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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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  • Brook Learning Trust Schools in Trouble: Ebbsfleet Academy; Hayesbrook School; High Weald Academy

     The Brook Learning Trust runs three schools, Ebbsfleet Academy, Hayesbrook School in Tonbridge, and High Weald Academy in Cranbrook and appears to be in serious trouble, both financially and in terms of the standing of all of its three schools. 

    Ebbsfleet 1       High Weald 1    Hayesbrook 2
    I monitor a number of factors that indicate how a school supports its students and how it stands in its locality. These include: pupil vacancy rates in year Seven; popularity of schools expressed through first preferences when making applications; percentage drop out rates from the school for all reasons; and proportion of pupils leaving for Elective Home Education; together with academic performance. These three schools are each amongst the worst in the county on four in the case of Hayesbrook or all five of the first five measures for the other two schools. I consider that they can therefore be regarded as generally, if not academically, failing. These common themes across the Trust’s schools suggest the problem starts with the ethos and standards set by the Trust.

    The situation at High Weald Academy is especially dire, as government is proposing a multi-million pound premises investment into this school which appears to have no future under the Trust.

    I look below at the factors affecting each school and the Trust as a whole. I now have data showing a further fall in first choice applications for each school for Year Seven admission in September 2018, which will surely see the Trust heading for insolvency and for each school immense financial difficulty in providing an acceptable level of education. 

    Written on Wednesday, 28 February 2018 06:21 Be the first to comment! Read 522 times
  • Medway Secondary School Allocations for September 2018: Initial Information and Advice

    Table for allocations below has been completed, with more recent information provided.

    You will find a parallel Kent article here

    The Medway Council Press Release for secondary transfer is the thinnest yet I have seen from the Council on this, or any other subject I can recall. It contains just four facts: 3259 Medway children applied for and were offered places in secondary schools; 91% have been offered a first or second preference school; over 95.5%  were offered one of their preferences; there were 630 applications for Medway school places from children outside Medway. That is it! UPDATE: I have now obtained the full data through an FOI request and inserted it below. I can see no reason why the Council has chosen to hide it.  

    However, there is also a bizarre footnote on a completely different matter, considered below. 

    The table below compares my extrapolation of these numbers with outcomes in previous years. There is also initial advice on what to do if you have not received the school of your choice at the foot of the article on what to do if you have not been offered the school of your choice. This begins as always with my Corporal Jones mantra, do NOTHING in panic! You may regret it. There is no quick fix. 

    Both of the quoted percentages in the Press Release were identical to those in 2017, both a significant fall on 2016, at 93.7% and 97.4% respectively.For 2017 offers, first and second preferences allocated were separated, so one can guess the proportion of first preferences has fallen this year as Medway Council typically tries to fudge its figures. No mention of, or regret about, the unfortunate 147 children with no school of their choice. 

    The cohort size has increased by just 85 children, with the 4.5% who have been given no school of their choice, at approximately 147, five up on 2017.

    Why is the Council so afraid of providing information to its residents?

    Written on Friday, 02 March 2018 12:25 1 comment Read 695 times
  • Kent Secondary School Allocations for September 2018: Initial Information and Advice

    You will find a parallel Medway article here.

    Several updates below, including grammar issues for boys in Longfield, Hartley, NAG, etc. Also look at my response to comment, below. Grammar places for boys in Whitstable, Herne Bay also looking an issue. 

    Kent secondary school allocations have been sent out today for those registered to receive by email and should arrive tomorrow by post for all (weather permitting).

    17,442 Kent children applied for places in schools, 745 more than in 2017, with 79.6% of them being offered their first choice. This is the lowest percentage for at least five years, but just 0.8% down on last year. 765 children been given none of their four choices, at 4.4% of the total, again the highest proportion for at least five years, and well up on last year’s 633. I know that a number of additional school places have been created at pinch points across the county, notably Tunbridge Wells, but I am already hearing of some very difficult situations for some of the children with no school of their choice.

    In spite of another large increase in out of county applications to Kent schools, up 545 to 3,289, just 818 were offered places, only eight more than in 2017. This will have been partially balanced by around 500 going to schools outside Kent.

    You will find more information, including a look at some of the pressure points, together with the tables of outcomes below. You will also find required scores for super-selective schools as these are confirmed (all information welcomed), and initial advice at the foot of the article on what to do if you have not been offered the school of your choice. This begins as always with my Corporal Jones mantra, do NOTHING in panic! You may regret it. There is no quick fix. 

    There is also a link to the limited advice service I now offer. 

    Written on Thursday, 01 March 2018 12:03 12 comments Read 2747 times
  • Knole Academy and the Scandal of Exorbitant Headteacher Pay in Kent and Medway

    Update: Shortly after I published this article, the national BBC led with the same issue on its website, although amazingly there has been no local media interest at all. Is it that this is not of interest as it is what people expect? 

    The headteacher of The Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, a moderately performing single school academy, was paid £210,000 in 2016-17 making her the highest paid academy head or Chief Executive in Kent and Medway. This is an increase of 35% over the past three years after what can only be described as an irresponsible series of decisions by Governors, bringing the whole process into disrepute, and undermining the credibility of the very real financial crisis in schools, as explained below. By contrast the Principal of Homewood School, the largest secondary school in the county, had a salary of just £110,000 last year, one of majority of secondary heads around or below £100,000.


