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Monday, 22 September 2014 00:00

Shortage of Primary Places in Kent: KOS 23 Sept 2014

This newspaper article is an expanded version of a news item elsewhere on this website, looking at the pressure on primary school places in Kent.

There has been much comment in the national media on the growing shortage of primary school places and Kent is no exception. I am now receiving concerned enquiries almost daily from families who have moved into or are planning to move into the area and are finding no suitable school, or in some cases no school at all being offered. Others have been allocated schools they didn’t apply to and are now finding out the reasons for the lack of popularity of some of these. Key pressure areas include: Sevenoaks, Gravesham, Dartford, Tunbridge Wells, Thanet, Maidstone and Tonbridge in Kent; and much of Medway, especially Chatham, Rainham and Rochester. 

 The problems of what are called In Year transfers are exemplified by an email circulated to primary school headteachers in Gravesham at the beginning of September by the Local Authority desperately seeking places for 23 children in the Borough (9 in Dartford) in Years 1,2 and 3 without a place........

Many of Kent’s problems were created in previous years when resources were available, but primary places were not seen as the priority, and I have written extensively about those failures from 2009 onwards. However, the past few years have seen a much greater and concerted effort to plan and create new places. In 2012 KCC drew up a Commissioning Plan that outlined a strategy for creating the 10000 new places needed in Kent by 2016. I wrote at the time: “I believe this is an essential document; it is just regrettable that when it was proposed in 2009, on the back of warnings about school place shortages, no action was taken, resulting in some of the temporary fixes we have seen in the past two years”. Unfortunately, the plan, creaking at the seams, is now out of date as shown by the examples below and a draft update for 2015 to 2019 has just been published. I am not aware that Medway has such a plan.

This positive initiative by KCC is in spite of Local Authorities having now lost the power to build schools being able only to commission new academies, voluntary aided schools and Free Schools to set up schools outside KCC control. Both versions of the Commissioning Plan also include some “over-arching principles” to guide its decision making, of which more later.

As a result, schools are having to be expanded far beyond Kent’s own recommendation of two forms of entry reducing “the efficient deployment of resources”, KCC’s own words. In other words, undermining the quality of education on offer. 

Some of the current pressures come from families moving in to Kent or Medway, often from London and by returning expatriates , who are attracted by the “good grammar schools” available. They are frequently horrified when I explain that the problems of securing a good, or indeed any primary school places for some, are likely to be the major problem. Others come from inward migration from other parts of the UK and from abroad.

It is evident that Kent County Council sometimes tackles short-term problems by enlarging primary classes to over 30 children without the need for an appeal (this is not a criticism!). Indeed, I heard this week of one family living in rural West Kent where this has happened because siblings were going to be separated by a wide geographical split. However, this is a very difficult tactic to adopt for infant classes.

Infant Class Legislation prohibits class sizes of over 30 for Years R, 1 & 2 where there is only one full-time equivalent teacher, apart from some very exceptional cases. The relevant exception states that amongst the children who can be excepted are: children who move into the area outside the normal admissions round for whom there is no other available school within reasonable distance”.  The issue here is the interpretation of “reasonable”, with no guidance as to what this means. Sometimes a case will go to appeal and very occasionally an Independent Appeal Panel will decide in favour of the child. However, for entry in 2014, just 5 out of 535 appeals where Infant Class Legislation is relevant were upheld in total.

KCC has interpreted “reasonable” several times in the interests of individual children, in ares of greatest pressure, for example in the Holborough Lakes area north west of Maidstone. Here, several additional infants have been added to take classes over 30 at nearby Snodland and St Katherine’s Primaries. Holborough Lakes is a major new housing development, for 1250 homes, 500 of which were already occupied in the summer of 2013. A KCC Impact Assessmentof July 2013 explains that a new one form entry primary academy (sponsored by Valley Invicta Academies Trust) will be opened in September 2015, by which time there would be insufficient spaces in the two existing schools. Unfortunately, there appears no assessment of where the additional children without schools should go between 2013 and 2015! I have talked with several families who have given up hope of a local school and gone private until the new school opens. At least one Holborough Lakes child has been offered a place at Burham Primary, only 1.7 miles as the crow flies, but with the River Medway proving a bit of an obstacle (!), 9.6 miles by road.

