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Tuesday, 30 September 2014 00:00

Secondary School Applications for entry in 2015: KOS 23 September 2014

By the end of October, some 20,000 families in Kent and Medway will need to have selected their choices of secondary schools for their children (Kent allows an additional week of grace because of the half term immediately preceding the national cut off date of  31st October). In Kent you have up to four choices of school, and in Medway six, with overall around 97% of families getting one of their choices, around 83% their first choice.

This article looks at some of the factors around those choices for both non-selective and grammar schools and provides some general advice. It is very difficult to address specific issues in such an article, as circumstances change considerably between towns and areas, and individual family circumstances such as distance from schools, scores in the selection tests, or religious affiliation vary widely.

The first piece of advice is that you should always list your schools on the application form according to your preferences, as the method of allocation means there is no tactical way to improve your chances by trying a different order. Too many schools are still falsely advising that you can improve your chances to gain a place at their school by putting them first and if you don't you won’t be considered. Completely untrue.

The simplest way of explaining the process of allocation is that the child will be awarded a place at the highest school on their list for which they are eligible according to the school’s admission rules (yes, I know it still sounds complicated!). Schools are never told at what position on the application form they have been placed by an individual family during the admission process, so they are unable to take this into account when allocating places.

As indicated above, around five out of every six children get their first choice school so if you are confident you fall into this category, you can relax. However, this still leaves over 3000 children who won’t, and many more who will worry about not being offered their first choice, so this article is written for them.

There is a pile of information around to assist in your choices and finding out your chances of success. The secondary school admission booklets issued by Kent and Medway Councils and available on line (Medway’s is already out) are a good starting point with a section on each school, setting out its admission rules and how many children were awarded places last year. If the school of your choice had vacancies then you are very likely to offered a place this year.

The OFSTED website, or that of the school, will lead you to the most recent Inspection Report, although you will also find a summary on my website. The Department for Education website will lead you to a wide range of performance statistics enabling you to compare each school with others in the county. However, don't just look at the highest scorers, results depend greatly on the ability of the intake, and so the “improvement” tables are also a good guide. My website www.kentadvice.co.uk has further information on each school, including an indication of the number of children turned away, if any, over the past few years. You will find this in the section called “Individual Schools”. Searches on this website for particular schools will often produce more detailed information and comment.

Other parents are of course also a guide, especially those with children at the school. However, beware of “urban myth”, as false tales can spread rapidly about individual schools. One very good West Kent grammar is regularly unfairly pilloried by status obsessed parents seeking to justify their choice of more prestigious schools. It can take just one bad year for a school to lose its reputation, but five or more to recover it, there being many examples of this.

Then there are the Open Days and Prospectus. Remember the school is selling itself, sometimes just to the type of student it wishes to attract. However, a visit to the school is essential if only to catch the ethos, see how students present themselves and how staff react with prospective students.

So, you have now worked out which schools you want for your child. Now to determine if they are likely to get a place. The first step is to look at the school’s admission rules that decide who gets places if too many children have applied to the school. The majority of schools, including grammars, will place a priority on distance from home to school. However, many other factors can come into play. Eight grammar schools out of the 38 give priority to highest scorers in the Kent or Medway Tests to all or some of their entrants who have passed the test. The cut off score is not known until March 2nd 2015, National Place Offer Day. Cut offs have changed sharply over the last few years (my website provides them!) but, with the Kent Test having changed format this year, are even more impossible to predict with confidence. Most church schools give priority to some or all children who come from a faith background. Each church school has its own rules and these differ widely, so check carefully. I once got into trouble for frivolously suggesting children should be baptised into both the CofE and the Catholic Church! It is advisable to find out which categories of children were offered places previously as a guide, but this can of course change from year to year. There is also a wide range of other priorities applied by some schools such as: preference for siblings, scores in a test to admit a proportion of children in some non-selective schools; talent in a particular field such as – sport, music, other performing arts; children from named primary schools, catchment areas; or children of staff. Some schools will use random selection from children allocated to several bands of ability by a test, to ensure a mixed ability spread. All schools will give a priority to children who are or have been in Local Authority Care (far too few take this option up to get into a good school, rather than their nearest) There is also a high priority for children who have a particular medical or social need to go to a specified school (this is difficult to prove and will require medical evidence).