    After Knole the next two highest paid heads are the Principals of Leigh Academy and Wilmington Academy, both part of the Leigh Academy Trust, who each received £200,000 in remuneration, including their roles as Directors of the Trust. They were followed by the CEOs of two of Kent’s largest Academy Trusts, both responsible for more than a dozen primary and secondary schools: Swale AT and Leigh AT at £190,000 and £180,000 respectively.

    Grammar School Academy Headteachers are generally paid from around £85,000 to £110,000 annually, with Dartford Grammar School, the largest and most oversubscribed grammar school in the county on the latter sum. Highest paid Grammar School Head is at Rainham Mark Grammar, Medway. with £155,000 (£90,000 for HT salary, £65,000 for Academy Trust CEO), followed by Barton Court, Canterbury, at £125,000 (also a Trust CEO).

    At primary level the previous highest earner, the Head of Meopham Community Academy, has now retired from his £150,000 salary post, his replacement being employed at less than half of that rate. The highest paid heads of schools or multi academy trusts I have found this time round are the same two single standing academies as previously: The Academy of Woodlands in Gillingham, £105,000 in 2015-16, and St Stephen’s Academy, a Junior school in Canterbury on, the same figure for 2016-17.

    I look more closely at the Knole situation, and that of other high paying academies below. 

    Written on Wednesday, 21 February 2018 20:29 5 comments Read 1503 times
  • Medway Council fails its most vulnerable children

    Medway Council has once again failed its children, this time the most vulnerable, as confirmed by a scathing Ofsted Report on its ‘services’ to children with Special Education Needs and Disabilities, published this week. The report concludes ‘Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) has determined that a Written Statement of Action is required because of significant areas of weakness in the local area’s practice’. I think that is putting it politely. There are strengths identified; it just happens that all these appear to be down to the health service and not education.

    Concerns centre about chaotic management of the ‘Service’, resulting in failure to take necessary action. This can be seen from the following quotes: ’Medway’s education and service leaders do not share one vision and strategy for SEN and/or disabilitiesNo arrangements are in place to ensure effective joint oversight and clear lines of accountabilityLittle progress has been made in addressing several of the pressing priorities for improvement identified as far back as 2012Leaders’ understanding of what has and has not improved in the meantime is limited. I could have chosen many others.


    'The collaborative work between professionals and children and their families to plan services and meet individual needs, known as co-production, is weak at both a strategic and individual level' This criticism is underpinned by the heavy criticism of the implementation of Education and Health Care Plans for children with the greatest needs, which are at the heart of Departmental work, and ‘A considerable number of parents shared concerns with inspectors that the needs of their children are not being identified and met sufficiently well’.

    There is of course reference to Medway's record exclusion rates: ‘Although improving, rates of permanent and fixed-term exclusion are still notably higher for pupils who have SEN and/or disabilities in Medway than for similar pupils nationally, as it is for all pupils. Lack of specialist provision has brought serious consequences for pupils with severe SEN or disabilities travelling out of Medway daily on long and very expensive journeys.  

    Written on Saturday, 10 February 2018 22:33 4 comments Read 446 times
  • Goodwin Academy – SchoolsCompany Trust on the way out?

    Updated 15th February: see also comment below.

    KM Online 16th February shows details of the job losses at this previously recovering school, expected because of the failures of SchoolsCompany. 

    The new Interim Chief Executive of SchoolsCompany Trust has apologised in a letter to parents of pupils at the Goodwin Academy for ‘previous financial failings, which are unacceptable’.

    Sadly, this has come as little surprise to me, as I foresaw issues as early as 2014, when I noted in an article that SchoolsCompany had contributed to the startling decline of the predecessor school Castle Community College (CCC), in Deal from Ofsted Outstanding to Special Measures in three short years. As a reward SchoolsCompany took over as sponsor of the school as recently as July 2016. The school was awkwardly renamed SchoolsCompany Goodwin Academy, presumably to advertise the name of the Sponsors as a priority, above creating a new school image.     

    The Academy limped on for a period, after 2014, with the 'support' of SchoolsCompany,  unpopular with a third of its places unfilled, and underperforming, although there have recent strong signs of improvement under new school leadership. Unusually, eight of the eleven Company Trustees were paid a salary by the Trust, hardly an inducement for encouraging scrutiny. After the school received a Financial Notice to Improvefrom the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) in October, seven of the Trustees resigned including the Executive Principal of the Company This left the school with just four Trustees including the CEO and founder of the company, Elias Achilleos, although he now appears to have been replaced by the new Interim Chief Executive.  The Trust has demonstrably failed some of the Financial Notice's requirements for improvement. 

    Goodwin Academy

    The school will clearly have a future in its new £25 million premises opened four months ago on October 6th, just three weeks before Trustees resigned en masse, but it looks increasingly likely it will not be with Schools Company. Indeed a more than doubling of first preferences to 173 for 2018 admission, shows confidence in the school and its leadership, achieved without obvious input from the few remaining Trust members. 

    Written on Thursday, 08 February 2018 10:43 4 comments Read 1041 times