KCC has also commissioned other new build primary academies in an attempt to meet demand, each with a Unit catering for children with disabilities at Folkestone, Kings Hill, Leybourne and Sheppey.

For one family of a Year 1 child in a rural village near Gravesham, there was no concession for reasonableness this summer, and the child was offered a place in an OFSTED failing school on the other side of town, 7.9 miles away by road. As there was no public transport, KCC offered to provide a taxi. I advised the family to fight this and it may well be that a place has been created more locally for this child, but what about others who meekly believe there is no alternative to the offer? 

There were just two vacancies in Reception classes in the whole of urban Gravesham on allocation of places in April, with another twelve vacancies in the far south of the District at Vigo Primary. This in spite of the expansion of Chantry Primary Academy, from one to two forms of entry (recently out of Special Measures). Kings Farm Primary, currently a disaster area, has also been expanded again. Almost 10% of the 1339 children offered places at Gravesham primaries have been allocated to schools they did not apply to, nearly half of these to two very unpopular schools, one in Special Measures. As I live in Gravesham, I have been approached directly by parents whose children have been allocated to these two schools, several planning to refuse to take up their places. Others are remaining in Nursery Schools for up to another year, in the hope (I suspect vainly) that a more suitable place will come up. I well remember having a blazing row with the Area Education Officer some years ago in the presence of the Cabinet Member, warning of the coming problems, a warning that was ignored. He also decided against the opportunity to have a new school built in Northfleet with developers funding, on the grounds that it might draw children from another school (OFSTED failed) that then had to be expanded. The new Commissioning Plan records: “Forecasts for Gravesham show sharply rising birth rate and birth numbers from 2002 to 2012”. Too late!

There is much better news in Thanet, where a new Free School, working title the Ramsgate Free School, is planned to open in 2015, initially admitting up to 60 children into each of Years R and 3. This appears to be an imaginative and proper use of the Free School concept in a District where there is a severe shortage of primary places and is to be sponsored by Chilton Primary School, currently a Community school under the control of KCC. The two schools will be led by the headteacher of the heavily oversubscribed Chilton.

Meanwhile, in Broadstairs, in another imaginative move to ease pressures, St George’s Church of England Foundation School has opened a Consultation on extending its age range from the current secondary provision to include a two form entry primary section from September 2016. There are just four schools with vacancies in the district, all with a history of underperformance, so these initiatives are likely to prove popular with parents.

Medway Council is still haunted by its decision to close Ridge Meadow Primary School in Chatham in 2010 although a fall in pupil population was on the turn and rising, with subsequent need to find additional primary school places in the district. This year, 76 of the total 79 Chatham Reception Class vacancies occurred in a new academy being built with a capacity of 90 Reception places to alleviate the pressures. Elsewhere Medway, in Rainham there were no vacancies whatever; and in Rochester, all 17 vacancies occurred in one failing school. Of course, there has been subsequent movement and only this week I heard of one child being offered a place at a popular school.  

Elsewhere one can find problems in Tonbridge, which had NO vacant spaces in any of its Reception classes; Sevenoaks with just 10 places available in two of its 27 schools, both in the rural West of the district (but here the situation will have eased as a number of families choose private schools if they haven’t been allocated the schools of their choice); Dartford with no vacancies at all in the western half of the district and town.

Under this intense pressure on places, the overarching principles laid down by KCC to determine where new primary school places are to be sited, whilst laudable appear wholly unrealistic. They include:

  • We will always put the needs of the learners first.
  •  Every child should have access to a local good or outstanding school, which is appropriate to their needs.
  •  All education provision in Kent should be rated “good” or better, and be financially efficient and viable.
  • We will aim to meet the needs and aspirations of parents and the local community.
  • We will promote parental preference.
  • If a provision is considered or found to be inadequate by Ofsted, we will seek to commission alternative provision where we and the local community believe this to be the quickest route to provide high quality provision.
  • In areas of high surplus capacity we will take action to reduce such surplus.

