacceptably low. This year, after the academy finished 21st  worst school in the country, the headteacher left suddenly mid-term, and one has to wonder what further action government will now take.

Government still considers that: "Where local authorities fail to use their powers effectively (to improve maintained schools), the Secretary of State will exercise his powers with a view to ensuring that standards improve, which is likely to result in an academy solution for the school". However, there is no reverse process and KCC complains that where it has concerns about academies, the Authority has no powers to improve them, and government mechanisms appear too weak to bring about change.

KCC warns that the academy programme will bring about “the potential atomisation and fragmentation of the education system” with its serious risks to the future of vulnerable children, those with special needs and those excluded from school. Meanwhile, Government is trying to come to terms with the rapid increase in academies all controlled by central government, and is exploring what would be a new bureaucratic regional area management. This may look disturbingly like its LA predecessor but without local input.  

Whilst this article is critical, there are many examples of highly successful academies and academy trusts in Kent; all marked out by outstanding leadership, the key factor in a successful school of any type.

Turning to Free Schools, Kent County Council's evidence refers to the five now open in Kent: "All are in areas of socio-economic advantage, rather than growing diversity and choice in disadvantaged areas of need.  There appears to be ‘middle class capture’ of the Free Schools process, in order to create new capacity in areas that do not necessarily need school places". Perhaps for this reason, all the current Kent free schools are flourishing, as distinct from some other parts of the country; where too many are wacky, some corrupt, some unnecessary and failing to attract pupils, and some already failing.  The document forgets to mention the additional five new Free Schools that KCC has commissioned to meet strategic need for additional places, all in areas of socio-economic advantage, although it could have encouraged academies instead (Government no longer allows LAs  to build their own schools).

My simplistic conclusion: most good schools thrive irrespective of their status and circumstances; its the leadership that matters! 

Last modified on Saturday, 08 February 2014 22:13

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  • Kent and Medway Primary School Allocations for September 2018

    Update: I have now received a copy of the (sketchy) Medway Press Release on Primary Allocations and have incorporated it below. 

    Excellent news for most Kent and Medway families applying for primary school places.

    A record proportion of Kent pupils who applied for Reception places at primary schools will be offered their first choice school today, at 89.5%Just 390 children have no school of their choice, a record low contrasting for example with 724 disappointed families in 2015. Unfortunately, the one page Medway Press Release is as usual almost content free, but informs us that over 97.5% of the 3347 Medway pupils were offered a place on their  application form, slightly up on last year's 97.4%.

    The promising Kent figures have been achieved because of a fall in numbers of children looking for places for the second successive year, 94 fewer than in 2017, and 773 fewer than in 2016. All 2018 data is from the KCC press release. In Medway there has been an increase of 17 children offered places in local primary schools.

    I am waiting for detailed oversubscription and vacancy figures at both Reception and Junior School level to be sent, both for Kent and Medway and will publish these as soon as possible. You may find the equivalent picture for 2017 allocations helpful.

    You will find advice below on what to do if you have not received a school of your choice, together with a breakdown of offers for both Kent and Medway over the past four years. 

    You will also find information and advice on appeals below and  here. In summary, if your school is one of the overwhelming majority where Infant Class Legislation applies, chances are negligible. 

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    Written on Friday, 13 April 2018 15:14 1 comment Read 375 times
  • Permanent Exclusion, Home Education and Children Missing from Education in Kent 2016-17

    I have at last obtained comprehensive data for Permanent Exclusions and numbers leaving schools for Home Education across Kent in the school year 2016-17, in spite of spurious attempts by KCC to keep back the detail. For those few who may be interested, there is a section on the issue below, together with a ruling I have fought for for years. 

    68 children have been permanently excluded from schools and Pupil Referral Units across the county, 19 of these being from the primary sector. Most exclusions from one school were the five from the Knole Academy, for the second time in three years. Three excluded children have Statements of SEN or EHCP Plans, a sharp fall from the 14 statemented children of 2015-16. For that year Kent had the lowest permanent secondary school exclusion rate in the South East, and the thirteenth lowest in the country, a comparison that is likely to stand up again for 2016-17 when figures are published.

    There has been a sharp rise in the number of children leaving to be home educated from 770 in 2015-16, to 925 last year. Largest number is from Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy, under Tough love new management at 44, more than twice the 20 of the previous year. However, the school with the highest percentage is Ebbsfleet Academy, also Tough Love, at 4.4% of its roll, or more than one child from every class. 

    Altogether, 2,292 Kent children went missing from education at some time in 2016-17, 333 of whom were from Thanet. From the data of previous years, it is likely that some 500 were still missing at year’s end.

    I am absolutely convinced that the large majority of schools in Kent work very hard to support children at risk of exclusion and try to avoid losing them through one of the reasons described below, as far as possible. 

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  • Medway Non Selective Secondary Allocations 2018

    Note: This article includes the out of county information I have now received from Medway Council. This is much more significant for grammar schools, and I have also now incorporated this into my Medway Grammar School article.  

    76% of children offered places in Medway’s eleven secondary schools on allocation in March were given their first choice school. All but 55 of the 1645 non-selective secondary school places available were filled a vacancy rate of just 3.3%, nearly all in two schools, St John Fisher Catholic and Hundred of Hoo Academy. This takes into account the net 30 places taken out of two schools since the 2017 allocations.

