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Thursday, 20 March 2014 00:00

Secondary School Oversubscription and Vacancies across Kent & Medway: KOS 23 Feb 2014

With this week’s news that Kent’s first Garden City is to be built in Ebbsfleet, we also learn that six of the most oversubscribed schools in Kent and Medway are in neighbouring Dartford, so there is already immense pressure on provision and it will be essential to get the education infrastructure in place at an early stage.

Dartford Grammar School has not only expanded its intake by 30 to 150 boys this year it has turned away 146 grammar qualified applicants who put it first choice, to take top spot for popularity amongst grammar schools. Leigh Academy keeps its top spot in Kent for non-selective schools, having rejected 106 first choices. Dartford Girls Grammar turned away 89, with three other Dartford schools also heavily oversubscribed. These are Wilmington Academy (44), and the two Wilmington Grammar Schools, the Boys having extended its intake by 30 but still being 28 places oversubscribed. Wilmington Girls is full for the first time in some years, turning away 20 grammar qualified first choices. 

Elsewhere, as usual the pressure on boys’ grammar school places is very high in West Kent,.......

the Skinners School and The Judd School both having expanded by 30 places. Skinners still turned away 94 boys, Judd School the fourth most oversubscribed grammar in Kent with 53 (both well up on last year). The main effect of the problem can be seen at Tunbridge Wells Boys Grammar, which has turned away 36 boys, some from Sevenoaks town having been offered non-selective school places instead. The proposed Sevenoaks Annex, now sponsored by Weald of Kent Grammar, looks likely to become operational in 2016 and is clearly needed on these figures. There remains a smaller shortage of girls’ places but I anticipate this will vanish after appeals and movement on waiting lists.

The other notable rise in popularity amongst grammar schools are the two bidding to become “semi-super-selective”,  offering first priority to high scoring boys living in their locality. These are Maidstone Grammar School and Simon Langton Boys’ Grammar rejecting 52 and 45 first choices respectively, their popularity booming in spite of being two of the lowest performing grammar schools on the five GCSE measurement! I think we can expect others to emulate them, further eroding the concept of “a common grammar school standard” across Kent.

At the other end of the scale, we now have four grammar schools in Dover and Folkestone operating their own tests as an alternative form of entry. Three of these, Dover Boys, Dover Girls and Folkestone Girls, have admitted over half their entry without having passed the Kent Test, a grand total of 283 children having qualified through the two tests. Three of the four schools are full as a result but the academic results of the two Dover grammars, whose test is well established, give a warning. Dover Grammar Girls, along with Folkestone School for Girls are remarkably two of the highest performing grammars in Kent, but Dover Boys is struggling and has recently lost its headteacher after a critical OFSTED. A major consequence of the expanded numbers is that some local non-selective schools are being stripped of pupils; those suffering worst being Pent Valley Technology College in Folkestone, with 62% of its places still vacant in spite of having removed 60 this year, and St Edmund’s Catholic School in Dover which went into Special Measures  last year, and pays the price with 58% vacancies.

Elsewhere in Kent, the third most popular school in the county is Fulston Manor School in Sittingbourne, a town that is desperately short of non-selective places. Fulston Manor has increased its intake by 25 places to try and manage demand, but still turned away 103 first choices, a rise of over 40 since 2013. Westlands in the same town is not far behind with 92, the third secondary school, Sittingbourne Community College also being oversubscribed. Many of the unhappy applicants will be from the Isle of Sheppey, whose academy is still not popular after its many difficulties, having been left with 96 vacancies as a result. However, the two grammar schools, Borden and Highsted, both have plenty of spaces still going so these could well be the next grammar schools to look at setting their own test to boost numbers 

Thanet is another problem area, the difficulties primarily being caused by the unpopularity of Marlowe Academy in Ramsgate, which has only made 51 offers, 18 of them to children allocated by KCC who did not apply, a total of just 29% of its capacity. This is a further sharp fall on last year’s figure at this stage of just 80 children, only 53 of whom took up their places in September. Surely, there is no way the Marlowe can be allowed to continue in this way. It must be nearly bankrupt and will have to lay off even more staff this summer so that it will soon be impossible to offer a full curriculum. As a result, there are just 4 vacancies across the other six non-selective schools, most being heavily oversubscribed including St George’s CofE, now the third most popular non-selective school in Kent, with 93 first choices turned away.

Feel sorry for the children offered places at the Chaucer Technology School who now have to find another school after KCC decided to close it when it saw just 42 places were taken up. This figure is nine higher than the number who applied for the Marlowe Academy, before it was were shored up with children who could not find a place elsewhere. The clue is in the name! KCC cannot close Marlowe because it is an Academy. Government has been highly critical of it several times in recent years, but appears unwilling to take the necessary action to sort it out.

Another school is the news this week is the Towers School, Ashford, with its proposal for uni-sex toilets. Even before this story broke, it has been hammered by the opening of the Wye Free School, with a fall of 54 students at this stage over last year, leaving 50% of its spaces empty. Meanwhile Wye has immediately risen high in the list of oversubscribed schools on the back of this, turning away 44 first choices for its 90 places. Trinity, the Free School in Sevenoaks, has proved equally popular with 38 first choices rejected. The third, Hadlow Rural Community School, initially planned for 30 places, but has offered 60, taking children from other local schools. Hardest hit is High Weald Academy in Cranbrook, which already has 103 vacancies before other more popular and selective schools increase this number through appeals.

Medway boasts, if that is the correct word, the most popular school across the area, Brompton Academy turning away a mindblowing 173 first choices. Most of the other ten non-selectives are full, except for Bishop of Rochester Academy, which has had a very difficult few early years, with 94 vacancies. Along with two other schools, John Fisher Catholic and The Robert Napier, they absorb 117 children who got none of their chosen schools, this polarisation of choice contributing to Medway’s sharp fall in the number of children who were offered their first choice school this year. 

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