One further planning priority worthy of note:

  • Over time we have concluded that 2fe provision (420 places) is preferred in terms of efficient deployment of resources.

The reality is that pressure on places is such that more and more schools are being pressured to expand from this ideal of two forms of entry to three and even four forms of entry so, presumably, the efficient deployment of resources on offer in these overlarge schools is declining.

I can only see the situation with regard to primary school provision in Kent and Medway deteriorate in spite of the efforts of the Councils to keep up with demand and feel so sorry for those families whose children started school last week in schools that are a severe disappointment to them. A child only has one realistic chance of a good education and too many are now not being given that chance.

Last modified on Tuesday, 23 September 2014 07:54

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  • Provisional GCSE Results for Medway 2017

    Last year the long established 5 A*-C GCSE league table including English and maths was scrapped, being replaced by two new assessments, Progress 8 and Attainment 8. Both these are measured by an arcane formula combining results in eight curriculum subjects to produce numbers whose meaning and spread is very difficult to comprehend, but enable schools to be placed in an order. Government has made amendments to further reflect policy, which has the unintended effect in Kent and Medway of further rewarding the top performing grammar schools and diminishing those with a higher proportion with lower abilities.  

    These Provisional results are issued at this time to enable families to be better informed when making secondary school choices. Last year a number of schools saw a small improvement in results in the final version to be published  in January.Unfortunately, once again, there has been such little publicity given to them that most families are not even aware of their existence. 

    The key measure is Progress 8 (full table here) which looks at progress from the end of primary school to the end of Year 11, comparing pupils to others nationally, who begin from the same starting point, with Medway above average at 0.04, against a National average of -0.03. Victory Academy is the only non-selective school to split the six grammars at the top, with Greenacre next.   

    Attainment 8 (full table here) simply measures what it says, with Medway just below the National average of  46 at 45.5, although there is a variety of other statistics to choose from to suit your case. 

    Further information below, including the performance of individual schools, and a look at another measure, the English Baccalaureate ......


    Progress 8
    The key measure is Progress 8 (full table here) which looks at progress from the end of primary school to the end of Year 11, comparing pupils to others nationally, who begin from the same starting point, with Medway above average at 0.05, against a National average of -0.03. There is a single floor standard which schools are expected to achieve, of -0.5, and all secondary schools have exceeded this. Both measures have had their methodology changed to suit government priorities and the new grading system for English and maths. As a result, numbers are not directly comparable, but grammar schools appear to have been further advantaged.  
     
    Schools are divided into a number of groups: well above average; above average; average; below average; and well below average and below floor level. Schools placed in the last category can expect government intervention.
     
    Grammar Schools
    I am not sure that in Medway, with the grammar schools dominating the top of the table, this proves they necessarily offer better teaching; rather, there is a strong element of – ‘brighter pupils can be stretched further’.

    The table is led by Rochester Grammar, the only Medway school to score 'Well above Average' for progress from Key Stage 2 to GCSE.  Chatham Grammar Girls is only making average progress.

    Grammar School Progress 8
    Scores for 2017
    School Score
    Well Above Average 
     Rochester Grammar 0.89 
    Sir Joseph Williamson's 0.85
    Above Average
     Holcombe Grammar 0.49
    Fort Pitt Grammar

    0.42

    Rainham Mark Grammar 0.24
    Average
    Chatham Grammar Girls 0.02
     
    Non-Selective Schools
    Government classifies  schools into groups, with just Victory Academy achieving 'above average' level, with all schools but Medway UTC achieving the floor standard. It is difficult to asses the UTCs poor performance as this is its first GCSE Year, and recruiting in Year 11, the Progress 8 could be regarded as down in part to the student's previous schools. All are volunteers, with no requirement for technology aptitude or interest. However, it appears that the UTC has not re-vitalised their education. 
     
