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Friday, 03 April 2015 11:12

Kent Secondary School Census 2014 - Pressure points: Kent on Sunday January 2015

In 2013, KCC closed Chaucer Technology School in Canterbury, as it had sharply falling numbers and a forecast intake of just 57 for September 2014. The school had already reduced its capacity from 235 to 150, but this would still leave 62% of places empty. I now have school census figures for September 2014 showing four secondary schools in an even worse situation than this. In 2013, these four schools again had the highest vacancy rates in Kent, whilst  in 2012 the only school that separated them was Walmer Science College which KCC closed at the end of that year because of falling numbers.

 Three of these four schools, Marlowe Academy, Oasis Academy Hextable, and High Weald Academy, are probably safe from direct KCC intervention because of their academy status. However, they will all have problems of viability, as low numbers work through. OFSTED previously placed all three in Special Measures, and although improved, they are still suffering from their reputation. The fourth is Pent Valley School, Folkestone which possesses a ‘Good’ OFSTED assessment, but whose troubles include expansion by more popular neighbouring schools.

Unsurprisingly, heading the list is Marlowe Academy whose predicament I wrote about  at a few weeks ago. It now has just 32 students in Year 7, leaving vacant 83% of its 180 places.  Realistically, it will be impossible for the academy to offer a differentiated and appropriate course for students at GCSE in three years’ time.

Next is Pent Valley Technology College in Folkestone, with 68% of its Year 7 places vacant. The school has fallen annually in popularity, in spite of a ‘Good’ OFSTED in October 2013 with just 58 students in Year 7. There are major contributory factors out of the school’s control, as explained below.

High Weald Academy in Cranbrook has had difficulty in attracting students since it went into Special Measures in 2010, in spite of becoming an academy sponsored by the Brook Learning Trust, and two improved OFSTEDs.  This year’s total of 61 Year 7 students, leaving 66% of places empty, is similar to previous years, so one wonders what else the academy can do to attract numbers.  

Oasis Academy, Hextable, has 63% of places vacant, but is the only one of schools to picked up, rising to 55 students from a low of just 38 in 2013, again following a failed OFSTED.  The improvement was mainly due to a temporary Executive Head turning the school round and earning a positive Inspection Report in preparation for a takeover by Oasis Academy Trust. However, the school’s situation is still precarious and like the others, 2015 admission numbers will be critical.

Any school can cope with a sharp fall in numbers for one year, but what sets these four apart is the sustained low numbers, in schools that will shortly be over half empty as the low year groups work through, financial pressures increasing and the curriculum offering trimmed.

The other school with over half its Year Seven places empty is St Edmund’s Catholic School in Dover, in trouble since its failed OFSTED two years ago, although it has recently been classified “Requires Improvement”. It has 60% of its places vacant, losing over half its intake over the past three years, but is seeking salvation by becoming a Sponsored academy in the Kent Catholic Schools Trust. It also suffers from a similar local problem to Pent Valley.

The pattern of secondary admissions in Kent is changing fast as academies can now increase their Planned Admission Numbers without regard to the effect elsewhere. There is a strong argument by many that poor schools that fail to improve should go to the wall, but this does not take into account the effect on the unfortunate students caught in the middle of closure, as seen at Chaucer and Walmer Science College. When the latter closed in 2013 (failed OFSTED and low numbers), its remaining students were transferred into Castle Community College, Deal, only to see Castle plunge from Outstanding’ to Special Measures seven months later, the school and its new students going through turmoil as it attempted to recover,

Government argues that failing schools should be turned into academies whose freedom from Local Authority control will see them get stronger, but what if they are already academies? More important than the status of the school is its leadership; and there are many examples of schools that have been rescued from difficult circumstances by outstanding leaders.

The second major factor for change in Kent is the expansion of grammar schools, some of whom are setting their own tests, or else finding higher proportions of children to be of grammar school ability through decisions of appeal panels. Folkestone School for Girls increased its capacity by 15 places to 180 for 2014 entry, absorbing 77 girls who passed the Shepway Test alone with a further 44 girls on appeal. One group with whom this policy will be popular are the families of the girls accepted by Folkestone Girls, but Pent Valley’s future is now in threat as a consequence.

Folkestone Academy was one of the most popular schools in Kent in 2011 but has since been falling in popularity. However, for 2014 entry, it still decided to increase its intake by 30 children to 270, potentially damaging Pent Valley further.  In the end, FA started in September with 20 empty spaces in Year 7, the very real problem for both schools being Folkestone School for Girls.

The national controversy over Free Schools failing to fill their places hardly applies in Kent. Both Wye School and Trinity School, Sevenoaks, are full, Wye drawing mainly from the potential of Towers School, Kennington, leaving the latter with just 135 of its 243 places filled.  Trinity has a wider catchment because of its church requirements for 45 of its 90 places. The third Free School, Hadlow Rural Community School, with its agricultural focus, initially planned to offer just 30 places, but then took 50 students from across a wide rural area.  

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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