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Friday, 28 February 2014 23:00

School Places and vacancies in 2013: Kent on Sunday 2 Feb 2014

The announcement of the closure of Chaucer Technology School in Canterbury at the end of the summer should come as no great surprise, given the dramatically falling number of students entering the school over the past few years, and the huge financial deficit allowed to develop. You will find a fuller analysis of the issues here. However, this article looks at the wider pattern of take up of secondary school places across Kent, identifying other schools that may be at risk. The schools with the highest proportion of vacant places have remained the same over the past few years, leading one to ask how others in the group can also remain viable, given that school incomes depend on the number of pupils they attract. Chaucer is the second closure in twelve months, with Walmer Science College being absorbed into Castle Community College last September, because of the falling number of children in the Deal District. I do not anticipate they will be the last.

Concerns have been expressed about the number of young people coming to Kent from other European countries, causing pressure on school places, and also migrating from London for economic reasons, mainly to East Kent. To  my complete astonishment, I was told through a Freedom of Information request that Kent does not collect figures on the immigration of children into our schools or the national backgrounds of such children. However, Thanet’s seven non-selective schools increased by just 47 students in total during the year, suggesting the problems are not as great as feared. 

The schools with the highest proportion of vacant spaces in Year Seven, all with over 60% of their desks empty, are the same as last year except for Walmer.........

Oasis Academy Hextable is in the most worrying situation, with just 37 of its 150 places filled, the neighbouring Orchards Academy in Swanley appearing to be winning the battle for a shrinking pool of students. Like most of the other schools at the bottom of the table, Hextable has failed an OFSTED and paid the price, families voting with their feet; however, one has to ask if the District can support both schools or, if like Deal, a merger would produce one stronger establishment even though this is unlikely, as they are run by two different academy chains.

Next comes The Marlowe Academy with 70% vacancies, only a third the intake of five years ago, and surely another non-viable school saved from closure by virtue of its being an academy out of KCC control. The problems of the school were featured by KCC in its evidence to Parliament for an enquiry about academies.

High Weald Academy, the former failed Angley School in Cranbrook, continues to limp along. It has been further hit this year along with a number of Tonbridge schools, by the opening of the new Hadlow Rural Community School, a Free School focusing on rural issues, which had a projected intake of just 30 children in Year Seven, but settled for 52.

Next up was Pent Valley School in Folkestone with 63% vacancies which, in contrast, has a current ‘Good’ OFSTED. It has suffered in numbers for years from competition with the neighbouring Folkestone Academy, but also loses out because of the remarkable success of school appeals at Folkestone School for Girls, taking around 70 previously non-selective girls, a figure nearly twice as large as any other Kent school. A closer look shows that numbers have been nearly as high previously, the defence for the high number of appeals surely being that this is one of the best performing grammar schools in the county at GCSE, so whatever it does, works. However, many of these girls will have otherwise been destined for Pent Valley or, where they took from the other two local non-selective schools, these in their turn filled up from Pent Valley, a pattern that repeats elsewhere in Kent for the local school at the bottom of the heap.

Not surprisingly, Chaucer Technology School comes next, its intake having fallen from 235 in 2008, to 57 this school year, and a projected 30 or so for entry in September. No way could it continue.

After Meopham School, another with a failed OFSTED, comes the Towers School in Ashford which has seen its intake fall by 51 children, the largest drop in Kent. This will be predominantly because of losses to the new Wye Free School, although all three Ashford non-selective schools have been hit.

Along with Hextable and Chaucer, the other biggest loser in intake for September 2013, is Ebbsfleet Academy, which has had a very controversial year surrounding its change of status, as detailed here.

The popularity of the third new Free School, Trinity in Sevenoaks, explains the lowest intake at the nearby Knole Academy since it converted, with 41 vacancies.  Not surprisingly, KCC in its evidence to the Education Select Committee (see previous article in KOS) wrote: “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”.

This article has inevitably featured on problems in Kent, but the majority of Kent’s secondary schools are sending out positive signals, such as this year’s secondary OFSTED outcomes with 10 out of 12 Reports being ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ so far. The school with the greatest increase in numbers in Kent, with a 46% rise in admissions in the past year, is St George’s CofE Comprehensive in Gravesend, placed in Special Measures five years ago, but now fully recovered under new leadership and ‘Good’ OFSTED, showing that schools can and are being turned round, with the right measures being taken. Next highest is the Community College, Whitstable, with its largest intake in five years, showing one does not need to be an academy to turn the corner!

Last modified on Saturday, 01 March 2014 08:42

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  • Turner Schools: Folkestone Academy, Turner Free School, Martello Primary and Morehall Primary.

    One of the Turner School Visions:

    We follow Aristotle’s philosophy that educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all,

    which we interpret as being the whole person.

    Turner Schools, an Academy Trust whose leaders have no problem with schools being profit making enterprises, appears to be heading for difficulty with each of its four Folkestone projects. Currently Folkestone Academy is the only non-selective school serving the town. It is to be joined in September by the Turner Free School, to be opened on the site of the old Pent Valley School. The Trust also runs two Folkestone primary schools acquired in January 2017 from the failed and now closed Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust and both struggling to attract pupils.