Over half of those who took the Kent or Medway grammar school tests will be unsuccessful. If this applies to you, do you list one or more grammar schools so, that after you are turned down, you can appeal? Over 40% of grammar school appeals are successful, but this includes appeals by children who have passed the test, but been turned down because the school is full. Appeal success rates vary widely from school to school and year to year. For 2013 entry, the range was from 0% to 89% success rate (for non-selective schools it was very similar). I am often asked what test scores are likely to be successful in a grammar school appeal. This is an impossible question to answer for Appeal Panels will wish to take other factors into account. These may include: what special circumstances do you have that will convince a panel there has been a miscarriage (there is no point in producing peripheral issues); what alternative evidence do you have to demonstrate that your child is of grammar school ability; is the school oversubscribed or does it need additional pupils; is the school 'superselective'; is it in East Kent or West Kent; what support is forthcoming from the primary school; does your child have Special Education Needs? You are most unlikely to achieve success at a grammar school appeal if no score is above the cut off. Expectations for oversubscribed grammar schools can be far higher than if there are vacancies.

Two of the most significant factors that parents can put forward are: (1) is there information not seen before that affected performance – e.g. medical condition or family circumstances not reported which affected the child's performance, but can be demonstrated; (2) independent proof that your child is of grammar school ability. You may also succeed if these do not apply but marks are near the cut off and you find a sympathetic appeal panel. If none of the above applies, your chances are low; so plan an alternative route for your child’s secondary education.

For Medway grammar schools there is an additional stage in grammar school selection in which parents can get involved. When test results are sent out on 3rd October, if the child has been unsuccessful, parents can apply for a Review of the child’s work over the next week. This can be a stressful time for parents as if the Review is unsuccessful, some grammar schools will not give a full appeal hearing, focusing instead on whether the Review was fair. As a result, in some cases it is best not to go to Review. The issues here are fully explained on my website. A further obstacle to successful appeal in Medway is that schools are sent full information by Medway Council from the application form for appellants. Most schools pass this on to the appeal panels. This includes the order in which you have placed the school, and any information you have given about why you have chosen particular schools.

In nearly all cases, my advice for applications is don’t provide reasons for choosing a particular school. It cannot be taken into account unless it relates to health reasons, in which case you need to add in medical evidence. Where you wish to be considered under a particular priority, such as church commitment, the school will supply a supplementary form to fill in. If you don't fill this in you won’t be considered for that category of application.

However, my first and last piece of advice is “don't panic”. There is no advantage in getting your form in early. Seek advice, talk with your primary school headteacher (but don't always agree with them!), I find Kent County Council Admissions department is nearly always very helpful; I run an admissions advice telephone consultation line.

All systems try and give priority to parental preferences, but sadly not all can be met. This article has looked at possible issues for those who find decision making difficult but, as I began - five out of every six families will get their first choice secondary school. That is good news for most.

Last modified on Monday, 28 September 2015 22:35

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  • Oversubscription & Vacancies in Medway Primary schools: Allocation for September 2017

    The proportion of children offered one of their choices in a Medway primary school has risen to 97.4%, the highest proportion for at least five years. This is a result of a reduction of 160 in the number of Medway school places taken up by children from the Authority and outside. As a result, there are 432 vacancies across the 67 schools, which is 12% of the total available, up from 7% in 2016.

    Most difficult area as usual is Rainham, with just 8 vacancies in two of its schools, a total of 2%. of the total number of places.  At the other end is Rochester with 17% of all places left empty in five schools. Most popular school is Barnsole Primary which turned away 52 first choices, followed by Walderslade and Pilgrim primaries with 29 disappointed first choices for their 30 places. There are ten schools with more than first choices turned away, nine in Chatham and Gillingham, listed in the table below. 

    Barnsole     Pilgrim 3    Walderslade Primary 2  

    Eight schools have over a third of their places empty, up from five in 2016, but headed for the second year running by All Hallows Primary Academy, with 70% of its Reception places empty (up from 60% in 2016). Altogether 31 of the 67 primary schools have vacancies in their Reception classes. 85 Medway children  were offered none of their choices and have been allocated to other schools with vacancies by Medway Council, well over half in Chatham and Gillingham schools.  

    look more closely at each Medway area below, together with the situation for Junior Schools…….

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    Written on Sunday, 11 June 2017 13:05 Be the first to comment! Read 182 times
  • Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust: Will anyone be held to account?

    BBC South East is running an item on this story, tonight, January 12th at 6.30 p.m.

    The 2016 Accounts for the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT), a charitable company (!), finally lay bare the rottenness behind the Trust.

