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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 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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  • 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 1502 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