    Brompton Academy

    The most oversubscribed school was, as it has been for many years, Brompton Academy, turning away 193 first preferences or 47% of the total, the second highest figure across both Kent and Medway. Just four more of the eleven non-selective schools turned away children who put them first: Thomas Aveling school – 70; Strood Academy – 35; Rainham Girls – 17; and Howard School 15.

    136 Medway children received no school of their choice and were allocated places in local schools (Local Authority Allocations or LAA) by Medway Council, 58 at St John Fisher Catholic and 41 at Victory Academy.

    Further details below.

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    Written on Wednesday, 04 April 2018 10:23 2 comments Read 372 times
  • Kent and Medway Primary Ofsted Sep 2017 - Feb 2017

    Kent Primary Schools inspected by OFSTED since September have again produced excellent outcomes overall, way above the national figures. Although there is just one new Outstanding School, Hernhill CofE Primary near Faversham; 85% of all 61 schools assessed were found to be Good, as against 76% nationally. Three academies: Beaver Green CofE and Kennington CofE both in Ashford; and Lansdowne Primary in Sittingbourne all had their first academy Inspection assessed Good, although they had each failed their previous Inspection under KCC. Two schools were found Inadequate.

     hernhill 1 

    Meanwhile, Medway schools continue to underperform, with just 60% Good, not including the one Outstanding School, Luton Junior, situated  in one of the most socially deprived parts of the Authority.  Although the current period includes a small sample of 10 schools, the percentage is higher than the same period of 2016-17 which was 50% Good, the higher figure wholly as a result of good performance by Local Authority schools, again with the one school Outstanding. Pleasingly, for the first time for many years, no Medway schools have been found Inadequate so far this year.

      Luton Junior

    Further details for both Kent and Medway below.

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  • Oversubscription and Vacancies in Kent Non-Selective Schools on Allocation for 2018

    92% of pupils offered places in Kent non-selective schools for September 2018 were given their first choice school on allocation in March. 44 of the 46 schools were full, although this figure will fall after successful grammar school appeals see some of the pupils pull out leading to considerable churning. Just 6% of the places available were left vacant, a fall every year since 2014’s 11% at this stage, the 543 new places since last year not having kept pace with the rise in pupil numbers.

    St Georges Foundation       Valley 2

    In some ways, the picture looks similar, although tighter, than 2017 with Thanet again having no non-selective places empty on allocation and two of the four most oversubscribed schools in the county: St George’s CofE Foundation School with 196 first choices turned away, and King Ethelbert’s School with 139. They are separated by Valley Park in Maidstone with 183 and Fulston Manor in Sittingbourne with 157. Shepway and Sevenoaks also have no vacancies in their schools, with five Local Authorities having spaces in just one school: Canterbury; Dartford; Gravesham; Swale; and Tunbridge Wells. All these situations still look critical for future years,  even though there are three new secondary schools in the pipeline.

    Tunbridge Wells looks especially challenging, with KCC appearing to have little idea of where much needed extra places are coming from over the next three years, This in a town where over two thirds of places go to children from faith families, and some 80 are sent to schools in neighbouring towns, most with a 30 mile round trip!

     The number of Local Authority Allocations (LAA), children who had been given no school of their choice being placed in schools with vacancies by KCC, has risen by 12% to 739.

    Seven schools would have more than a third of their places empty, but for the large numbers of LAAs as vacant spaces elsewhere dry up. They are headed up by: High Weald Academy, 64% spaces; New Line Learning Academy, 54%; and Oasis Academy Sheppey, with 43%

    I look more closely at the most oversubscribed schools and those with most vacancies below, together with the situation in each District, along with the impact of out of county applications.

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    Written on Thursday, 29 March 2018 06:02 11 comments Read 2251 times
  • Holmesdale School - Ofsted Special Measures, down from Good

    It will come as no surprise to regular browsers of this website that Holmesdale School in Snodland has plunged from Ofsted ‘Good’ in 2014 to Special Measures, in four years. I have tracked its declining standards over this time, most recently reporting on the -0.7 measure in GCSE Progress 8 for 2017, classified as ‘Well below Average’, and also liable for government intervention.

    The Report is withering, although acknowledging that the latest headteacher is now able ‘to accurately identify inadequacies in leadership, teaching and pupils’ outcomes’. She has been in post for over a year, and in the school for longer, so slow progress! A new governing body, appointed in January 2017, presumably as an action to improve matters, has failed the students of the school according to the inspection, with every single Ofsted measure found inadequate.

    Holmesdale

     

    My own key finding was that the current year 11 cohort has lost over a third of its pupils since Year 7, presumably as dissatisfied parents found alternatives, a percentage way above any other school in the county, utterly unacceptable and surely sending out the loudest signal of all.

    The big question is, if so many of the indicators of poor performance were obvious back as far as 2015, when GCSE performance plummeted to a 29% A-C pass rate, and has never recovered, why was robust action not taken earlier, rather than just getting around to identifying weaknesses in the last few months.

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    Written on Thursday, 29 March 2018 19:00 3 comments Read 638 times