    The Lilac Sky Schools Trust is carrying a net deficit of £1,329,631 on these funds because: 

    The Trust incurred extortionate and expensive Founder/ substantive CEO consultancy  costs for 232 days at a net cost of £217,500 along with other high cost  support  services,  central  Trust  staffing  costs that were far higher  than average,  the cost of  settlement  agreements  (contractual  and non-contractual) paid to staff who were immediately appointed as consultants by the company and recharged  to  the Trust, minimal  value for money procedures and a lack of competitive  tendering.

    2016 Accounts Page 38

     These accounts are prepared by new Trustees, appointed 8 June 2016 to sort out the mess, described as emergency interim appointments, who do not mince their words with regard to the previous management of the Trust. LSSAT handed over its academies to other Trusts on 31st December 2016, and is currently being wound up, possibly with government financial aid. See below in blue.  

    I am not an accountant but the shocking detail in the Report is plain to see and builds further on my exposure in the 2015 Accounts, of the Trust being run as a Money Tree by those in control. Of course, this is at the expense of the pupils in the seven local primary schools run by the Trust, and other casualties along the way.  

    LSSAT Logo

    For those with a long memory, I first identified the methods used by Lilac Sky in 2013 to siphon off school funds by ripping off Furness School and I faced excoriation from KCC who continued to insist Lilac Sky was wonderful for some years afterwards, the school closing in 2015, with £1.6 million having gone missing, apparently with no one noticing. Since then I have covered the appalling story of Lilac Sky through  a number of articles, accessible through my search engine, most recently here.   

    There are of course many other examples of entrepreneurs taking large sums out of academies, but these normally remain hidden, and it often requires independent Trustees to winkle out the truth, as has happened here.

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    Written on Tuesday, 06 June 2017 17:49 1 comment Read 579 times
  • The scandals of Oasis Academy, Isle of Sheppey

    Update, Thursday: Further information  on Reflection at foot of article, in blue. 

    Between September and April this year, 33 children at Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey (OAIS) have ‘left’ the school to take up Elective Home Education (EHE), some having reportedly been encouraged to do so, which would be unlawful. This figure is almost twice that of the next two Kent schools, Cornwallis Academy and Ebbsfleet Academy, which both saw 17 children leave to be ‘Home Educated’.

    Oasis Image

     Other OAIS pupils were sent to the Swale Inclusion Centre, and removed from the school’s Register, the removal having the effect of deleting the pupils GCSE record from school examination performance, as explained in a previous article, here.

    The school also sent some Year 11 pupils home early in May for compulsory ‘Study Leave’ without tuition, whilst the others continued to be prepared for their GCSEs in school. This action amounts to what is often called an ‘informal exclusion’, which is unlawful.

    Some of these children will previously have endured the Reflection punishment, which requires pupils to sit in a room and ‘Reflect’ on their behaviour for a whole day, an utterly unrealistic expectation that a day of boredom will improve matters. Astonishingly, 39% of the whole student body has been subject to this humiliating punishment, many on multiple occasions. The reality is that Reflection is utterly destructive, inevitably producing antagonism towards and alienation from the school, is almost certainly unlawful as the child has been forcibly deprived of education without provision for catching up, and indeed could be regarded as child abuse.

    Reports of bullying are rife.

    As with other out of control academies described in these pages previously, there appears little proper accountability apart from a recent Ofsted Inspection that appears not to have noticed key signals. Meanwhile, children's futures are being blighted.....
    Written on Saturday, 03 June 2017 12:39 10 comments Read 2544 times
  • Medway Test 2017: Late notification of Important Change

    Update: The value of the following item is underlined by the interest shown by browsers. 1500 hits in the first two days makes this the second most popular item on the website this year - in third place is the article Medway Test Scores Blunder - Medway fails families yet againconfirming once again the lack of confidence Medway families have in their Council's education operation. 

    The Council sent a letter to schools last week announcing that it is changing its Test provider from GL Assessment to CEM (Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring) for the forthcoming Medway Test in September. Unfortunately, the two testing providers have different interpretations of the assessment procedure, as explained here. The CEM Verbal Reasoning Test is far more language based than the GL model (which is used by Kent), including vocabulary and normally comprehension, as can be seen by a glance at the above link together with model answers provided by commercial companies. It will account for 20% of the aggregate Test marks which, together with the 40% for the Free Writing Test, will make this a highly language based selection method. It will therefore discriminate against children from socially deprived areas who are often weaker in language skills, children with English as a second Language, boys, and those who don't hear of or appreciate the change being made. The Council’s letter to schools gives no rationale for this change of approach or warning of the effects of the change, so presumably it is not for educational reasons, but simply a cost cutting exercise. 

