Supporting Families
  • banner8
  • banner12
  • banner2
  • banner7
  • banner10
  • banner9
  • banner6
  • banner3
  • banner13
  • banner11
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 Unfortunately, the plan, creaking at the seams, is now out of date as shown by the examples below and a draft update for 2015 to 2019 has just been published.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

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated.
Basic HTML code is allowed.

Latest News & Comments

Just click on a news item below to read it in full. Feel free to subscribe to the news via the email link to the right or the RSS Feed at the bottom of the page. Please note that the 800 or so regular subscribers who receive each news item directly are not included in the number of readers recorded below the item. If you have a view on any item posted, please leave a comment. Also feel free to suggest items of news, or areas where comment is needed to: peter@kentadvice.co.uk. \nNews items appear as and when I have time in a very busy schedule supporting clients.

  • Rochester Independent College: Summer Fest

     

    Advertisement

    RIC SUMMER FEST 2018 page 001 (1) 

    Written on Friday, 22 June 2018 20:11 Be the first to comment! Read 56 times
  • Holcombe Grammar: Another Plan to Change Character?

    The 2018 Admission Appeals process is a pointer suggesting Thinking Schools Academy Trust has yet another plan to change the character of Holcombe Grammar School. It is to be changed from a school serving its local community well, to one dedicated to attracting high scorers in the Medway or Kent Tests no matter where they are drawn from.

    Currently, Holcombe Grammar has a Planned Admission (PAN) number of 120. For September 2018 entry it offered 148 places topping up the PAN with 28 offers to boys living in London Boroughs as far away as Croydon. It then declared itself full in spite of a previous claim that ‘We have the capacity to provide enough places for every boy and girl who wants one’.

    Chatham Boys

     

    The Case for the School from the Trust to the Appeal Panel is a document  riddled with issues. Most importantly it completely misleads the Appeal Panel by providing a gross misrepresentation of how the Medway Test works, as explained below. It also states that ‘students who have not been deemed selective should not be considered for a place at Holcombe Grammar School, steering the Panel to select additional boys who have been found selective (probably through the Kent Test), but live too far away to secure a place initially. In the event just four appeals were upheld out of some 65, by a Kent Panel who appeared out of their depth, in sharp contrast to the 30 successes of 2017, typical of previous years.

    The school is rightly proud of its GCSE performance having been second and third of the six Medway grammar schools in terms of both Progress 8 and Achievement 8 in the past two years, demonstrating its great capability to take local Chatham boys with moderate Medway Test scores through to strong performance. All this is now to be thrown away in the pursuit of glory, using pupils imported from London each year, including 10 from Greenwich for September, nearly 30 miles away.

    Read more...
    Written on Thursday, 21 June 2018 18:16 Be the first to comment! Read 121 times
  • Cedar Federation, Gravesend: Ifield Special and King's Farm Primary Schools Celebrate Excellent Ofsted Outcomes

    Ifield    

    Kings  Farm 2018

    Ifield School celebrates its third successive Outstanding Ofsted assessment and King's Farm, brought to its knees four years ago by a headteacher now banned from the profession, is now Good in every respect, in a very powerful Report.

    The Federation saw a change of Executive Headteacher in September when Pam Jones, OBE, retired after a stellar career, and was succeeded by Abbie Birch, moving from the post of Her Majesty’s Inspector, having previously been a headteacher in Kent.

    If anything, the achievement at King's Farm is the more powerful, having risen like a Phoenix from the train wreck of 2014. Taken over by the Cedar Federation that year, now: ‘All leaders, including governors, are uncompromising in their high aspirations for every pupil. They are relentlessly driving improvement and accept nothing but the best. The executive headteacher and the head of school model the high standards expected. An exceedingly positive and respectful ethos permeates the school’.

    The strength of the transformation can be measured by: ‘In 2017 the school’s results at the expected standard for combined reading, writing and mathematics were the most improved in Kent, with an impressive rise of 34% from results in 2016’.

    Read more...
    Written on Tuesday, 19 June 2018 13:07 4 comments Read 1927 times
  • Leigh Academies Trust and The Williamson Trust to explore merger

    Update at foot of article

    The Leigh Academies Trust and the Williamson Trust are exploring a merger to take effect by 2019. You will find a joint statement by the two Academy Trusts here.  Leigh is considerably the larger of the two, with 17 academies, eight secondary, eight primary and one Special School, with two new Free schools in progress. The Williamson Trust has five schools, two secondary and three primary, having had Elaine Primary taken away from it earlier this year. 

    Whilst the Leigh Trust is a highly successful expansive Trust, with regional hubs in Dartford, SE London, Maidstone and Paddock Wood, and Medway, Williamson Trust has been beset by issues but brings the prestigious Sir Joseph Williamson's Grammar School to the table. The joint statement underlines the differences, with the Leigh section recording the wide range of its reach, noting 'the added expertise of a top grammar school' that will come from the merger. For the Williamson Trust, currently without a Chief Executive, there are: the 'potential benefits of a merger with such a significant and successful organisation'.

    Nothing has been settled, but this feels far more like a takeover than a merger if it happens. I look at the issues in more detail below. 

    Read more...
    Written on Thursday, 14 June 2018 11:47 6 comments Read 475 times
  • Oversubscription and Vacancies in Kent Primary Schools, 2018

    There has been a fall in pupil numbers taking up places in Kent Primary Reception Classes for the second year. There were also 49 additional permanent and temporary places created in the last year (after six schools had temporary classes removed). These two factors have produced an improvement in the proportion of families being offered schools of their choice as reported in my previous article on the initial data. The total number of children offered places in Kent reception classes on allocation in April is 17274, down by 121 on 2017’s 17395, and an even larger large fall from the 18066 of 2016.

    A number of schools have kept temporary increases in place for several years, so there can be confusion about changes in the number of places available since allocation in 2017. Although there are 539 new places since the official 2017 Planned Admission Number (PAN), the great majority of these have been in place for one or more years. 286 of the additional places have not been taken up. The actual increase includes 60 completely new places for the new Bishop Chavasse school in Tonbridge. As a result, there are vacancies in every District, including the urban areas. The tightest parts are Dartford, with just 3% vacancies and urban Maidstone and Sevenoaks with 4%, there also being a local issue in Northfleet. Comparison with my 2017 oversubscription and vacancy article shows the easing of numbers across the board.

    Brent Outstanding 1

    There is still no let-up in numbers chasing the most heavily oversubscribed schools, headed this year by Brent Primary in Dartford, turning away 73 first choices, followed by East Borough in Maidstone with 52 and Herne CofE Infant School with 43. Just two schools, Great Chart, Ashford and Cecil Road, Gravesham, have featured in the ten most oversubscribed schools in each of the last three years. The changes in popularity often reflect events relating to the schools such as Ofsted Reports and Key Stage 2 outcomes.

    East Borough Primary             Herne Infant

    The problem comes at the other end, with 22 schools having more than half their places empty, up from 18 in 2017, with six in both years, all of which will now be under financial pressure.

    I look at the issues in more detail below, including a survey of each separate District. You will find advice on what to do if you do not have the school or your choice here, and the reality of primary school appeals here

    Read more...
    Written on Sunday, 13 May 2018 19:06 2 comments Read 1088 times
  • Turner Schools: Folkestone Academy, Turner Free School, Martello Primary and Morehall Primary.

    Last Updated 29/05

    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 27 comments Read 4802 times