    Non-Selective Progress 8
    Scores for 2017
     School  Score School  Score 
    Above Average   Robert Napier
    -0.09
     Victory Academy  0.32  Howard School  -0.12
     Average 
    Brompton Academy -0.13 
    Greenacre 0 Below Average  
    Thomas Aveling

    0

    Strood Academy -0.27
     Rainham Girls -0.02 Walderslade Girls  -0.34
    Hundred of Hoo -0.04 Well Below Average 
    and below Floor Level of -0.5
    St John Fisher Catholic  -0.06 Medway UTC -0.9
     
    Attainment  8
    Here, scores come out looking somewhat like a GCSE league table, but flattened at the top, far fewer schools with lower ability children have reached the score of 40 than last year, when I made a working comparison with the floor level of the previous Floor Level of 40% of a school's pupils achieving 5 GCSE A-Cs.
     
    Grammar Schools 
    Not surprisingly, here the grammar schools sweep the table completely. 
     
    Grammar School Attainment 8 Scores for 2016
    School Score
     Rochester Grammar 70.8 
    Sir Joseph Williamson's  69.7
     Rainham Mark Grammar 63.9
    Holcombe Grammar 62.2
    Fort Pitt Grammar 60.5
    Chatham Grammar Girls 57.1
     
    Non-Selective Schools 
    The popularity or otherwise of Non-Selective schools is heavily polarised, with Brompton Academy one of the most oversubscribed in the whole of Kent and Medway. It is followed at some length by Thomas Aveling, Strood Academy and the Howard School. At the other end are three schools with a large number of vacancies, Robert Napier, Victory Academy and St John Fisher. The last two named, as well as having below average progress grades, are below the 40 points mark. However, this data suggests that Robert Napier is at long last on the turn for the good.  Walderslade Girls appears to be struggling, with the headteacher having moved on.  
      
    Non-Selective Attainment 8
    Scores for 2016
     School  Score School  Score 
    Rainham Girls  42.5  St John Fisher 37.9
    Hundred of Hoo 41.3 Brompton Academy 37.4
    Thomas Aveling 40.8 Strood Academy
    37.3
    Greenacre 40.2 Walderslade Girls 35.6
    Howard School 39.6 Robert Napier 35.2
    Victory Academy 38.2 Medway UTC 29.5
     
    English Baccalaureate
    This is a third measure towards which the government was trying to nudge schools, by measuring the percentage of pupils achieving a Grade C or better in five specific subject areas: English, maths, a science, a language, and history or geography. It is designed to encourage schools towards more academic subjects and away from those thought intellectually easier, which government considers is an easy way to score, although Progress 8 and Attainment 8 already go some way towards that.
     
    Rochester Grammar School is unsurprisingly at the top of the lists, with 90% of its pupils passing the required subjects. It is followed by Sir Joseph Williamson with 82% and then Rainham Mark with 53%. All three schools have seen a fall in percentages, although I am not sure what this means, except that perhaps schools are seeing it as less important than when it was introduced. Top non-selective school is Rainham School for Girls with 20%, followed by Hundred of Hoo with 14%. At the bottom are the Robert Napier and Victory Academy with no students meeting this standard. 
    Written on Monday, 16 October 2017 16:29 Be the first to comment! Read 28 times
  • Provisional GCSE Results for Kent 2017

    Update on Simon Langton  Boys below

    Medway Outcomes here

    This is the second year of the new GCSE assessments for measuring schools performance, Progress 8 and Attainment 8, which replace the long established 5 A*-C GCSE league table including English and maths. Both these are measured by an arcane formula combining results in eight curriculum subjects to produce numbers whose meaning and spread is very difficult to comprehend, but enable schools to be placed in an order. 

    The key measure is Progress 8 (full table here) which looks at progress from the end of primary school to the end of Year 11, comparing pupils to others nationally, who begin from the same starting point, and is rightly given priority in measuring performance.  Under this measure, Kent is slightly below the National Average of -0.03, at -0.11.