    One problem I, and surely most enquirers, have with the website for the Trust with its sections for  each of the four schools, is that it appears to be aimed at an audience of academics and teachers. This is in contrast with every other school website I have visited which set out to be attractive to parents and potential parents, providing them with much valuable information rather than empty words and aspirations.  

    I look at all four schools in more detail below on separate pages, underneath a broader look at the Trust, with the following links to each school: Turner Free School; Folkestone Academy; Morehall Primary & Martello Primary You can see a fascinating variety of views in the comments at the foot of the page. 

    Read more...
    Written on Thursday, 17 May 2018 12:27 14 comments Read 1503 times
  • Grammar Schools, Faith Schools, and Non-Selective Provision in Tunbridge Wells

    Updated 13th May

    This item covers the government announcement of £50 million to provide new grammar school places and the relaxation of rules for admission to faith schools. 

    The first issue was discussed on Meridian TV News on Friday to which I contributed, having previously discussed both issues including a previous article from last year, that looked across the landscape. This was updated with more recent coverage of the now likely provision of a Coastal Grammar annexe at Herne Bay or Whitstable, and the extension of the Weald of Kent Annexe. The latter is currently for girls only, but with premises offering capacity for boys, so approval does not appear to be finance related and presumably can be granted simply by a change in regulations. There may also be proposals from some of the more assertive grammar schools to look at annexes across the county boundary in Sussex and Surrey. 

    The second part of the government plan has attracted fewer headlines, and indeed appears toothless, whilst promoting a new generation of  Voluntary Aided faith schools. However, any built under this proposal (which appears little different from current regulations) will evade the current limit on new faith Free Schools, who can admit just 50% of their intake for children who qualify through faith criteria.

    The crisis in non-selective places in Tunbridge Wells has been brought about by church schools operating under the previous regulations, as explained below. 

    Read more...
    Written on Friday, 11 May 2018 14:12 2 comments Read 487 times
  • Medway UTC: Abject Failure -OFSTED

    Further update sentence in blue below.

    Updated: Tuesday 8th May. See important comment below by Ita Caufield.

    Ofsted has judged the new Medway University Technical College to have failed its Inspection on every count, some of its main criticisms being levelled at the members of the Governing Body who 'abrogated their responsibility'. Medway UTC is one of a new breed of 14-19 schools dropped in on existing school systems without thought for their impact elsewhere, with a horrendous record of success including five of the 26 inspected by Ofsted being placed in Special Measures. A further eight have closed through failure to attract students. The evidence below shows that Medway UTC is surely en route to be the eighth.

    The Medway UTC opened in September 2015 in £12 million purpose built premises, sponsored by local businesses, Higher Education Institutions and Medway Council.

    Medway UTC

    Ofsted found that: there is a culture of low expectation across the UTC; current progress in all year groups very weak; poor GCSE and A Level results last year as a result of weak teaching; the curriculum is too narrow; there is no provision for physical education or religious education in the school; behaviour in lessons is poor and sometimes disruptive. These are the consequences of: governors failing to offer sufficient challenge for leaders or training for leaders and teachers to carry out their duties effectively; of significant turbulence in staffing; leaders development plans being not fit for purpose; and failure by teachers to match assessment to the learning needs of pupils with the result that the most able, those with SEN, and the disadvantaged make very poor progress.

    I have never seen or read anything like the torrent of criticism heaped upon the quality of teaching in the school, as exemplified below. Frankly one would not expect such negative comments to be uttered about untrained instructors dropped in for their first term in a school. Academies and UTCs are not required to employ qualified teachers, and this report suggests they may have taken advantage of this loophole in full. I am astonished that Ofsted did not report on the issue, given there appears a complete breakdown in quality, with no redeeming factors identified.

    Read more...
    Written on Saturday, 05 May 2018 11:25 9 comments Read 805 times
  • Four Medway Secondary Academies abandon unlawful attempt to set Unfair Admission Criteria
    Update: Developments since the article was written are in blue in this introduction. 
    The Rochester Grammar School (RGS) and Holcombe Grammar School who are part of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT), together with Hundred of Hoo Academy from the Williamson Trust, have withdrawn the sections in their 2019 proposed Admission Criteria that gave priority for admission to children of staff members of any school in the Trust, rather than just of their own school which would have been lawful. Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School and The Thomas Aveling School have withdrawn all unlawful elements of their proposals. 

    This follows my previous article which made clear the proposals were unlawful (together with an objection lodged with TSAT), which is likely to have led to the change of policy. 

    However, RGS and Holcombe have retained a section offering priority to siblings of any child in a secondary academy of the Trust, rather than their own school which appears equally unlawful, as does Brompton Academy. 

    Read more...
    Written on Tuesday, 17 April 2018 21:56 Be the first to comment! Read 361 times
  • Kent and Medway Primary School Allocations for September 2018

    Update, 26th April: KCC's Corporate Director, Children, Young People and Education has published an article on Primary Admissions on the KELSI website for education professionals as his weekly update. Unfortunately, it neither tells the truth about the main reason for the rise in proportions of Kent pupils offered their choice of schools, nor does it cover the level of detail you will find below. See comments at foot of page. I plan to publish District by District figures along with key school numbers shortly, which will provide further important detail. 

    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. 

    Read more...
    Written on Friday, 13 April 2018 15:14 4 comments Read 828 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. 

    Read more...
    Written on Sunday, 15 April 2018 07:24 3 comments Read 668 times