    Neither does it do anything whatever to address the other serious problems I have previously identified in the Medway Test process, missing a golden opportunity in its recent review of the procedure, which appears to have reached no conclusions. It also comes close on after last year's debacle of the 2016 Test.   

    In addition, the Council has suddenly dispensed with the services of its highly experienced Free Writing Test setter, and at the time of writing does not appear to have re-employed any of its trained markers, although there is no change in the processes. It is not yet clear who is going to provide these essential skills this year.

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    Written on Monday, 29 May 2017 19:59 3 comments Read 2809 times
  • Oversubscription & Vacancies in Kent Primary schools: Allocation for September 2017

     2017 has been a very good year for Primary school admissions in Kent with 97.4% of families being awarded a school place of their choice, up from 96.6% in 2016. This has been brought about by a combination of 267 extra places created since the 2016 allocations including 30 in one new school, together with a remarkable fall of 679 children or 3.8% in the total applying for places. Overall there are 11.1% vacant places in the Reception classes, rising sharply from 6.5% in 2016. This article follows on from my first look at the general data, here, and explores the pressure areas looking at oversubscription and vacancies across the county.

    There are still local pressures focused on several towns including: Tonbridge with just one vacancy in one school; Ashford, two vacancies, apart from 14 in a school on the outskirts; Sevenoaks,  full apart from 18 places in one school on the outskirts of town; and Tunbridge Wells just one school with 24 vacancies. However, overall there is a far better picture than last year. Contrast these with: Ashford Rural; Faversham; Maidstone Rural; Shepway Rural & Hythe; and Swanley & District; all with a fifth or more places empty in their schools. 

    Once again the most popular schools vary considerably from last year, with just Great Chart, Ashford (3rd in 2016) and Fleetdown in Dartford (first last year) occurring in top 10s for both years. Most popular school is Slade Primary in Tonbridge, turning away 43 first choices, followed by Great Chart with 41. You will find the full list of high preferences below.

    Slade             Great Chart

    At the other end of the scale, one unfortunate school with a Good OFSTED, and sound KS2 results had no first choices, and offered just one place (!), whilst another 17 schools have more than half of their places empty, a sharp rise on last year. As financial pressures mount in schools, such low numbers would become critical if repeated.

    I look at each district in more detail below, with a brief note on admission to Junior Schools.  The outcomes for Medway primary schools will follow shortly…...

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    Written on Monday, 15 May 2017 09:38 5 comments Read 3767 times
  • Kent & Medway OFSTED Reports to Easter

    Kent primary school OFSTED Reports up to Easter show considerable improvement on an already strong position as shown in the summary tables below. Outcomes include 15 schools, a fifth of the 72 inspected, improving their assessment as against just 3 which declined. The proportion of Good or Outstanding Schools inspected is well above the most recent national figure, with seven Outstanding schools.  Four schools improved their grading by two levels; Aylesford Primary; Chantry Community Academy and Tymberwood Academy (both in Gravesham), taking them out of Special Measures to Good; and Cliftonville Primary to Outstanding. Two other schools, Pilgrim’s Way Canterbury, and Copperfields Academy also in Gravesham, were taken out of Special Measures. All the last six are academies. By coincidence two of these, Chantry (Greenacre Academy Trust) and Pilgrim’s Way (Village Academy Trust) are advertisers on this website, both Academy Trusts taking over after previous failed conversions, the other four Trusts inheriting their schools directly from KCC control. 

    Chantry             Pilgrims Way    

     Cliftonville

    You will find a summary of the current position for Kent schools written by Mr Patrick Leeson, Director of Education, here, although it omits the most recent Inspections of schools that have become academies and not been re-inspected, following government practice. The Kent schools affected include 11 who were judged Inadequate in their most recent Inspection.

    In Medway, just 8 primary schools were inspected with a slight decline in performance, and still well below national levels. One Medway Primary school was found Outstanding, Cliffe Woods Primary, for the second time. Gordon Children's Academy Junior School improved by two Grades to Good, matching the Infant School which retained its Good status. 

     
    Of the  22 Kent and Medway secondary schools inspected, 17 were found Good, five Requiring Improvement, with just one change from the schools' previous assessments.
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    Written on Saturday, 15 April 2017 19:39 Be the first to comment! Read 373 times