    Meopham 2

    Attainment 8 (full table here) simply measures what it says, with Kent exactly equalling the National score of 46 ranked 60th out of all Local Authorities, although there is a variety of other statistics provided to choose from to suit your case. Both measures have had their methodology changed to suit government priorities and the new grading system for English and maths. As a result, numbers are not directly comparable.  

    Headlines: the Grammar School progress table is no longer the sole preserve of West Kent and super-selectives with four girls' schools  invading the top eight. Highworth, Invicta, Folkestone Girls' and Maidstone Girls have joined Tonbridge, TWGGS, and Dartford Girls', leaving Dartford as the only boys school. Both Oakwood Park and Chatham and Clarendon come below the national average, along with one provisional result for a school which failed for technical reasons, as explained below.   

    Top non-selective school is Bennett Memorial, one of six church schools in the top ten, the top three ever present also including St Simon Stock and St Gregory's. All these three are wholly selective on religious grounds, and at the top also in attainment. For the second consecutive year there are remarkable performances by Meopham School and Orchards Academy, neither of which have the built in advantages of other top performers. As last year eight schools were below the government floor level with well-below average progress  facing government intervention, five the same as last year. 

    Five of the top six grammar schools on attainment are unsurprisingly super-selective in West and North West Kent - along with Tunbridge Wells Girls'. These are the same schools as in 2016, balanced by five boys and one mixed grammar at the foot.  The Non-selective table is led by three church schools, Bennett Memorial leading the way above two grammar schools. Five non-selective schools are at the foot of both Progress and Attainment Tables.

    Orchards 1

    Further information below. including the performance of individual schools......

    Read more...
    Written on Saturday, 14 October 2017 18:11 2 comments Read 263 times
  • Kent Test Results 2017: Initial outcomes

    I now have initial information regarding the Medway Test, happily provided promptly, posted here.

    Kent Test results have now been published with the pass mark the same as last year. An automatic pass has again been awarded to candidates scoring 106 on each of the three sections - English; maths and reasoning – along with an aggregate score across the three sections of 320. This total will again be around 21% of the total age cohort across the county, with further details to follow as I receive them.

    An additional number of children will have been found to be of grammar school standard through what is called the Headteacher Assessment, usually around 6% of the total. You will find full details of the whole Kent Test process here. Overall, these two processes last year yielded passes for 26% of Kent children in the age cohort.  

    One important and welcome change is that KCC are now making individual test scores available to parents who registered online from 5 p.m., so there will no longer be the anxious wait or chasing up of primary schools for results of previous years.

    As last year, I  shall be publishing a second article later when I receive more data from KCC. 

    You will find initial figures released by KCC below, together with further information and ways I can support you. I find that the information articles on the website (RHS of this and every page) with links below, answer the majority of questions I receive. 

    As usual there are hysterical and grossly misleading headlines in some online newspapers about the shortage of grammar school places, which have whipped up a torrent of unnecessary fears on some of the more neurotic online forums (often driven by out of county families). Although KCC cannot guarantee every Kent child who has passed, a place in a Kent grammar school (not necessarily of their choice), there have been no reported cases in recent years of Kent children not getting in who are looking for a place, although a few have had to go to appeal. Further thoughts below. 

    Read more...
    Written on Wednesday, 11 October 2017 17:23 4 comments Read 1514 times
  • Medway Test Results 2017

     I am rarely caught out completely by admission matters, but events at the two Chatham grammar schools for entry in September 2017 have completely amazed me. These are compounded by the Medway Test results this year, when the built in bias towards girls’ success has completely vanished, as explained below.

    The Medway Test outcomes, in summary, have seen 23% of the Medway cohort this year found suitable for grammar school before Reviews take place, which is exactly on target as in 2016. However, the annual gender differential stretching back for years, which saw 25% of girls passing the test as against 21% of boys in 2016, has disappeared, with 23% of both boys and girls passing for admission in 2018.

    Both Chatham grammar schools have been suffering from a shortage of pupils in recent years: in 2015, Chatham Girls admitted just 93 pupils with a planned admission number of 142; and Holcombe Grammar (previously Chatham Boys) 106, PAN 120. This September Chatham Girls has admitted over 180 pupils, Holcombe over 150.

    The main reason for this dramatic surge in numbers is the influx of London children who, uniquely in Medway are grammar qualified for the two Chatham’s by virtue of success in the Kent Test. For September 2018 entry, there were 659 out of county passes, including 263 from London Boroughs (the largest number as always were the 381 from Kent).

    So, what do these remarkable outcomes offer for 2018 entry? Some thoughts below, together with further analysis of Medway Test results. You will find further information on the Review process and its implications for appeals, here, which will answer most queries.

    Read more...
    Written on Wednesday, 11 October 2017 19:36 1 comment Read 399 times
  • Unlawful Grammar School Admissions: Holcombe (Medway); Maidstone Girls; and Invicta

    The DfE has now ruled, as I forecast in my article entitled ‘Shame on Holcombe Grammar School and Medway Council’, that actions such as those of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) in placing pupils registered with Holcombe Grammar School at another school for their education are unlawful.  This illegality has been supported by Medway Council in yet another failure by them.

    As a result, the pupils are now being placed back at Holcombe, but not until Term Two, although they have known of the decision for over a week already and could surely have been moved much earlier if the pupils’ interests were any sort of priority.

    Chatham Boys 3

     

    This is the third such case relating to school admissions locally in less than a year, where the DFE, and in one case the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), has ruled the schools’ practices unlawful; but sadly the arrogance of these institutions has seen no semblance of apology from any. It is clear that the extent of accountability only covers ensuring that wrongdoing no longer happens to other children, and damages confidence in the large majority of reputable schools.

    This article focuses primarily on events at Holcombe/Invicta Academy, but also looks at Maidstone Grammar School for Girls’ response to the LGO finding of their unlawful actions, and consequences of the Invicta/St Olave’s scandal. 

    Read more...
    Written on Saturday, 14 October 2017 12:38 Be the first to comment! Read 212 times
  • Medway Council Fails the Medway Test Yet Again

    Update: From around 10 p.m. Monday, emails from Simon Harrington (Student Services Manager, Medway Council), informing parents whether child (no name) has passed the Medway Test or not, but no scores. Closing date for Review is next Monday, 19th October, so day lost in short time scale. At least he is trying!

    Following the 2016 Medway Test debacle, when wrong scores were sent out to some families whose children had taken the Medway Test, there is tremendous frustration this year, as the online system is failing to work at the time of writing (9 p.m., 9th October), results supposed to be available from 4 p.m.

    The Medway Council Twitter account offered a typically useless response, at 4.14 p.m, after which everyone appears to have gone home:

    “We're experiencing technical difficulties with our telephone lines. Apologies for any inconvenience caused”

     

    Naturally no mention of the online service not working. Who do they think they will fool!

    Update, 8 p.m from Medway Council:  

    We know that sometimes there is a delay through service providers but please be assured they have all been sent.

     

    How unfortunate that all the service providers in the system had a delay of at least two hours!

    At present the Council appears to have provided no further information, although I understand that the pass mark this year is 495, and that results have been sent in the post, hopefully to arrive tomorrow, Tuesday. You may find that your child’s headteacher is willing to divulge the score earlier tomorrow.

    As with last year’s failure, I would have thought it worthwhile deploying an officer after 5 p.m. to solve the problem, but ‘Serving You’ clearly does not extend to this.

    Medway Council Logo 

    Those not caught up in this situation may be unable to comprehend the angst caused to families who have been waiting anxiously for outcomes that may decide their children’s future education path, but I can assure them it is very real, and unfortunately typical of Medway Council’s incompetence.

    Read more...
    Written on Monday, 09 October 2017 21:09 1 comment Read 432 times